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The Hanau shooting shows how Germany is returning to its Nazi past

The shooter’s attitudes are at the extreme end of the spectrum, but they are increasingly at home in Germany’s media, politics, and even sport

Eight people killed outside shops in Germany

The tragic far-right terrorist shootings in Hanau last week showed the rest of the world what ethnic minority Germans have always known – Germany’s dark past is not behind it.

Modern Germany has a carefully cultivated image where it can “celebrate” multiculturalism, without disclosing the conditions of that coexistence. It is willing to welcome a million migrants, but is less happy when those migrants want to do something other than take menial jobs and have kids – two things that “native” Germans are less willing to do. Germany is liberal, on its own terms – not those of its minorities.

Last week’s terrorist attacker, Tobias Rathjen, uploaded a 24-page document in which he attacked ethnic minorities in Germany, and announced that certain groups needed to be “completely annihilated”.

Although his attitudes are at the extreme end of the spectrum, they are increasingly at home in Germany’s media, politics, and even sport.

Rathjen’s violent acts are far from isolated: the Hanau shootings follow the killing of a local politician in June and an attack on a synagogue in October that killed two people. The city of Dresden, the birthplace of one of the country’s many far-right movements, Pegida, has gone so far as to declare a “Nazi emergency”, stating that it has a serious problem with the far right.

As recently as a few weeks ago, German police arrested 12 members of a far-right terror cell, which planned to attack mosques across ten German states to trigger a race war. One of the men arrested was a serving police officer who had previously been suspended over suspicions of links to far-right activities.

This is not an outlier. In 2018, five police officers were suspected of operating a neo-Nazi cell within the Frankfurt police force and allegedly threatened to kill the two-year-old daughter of a German-Turkish lawyer. Even the German military is investigating more than 500 soldiers suspected of far-right extremism. Minorities in Germany cannot even trust those who are supposed to protect them.

The German state, along with its society and culture, has been carrying far-right tendencies for generations. After a period of incubation, the virus appears to have returned.

This may be news to those outside Germany, but it’s all too familiar to its ethnic minorities. Even something as simple as renting a house is fraught with difficulties if you are a person of colour or your name is not typically German. The country’s racism watchdog has declared that discrimination in the housing market is commonplace and becoming increasingly open.

German politics is also being pulled further and further to the right. The far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) is riding the wave of xenophobia and making worrying political gains. AfD is now the third largest force in the national parliament, with Angela Merkel’s liberal consensus being slowly chipped away, along with the polite facade of societal tolerance on which it was built.

While a majority of Germans believe that AfD was partly to blame for the terrorist attacks last week, the problem is much more widespread than just a single political party. The seeds of the AfD were planted by the established parties’ hate speech against migrants, Muslims and refugees. They are all guilty.

Islamophobia, the seemingly last “acceptable” form of racism, is Germany’s most worrying racist problem. In a recent study, about half of Germans polled saw Islam as a threat. Unsurprisingly, Rathjen’s manifesto selected a number of Muslim majority countries for annihilation. It is no wonder that he chose shisha bars as his targets, since they are synonymous with Middle Eastern culture in the eyes of many.

But many of Rathjen’s attitudes are unfortunately typically German. Islam is not even recognised as a religion in Germany, cementing German Muslims’ status as second-class citizens. Halal meat is heavily restricted as German law requires meat to be anaesthetised before slaughter, which is contrary to many halal standards. Halal producers are therefore forced to import meat from other countries.

Against this backdrop, there are too many Rathjens to count: More than 100 mosques and religious institutions were attacked in 2018. In the same year, there were 813 recorded hate crimes against Muslims, including insults, letters and physical assaults. Germany is becoming increasingly hostile to Muslims from every background.

Turkish Germans, who are predominantly Muslim, comprise the largest minority ethnic group in Germany, and have been living in Germany since the 1960s. However, their identity as Germans is constantly under attack by the rest of society who continue to view their presence in the country as temporary. Their livelihood is also affected by rampant discrimination – a study found that ethnic Turks are 11 per cent less likely to be interviewed for jobs.

Mesut Özil, the Arsenal footballer and World Cup winner, felt forced to quit the national team, lamenting that he was German when the team won, but an immigrant when they lost. And the state actively encourages this all-or-nothing approach to the German Turks’ nationality – they have to choose between either nationality before the age of 23 or they will lose their German passports. No wonder then that Turkish Germans are suffering from an identity crisis.

This is why I founded BIG Partei, a German political party built on the principles of multiculturalism and human dignity.

In response to the horrific killing spree in Hanau, we are calling on the federal government to adopt both an anti-racism law with severe penalties and real security measures to protect persons and institutions at risk.

We need to crack down on hate speech and online extremism – the recent bill passed in Cabinet is welcome but more is needed. Only now, in response to the Hanau attacks, has security been increased to protect sensitive sites, but we must be proactive and not reactive.

Most Germans want to put the past behind them. But that can only happen if we build a future based on safety and respect, in shisha bars and in the Bundestag.

Haluk Yildiz is the founder of BIG Partei (Bündnis für Innovation und Gerechtigkeit), a multicultural political party, headquartered in Berlin

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