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  December 21, 2016

Following Deadly Truck Attack, Islamophobia Fails to Gain Ground Among Germans

Liberal left and anti-fascist forces in Germany are keeping anti-Muslim politics at bay for the moment, says political scientist Lars Bretthauer
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GREGORY WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Gregory Wilpert coming to you from Quito, Ecuador. Last Monday evening, a large truck careened into the Christmas market in the center of Western Berlin, killing 11 people and wounding at least 48 others. Also, the truck's original driver was found dead inside of the truck. The person who drove the truck, though, and who was responsible for the deaths, fled on foot and is still at large.

This was the first time in almost decades that Germany has experienced such an attack and it was a shock to many Germans. ISIS, or the Islamic State, issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack. After first falsely arresting a Pakistani refugee, the police later released him and the Minister of the Interior of the State of North Rhein-Westphalia announced that a Tunisian citizen is now wanted for the attack. This is what he had to say.

MINISTER OF INTERIOR: In July 2016 his asylum application was rejected by the federal office for migration and refugees. Although the home of the asylum seeker was in Berlin, the deportation agreements were dealt with at the foreign office in Kleve. The man couldn't be deported as he didn't have valid identification papers.

GREGORY WILPERT: So, joining us now from Berlin, Germany, to take a closer look at the repercussions of this attack is Lars Bretthauer. Lars is a German political scientist and a member of the critical social science network, Reflect. Thanks, Lars, for being with us today.


GREGORY WILPERT: So, Lars, first of all, Germany has politically been going through a kind of a rightward trend recently, and with regional elections giving the far-right, xenophobic Alternative for Germany a significant presence in regional parliaments over the past year. Also, Chancellor Angela Merkel has been attacked from the right for her support for allowing refugees into the country. What effect do you think this recent attack in Berlin is going to have on the country's political discourse, given that they're accusing somebody who had applied for a refugee status?

LARS BRETTHAUER: I think that it's a bit early to say exactly. I talked to some friends and colleagues these days and, so far, I would say that the liberals, left-wing forces are very strong at the moment, not to get a racist discourse, very strong here. There were remarks from the Alternative for Germany, racist remarks about Arabic or Turkish people being behind this attack but this was refused by the liberal press and like, in general, the atmosphere is quite relaxed. For my part, I work on surveillance and I was afraid for the last 10 years for this moment to happen because I didn't know if we'd have a right-wing wave of comments and laws, and attacks, and we have these attacks yet, but this truck attack is not something very special at the moment, I would say.

GREGORY WILPERT: So, I mean, I did see some statements and some politicians saying that surveillance should be increased. So, since this is something that you've worked on, I mean, do you think that it will actually have an impact on the issue of surveillance in Germany?

LARS BRETTHAUER: Not so much, because the positions on surveillance are very clear. And, so far, the conservatives couldn't gain any win or land(?) through the truck attack. It's their normal claim to increase surveillance while the liberal and left-wing forces are trying to block that and we have the same situation and the same discourses after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, after the attacks in Copenhagen, and it's a quite ritualized discourse here in Germany at the moment, and it also works now on this truck attack.

GREGORY WILPERT: Hmm. So, let's look at the other forces in Germany, that is, you know, the German political spectrum has become increasingly fragmented over the past few years with three or four parties being represented in Parliament 30 years ago, but now for elections that are scheduled to be in mid-2017, it could be as many as six or seven parties in the Bundesrat. How are the left parties that are center of left, such as the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Left Party, dealing with this particular type of attack and the refugee question more generally? Are they able to counter the discourse from the right?

LARS BRETTHAUER: I can't say exactly because there wasn't like an open period of argument and opposition, so that the left couldn't mark their position. It's more like a time of grief. I looked at all the newspapers today that I could get and even the conservative newspapers were really... Bild site, on the biggest one, they titled with only "Fear" and then certain facts but it was not very racist, as they are normally. And other newspapers just said, okay, it's a time of grief. You saw Chancellor Merkel in black dress and other politicians in black dress, and this is what... yeah, what is the situation at the moment. It's more grief and less that the left-wing forces need to counter something from the right.

And the few things that happened like from the Alternative for Germany, the one remark they made was against Arabic and Turkish people, which are the biggest community here in Germany, especially in Berlin. And the other remark was that this attack is the fault of Merkel's refugee politics. And this comment which I expected to be more en vogue -- after all the critique from the tiers(?) and the partner party from the ... and the Alternative for Germany -- that this claim would get more audience, was totally rejected and everybody said, "Okay, this is not appropriate to say. Merkel isn't in any kind like responsible for that."

GREGORY WILPERT: Oh, that seems fairly positive, actually, I would say. But what about the Muslim community itself? I was reading some reports that they were expressing concern, and in recent years there have been indications there might have been more attacks. As far as you can tell, how have they been reacting and how has the possible danger to them increased or has it changed at all? Or you think it's more or less the same?

LARS BRETTHAUER: Yeah... it's a very difficult question because, I mean, Berlin is the third biggest Turkish city of the world, for example. So, it's not easy to say "the Muslim community" or something with their different past. There were demonstrations from a certain part of the Muslim community, and who demonstrated against terrorism, like, pre-emptively, just in case a new wave of anti-Muslim racism starts. And so other video reports where people with a veil just said, "Well, that's bad but I don't care, because like, I don't want to live in fear." And I think this is like the common opinion at the moment in Berlin -- that the people are aware what happened after 9/11 and that we have also in Germany this huge wave of anti-Muslim racism. And nobody's really interested in having this again here.

So, people try to behave calm. Of course, there's grief, always depending how close you are to the victims of this attack. But it's not... Yeah... I think it's not really necessary at the moment. I mean, when I heard this report, I thought, "Okay, these are very elaborate statements like, 'I'm a Muslim, I'm not a terrorist.'" But, for my part, I mean, I can understand that Muslims in Berlin -- or especially in Germany -- say this now. But as long as nobody accuses them, I will not say that. So, for me it's a bit ambiguous but I can understand this.

But I think the left-wing, and especially the anti-Fascist forces, are very strong here. And, in case there is a wave of anti-Muslim racism, like another one, people will stand up and try to prevent this from happening. Sorry for my English.

GREGORY WILPERT: Okay, well, I think that basically covers it so far. But we'll of course continue tracking what's happening in German, especially with the elections, like I said, coming up next year. So, but thanks so much, Lars, for joining us today.

LARS BRETTHAUER: You're welcome. All the best.

GREGORY WILPERT: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.




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