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German Press Review: Targeting Germany

Thursday’s German papers were full of comment on the news that terrorists planned to attack German president Johannes Rau, who cancelled his visit to German troops in Djibouti on Wednesday as a result of the threat.

Anyone who thought terrorism could be prevented through well-intentioned neutrality is at a loss to explain what happened in Djibouti, wrote Die Welt in Berlin. This time the target was Germany, a country that protested loudly against United States policy in Iraq. But the paper commented that in the crude thinking of Islamic fundamentalism, Germany is simply part of the West. The daily concluded that the lesson to be learned from this is both banal and unpleasant: Even those who close their eyes will still be seen.

Other papers agreed that it’s a mistake to suppose that Germany’s opposition to the war on Iraq will protect it from attack. Terror isn’t rational, wrote the Financial Times Deutschland, adding that Germany is now forced to consider how it plans to deal with the threat from radical Islamic groups. The attackers aren’t at war with individual states, it wrote, but with Western civilization as a whole, and it’s important to show strength and determination in dealing with them. But the paper added that only turning Germany into a police state will provide any certainty against attack – and that, it said, would mean the terrorists had won.

The Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger believed that measures to boost the police and secret services may help to prevent terrorist attacks in certain cases. But the paper reached the reluctant conclusion that we will probably just have to learn to live with terror, without ever getting used to it.

The Leipziger Volkszeitung agreed: Life has got riskier all over the world since Sept. 11, 2001. The paper said that Western civilization has to take reasonable measures to protect itself and – like President Rau – avoid concrete danger. But it must also learn to endure the threats of attack, according to the daily.

The papers were divided on the question as to whether Rau made the right decision in cancelling his visit. It’s not frightened terrorists we see diving for cover, wrote the

Weser-Kurier in Bremen, but the people who say they want to fight them. The paper cited the recent responses to threats of attack: the closing of Israeli and U.S. embassies around the world, as well as Rau’s early return to Germany. What kind of signals are these, the paper asked. If you know how propaganda works, one can imagine the mileage this image has given the bombers in the slums from Rabat to Jakarta, it concluded.

But the majority believed Rau made the right decision, not least in protecting the German soldiers he planned to visit. The Westdeutsche Zeitung in Düsseldorf commented that the president’s safety is too important to be compromised, and that his early return to Germany was in no way a giving in to those who want to intimidate the West.

Only the Stuttgarter Zeitung found the whole incident suspect. Why are the authorities in Djibouti denying that Rau was in danger, it asked. And why does the German army feel able to declare the situation for the soldiers in Djibouti safe and stable less than 24 hours later? It’s good that the president was well protected, the paper noted. Strange, though, that answers to some important questions are lacking.