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Reactions in Germany to the shooting in Hanau

Rick Fulker
February 20, 2020

In the hours after the tragedy, an outpouring of grief was quickly followed by attempts to come to terms with the tragedy — and a heated debate over terminology: an act of a disturbed individual, or of terrorism?

Deutschland Hanau | Schießerei & Tote | Midnight-Shisha Bar
Image: Reuters/R. Orlowski

In a statement Thursday noon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while indicating that it was still too early to come to a final conclusion over the act, said that everything pointed to it having been motivated by right-wing radicalism and racism. She continued, "Racism is a poison, hate is a poison and is responsible for too many crimes in this country."

Angela Merkel | Hanau Schießerei
Chancellor Angela Merkel said everything pointed to a racist motive for the attacksImage: Reuters/F. Bensch

With Turkish citizens and people of Turkish background among the victims, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier shared the view that the killings had been racially motivated: "I stand by all people who are threatened by racist hatred. You are not alone."

The Turkish government called the mass shooting a "racist attack" and called for a speedy investigation.

Read more: Federal prosecutors take over the Hanau investigation — live updates 

Volker Bouffier, the governor of the state of Hesse, where Hanau is located, called the evening's events a "terrible crime" and a "horrifying event."

On Thursday morning, Nancy Faeser, head of the state's SPD Social Democratic Party, went a step further, suggesting that the tragedy could have been averted: "We weren't vigilant enough. Today is a time for mourning. Tomorrow we must focus on the fight against right-wing extremism."

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Jewish Council in Germany, also pointed the finger at authorities: "The danger of growing right-wing extremism has been played down and neglected too long. And the police and the justice system have often been too myopic in their right eye. Now we are reaping the dividend."

Rather than a call to action however, the Iranian-born German parliamentarian Omid Nouripour, a member of the Greens Party, simply stated, "I don't know the perpetrator's identity or motive. I only know that a terrible thing has happened. That people have died. That families have suffered grave losses. That it is a time for mourning. And for standing together. For the victims."

The German pianist Igor Levit expressed a mix of grief and rage: "In these minutes and hours, all my thoughts go to the victims and the families of the victims of the terror attacks in Hanau. Deeply sad and speechless. My rage at the perpetrator and at those who paved the way for him in parliaments, blogs and media will come later."

Frankfurt am Main Carolin Emcke Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels
Hatred is channeled, says Carolin EmckeImage: Getty Images/AFP/D. Roland

Deliberate intent is what Carolin Emcke finds in this and similar acts. The German author and publicist was quoted in a tweet by broadcaster Deutschlandfunk Kultur: "Hate isn't just there," tweeted Emcke. "It is made. Violence isn't just there either. It is prepared. The direction of hate and violence and whom they target, the barriers and inhibitions that have to be breached before: all of these things are not coincidental and not preordained. They are channeled."

Prejudice and stereotypes in politics and the media to blame?

The attacks took place in hookah bars, places where people gather to relax and smoke waterpipes. Pointing to an earlier statement by Herbert Reul, Minister of the Interior in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, that had claimed, "Shisha bars are the grounds of clan criminality," one twitter comment read: "Maybe this or that journalistic colleague might ask himself whether and to what degree his reporting contributed to the hostile image of a shisha bar."

While some early activity on the social media blamed foreign elements on the attack, this twitter user wrote,  

Disturbing world view

Reports of the alleged perpetrator's letter of confession emerged Thursday morning after the 43-year-old was found dead in an apartment together with his 72-year-old mother, also dead from gunshot wounds. Describing his life, beliefs and ideological convictions, the 24-page text, published in the internet before the act, revealed a disturbing, racist view of the world.

This user observed:

A number of Twitter posts pointed to a double standard allegedly applied when reporting on acts of terror. One Twitter user wrote, "When a Muslim carries out an attack the far right blame muslims & Islam. When a white racist carries out an attack the far right blame politicians for their immigration policies that upset the racist & made him murder people. Terrorist apologists". A similar sentiment was expressed in this tweet:

Ashok Swain @ashoswai claimed, "Just imagine the 'media dance' if the far-right terrorist of 'HanauShooting would have been a Muslim instead! Far-right terror is a very seriuos global threat, hiding it makes it more dangerous."

And this user answered a previous tweet with sarcasm: 

A user from New Zealand, where a similar act had been experienced, had these words of consolation: