Opinion: An attack on the German soul | Opinion | DW | 27.08.2016
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Opinion: An attack on the German soul

No other topic has troubled Germans more than security. Recent surveys say the majority of the population has remained rational despite fears of terrorism. But that figure is deceiving, writes DW's Gero Schliess.

We have all become so anxious, complained a friend recently during lunch in a Berlin hotel. It has reached the point that you can no longer trust the people at the next table. My friend is American and lives in Berlin. But she was talking about the US and not Germany. There, the managers of her New York apartment building have forbidden her from having friends stay in her flat during her absence, the reason being security concerns.

Something like that would be inconceivable in Germany - or should I say, not yet conceivable. You can still say that many people abroad view the Germans as an example of level-headedness, despite the recent terror attacks, killing rampages, the mobilization of Turkish-Germans for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruthless dismantling of democracy in Turkey and, of course, the more than a million refugees who - regardless of any "welcome culture" - have stoked old fears of foreign infiltration.

Fear of becoming a victim

But are we so detached? Security is Germany's most important asset. The terror attacks were like attacks on the German soul and that does have consequences. Things have been simmering under the surface for a while now: Increasing attacks on refugee shelters and high poll ratings for the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany party (AfD) speak for themselves.

The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" newspaper titled its latest survey, carried out by the opinion research institute Allensbach, "Germans' feeling of security is eroding." It feeds the alarmist sentiment that, in the long term, will find fertile ground within the silent majority. Yet the figures stated by Allensbach are not surprising. Now, 70 percent of Germans anticipate the possibility of becoming a victim of a terrorist attack and 16 percent even feel directly threatened. Only 29 percent feel safe. And 77 percent say that radical Islamist groups pose a great threat, compared to 55 percent last year. But the vast majority of people are not willing to change their lifestyle, or accept a restriction of liberties. The majority maintains that large-scale events should continue to take place, even though safety concerns have risen dramatically.

Schliess Gero Kommentarbild App

Gero Schliess is DW's culture correspondent in Berlin

A recent survey commissioned by DW reached similar conclusions. Although 60 percent of respondents expect a greater number of terrorist attacks, more than 50 percent believe that immigration is positive and even expect it to yield positive consequences for society and the economy. We should be proud of this differentiated perspective, yet we should not delude ourselves, as the survey findings are only temporary and they only apply to half of German citizens. Germany is actually divided, which simply means that fear and rejection have advanced to the heart of society.

Heated discussion and overreaction

The surveys bear another message that is worrying for Chancellor Angela Merkel and can potentially become a stumbling block on her way to re-election: The majority of Germans link the growing fear of terrorism to the refugee movement, which means that the people disagree with their chancellor, who claims the opposite is true. But Merkel is now prepared to accept doubts and vague fears of foreign infiltration. She has banned burqas in courts and schools. She has thus drawn a line that signalizes where the limits lie. It is a clear message to the electorate. The same can be said about her request to Turkish Germans to show loyalty to Germany and its values.

The political debate is slowly heating up, thus creating exactly the type of climate that fosters overreaction, like the mayor of a town in Brandenburg who sacked a headscarf-wearing intern. The Germans are certainly not as cool and detached as they seem. And there is reason enough to fear that the number of nervous and anxious people will grow.

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