Opinion: Terror poisons our thoughts | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 23.07.2011
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Opinion: Terror poisons our thoughts

In the aftermath of the twin attacks in Oslo and on the island of Uyoeta, German media analysts assumed that radical Islamists were to blame. Felix Steiner says that's a sign that acts of terror poison our thinking.

Opinion graphic

Terror of this dimension is shocking – irrespective of whether the suspect is right-wing, left-wing, a religious fundamentalist or whether he was raised by crazy parents. For the victims of terror it is irrelevant why they have been killed. Terror victims are innocent. And that's why an act like this is so disgusting, irrespective of who commits it.

Criminal acts become terrorism when their effects extend to more than just the affected victims. Terror creates fear: is my city, my plane or the event that I am attending perhaps the next target? Politicians often say that we shouldn't change our normal behavior as a reaction to terrorism - otherwise the terrorists have already won. And they are right.

But terrorism does create fear. Fear of possible suspects. Is my neighbor or the man beside me on the train dangerous - because he has a beard, or because he is wearing particular clothes, or is Muslim or because he just looks different? It's clear that terrorism colors people's thinking. Fears create prejudice, extreme fear and even phobia. Things shouldn't progress that far in a free, democratic society.

Felix Steiner

DW's Felix Steiner

Like the analyst's reactions in the first few hours after the Norway attacks, the most recent election results for nationalist and anti-Islam parties have shown how poisoned the thinking in Europe already is.

Everything seemed to fit together: Norway sends troops to Afghanistan and takes part in NATO attacks on Libya, so the bomb in Oslo's government quarter could only have been laid by a Muslim. Two and a half hours later and there were gun shots in the youth camp. Aren't concurrent attacks a known Al-Qaeda tactic?

And the subsequent news reports didn't put the security experts on German TV off their conclusions either. The arrested suspect was a Norwegian citizen? Well, many Muslims have taken on foreign citizenship. The suspect was blond and blue-eyed? Then it must be a local who has converted to Islam.

Converts are always particularly radical proponents of their new beliefs, the experts argued. After all, they pointed out, here in Germany there was a 2007 bomb-plot that involved two German-born terrorists who had converted to Islam. What did the Muslims living peacefully in Germany think about these statements? Few could hold it against them if they felt excluded rather than welcomed in our society.

Now we know that the arrested suspect is definitely not a Muslim, but more likely a radical Christian. It's too early to make any further conclusions. One thing is for sure, terrorism is disgusting, especially because of the suffering of the victims - but also because it poisons our minds.

Author: Felix Steiner / al
Editor: Ben Knight

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