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“Take a clear stand”

Following the attack in Hanau, civil society and scholars are demanding decisive action to combat right-wing extremism.

Flowers and candles at the market square in Hanau
Flowers and candles at the market square in Hanau © privat

German politicians and society alike reacted with great sympathy and shock to the right-wing extremist attacks in Hanau. Last Thursday, a 43-year-old German shot and killed nine people in Hanau. The amateur marksman then killed his 72-year-old mother and himself. Investigations so far show that the presumed perpetrator held racist beliefs and was mentally ill. Ten thousand people took part in a funeral procession in Hanau on Sunday to stand up for tolerance and against xenophobia. All over Germany, on the radio and in the press, as well as on social media, people are currently discussing how society should tackle racism. Many members of civil society and many scholars are also demanding that decisive action be taken to combat right-wing extremism. Here are some of the most important opinions:

The political scientist Claus Leggewie said in a “Migazin” interview: “To ensure a well-fortified democracy, the state and courts must react resolutely to the threat of violence and to violent acts. (…) It is not enough to appeal to civil society and call for people to stand up for social cohesion. Björn Höcke from the AfD (far-right Alternative for Germany party) attacks precisely this civil society, calling it a “swamp” that needs to be drained. This constitutes a threat of violence, nothing else. The security agencies must take a clear stand and enforce their monopoly on the use of violence.”

Sebastian Fiedler from the Federation of German Criminal Investigators talked on Deutschlandfunk about the interrelationships: “Above all, I believe that we should make it clear that the challenges that lie ahead of us are not merely challenges for the security agencies themselves, but that it goes far beyond this. This covers everything from hate crimes, and the discussion about the AfD’s strategy, and we need to discuss how these various aspects are interrelated, and the security agencies must be put in a position to deal with this. However, to pick out only one of the various segments would be too simplistic, and would not be doing enough.”

Politicians have a huge responsibility  
Extremism researcher Hajo Funke

In the “taz” newspaper, the sociologist Sebastian Wehrhahn talked about the complexity of the challenge: “The hypothesis of an individual perpetrator is politically wrong, as well as counterproductive from an investigative point of view. Any such perspective ignores the background causes, perpetrators and accessories. It fails in its task to render structures permanently harmless and relieves the politicians in charge of their responsibility. As far as the political tackling of the situation is concerned, I believe it is important to understand that trivialising the threat posed by right-wing terror cannot be separated from the idea in extremism theory that left and right are equal.”

In the Berliner Zeitung newspaper, the extremism researcher Hajo Funke gives his interpretation of Merkel’s quote, namely that “racism is poison”: “I understand her words to mean that in those cases in the public domain where racism and resentment are unleashed by political parties, the atmosphere of togetherness between people changes and becomes poisoned. That is why politicians have such a huge responsibility. Her statement makes a great deal of sense.”

When asked whether the attack in Hanau could result in our becoming more sensitive to different forms of right-wing extremism in future, the journalist Karolin Schwarz, who has just published a book entitled “Hasskrieger. Der neue globale Rechtsextremismus” (i.e. Hate Warriors. The new global right-wing extremism), replied to regional broadcaster “rbb” by saying: “I hope so. But this must also be understood by society as a whole. This was not an attack on foreigners, on strangers. It was an attack on our neighbours, friends and relatives – on the people around us.”