Germans can’t afford complacency

Germans can’t afford complacency

The racist “döner vendor murders” in Germany by members of a neo-Nazi cell is clearly an embarrassment for that country. Chancellor Merkel, who has asked for a “full investigation” into the murder of eight Turks and a Greek (presumably mistaken for a Turk), as well as a German policewoman, has described the affair as “a disgrace” for Germany.

It seems that a shroud may be lifted now which will reveal some ugly facts. One thing Germans must see, however, as they engage in this reflection, is that the neo-Nazi phenomenon is not something that has developed in a vacuum.

There are those like former German Central Bank Member Thilo Sarazzin, for example, who have fertilized the racist environment with their views on Turks and Muslims. Therefore one does not have to have the ugly appearance neo-Nazi’s pride in giving themselves, openly advocate or practice violence against Turks in order to be part of what Heather Horn of Atlantic magazine has referred to as “Germany’s new old problem.”

Sarazzin, who cynically mixes sociology with biology, argues in effect that Turks are innately backwards and are “dumbing Germany down.” Such views carry overtones of another era in German history. While Sarazzin’s ideas are reprehensible, it is much more worrying that he has become a media hero and his book a bestseller in Germany.

Al-Jazeera’s media analysis program “Listening Post,” hosted by the Canadian Journalist Richard Gizbert, highlighted the neo-Nazi murders and the role of the German media over the weekend. German academics, media experts, as well as Turkish journalists in that country argued that the German media has always been complicit in the negative stereotyping of Turks. Perhaps it is a sense of guilt now that is driving the same media to insisting that neo-Nazi actions be exposed fully.

Whatever the case may be, Germans have to start seeing the link between the negative stereotyping of Turks and the “teachings” of the likes of Sarazzin with neo-Nazi thinking. The xenophobic world view that they all represent belong ultimately to the same “species.”

The problem with Germany, unlike any other European country where xenophobia is rising, is that it is a country with a terrible historic baggage when it comes to racism. William Shirer, the author of the epic “Rise and fall of the Third Reich,” had this to say as late as 1990 in the “afterword” to the 30th edition of his book.

“People ask me now: Have the Germans changed? Many in the West appear to believe so. I myself am not so sure, my view no doubt clouded by the personal experience of having lived and worked in Germany in the Nazi time. The truth is that no one really knows the answer to that crucial question.”

The easiest way to get out of this tight spot for Germans is to say: “But people are reacting to Islamic terrorism and are afraid of Islam.” Fear, of course is the best turf for fascism to grow as we saw in Germany circa 1933-1945. Racism against Turks however, existed in Germany before the advent of “Islamic terrorism.”

It remains to be seen if all of this is going to spawn a new understanding among Germans. To cite Shirer, it appears no one really knows the answer to that yet even though we are in 2011. All we see through Sarazzin and his ilk is that the innate feeling that Germans are somehow racially, morally or intellectually superior is still alive and that is the real “disgrace.”