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Shisha Bar Attack Reveals Germany’s Far-Right Extremism Problem

On the night of February 19, a gunman carried out attacks at two shisha bars in the west German city of Hanau. By the time the shooting rampage was over, nine people were dead in total, making this assault one of Germany’s most devastating mass shootings in years. 

Immediately after the attack, politicians and voters in Germany pointed their fingers at the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), a right-wing political party known for fighting mass immigration, expounding nationalist ideology and challenging the European Union. This far-right motivation theory arose after details about the gunman’s political beliefs surfaced. German officials reported that the gunman appeared to have been driven by extremist right-wing, xenophobic beliefs. Among the information uncovered, most haunting were videos posted by the gunman filled with conspiracy theories and a written manifesto with deeply racist remarks

Furthermore, Hanau is a longtime immigrant destination with a reputation of coexistence between people of different origins, particularly Turks and ethnic Kurds. Such towns that offer a sense of belonging to immigrants have been criticized by the AfD for being a threat to Germany’s national identity and “a danger to European civilization.” As a result, the AfD and its followers have sought to disrupt immigrant-friendly towns with xenophobic propaganda in hopes of instilling fear in immigrants. This time, they succeeded. 

The nine people gunned down in the shisha bars were all from immigrant backgrounds and some were German citizens. According to Turkey’s ambassador to Berlin, Ali Kemal Aydin, and the Confederation of the Communities of Kurdistan in Germany, five victims were Turkish nationals and five were of Kurdish origin. In addition, unconfirmed reports in German media have relayed that the victims also included a Bosnian and a Pole

Because shisha bars are popular places for people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent to spend their time smoking and drinking tea, it is likely that the gunman intentionally targeted the shisha bars knowing they would be full of people from immigrant backgrounds. This suspected anti-immigrant motivation behind the attack has shocked and shattered feelings of security for residents of immigrant descent in Hanau. As Mehmet Tanriverdi, deputy chairman of Germany’s Kurdish Community told journalists at the crime scene: “We are stunned. We’d never have imagined that something like this could happen in a cafe in an open-minded city.”

Over the past years, there has been an assumption that the AfD held influence only in Eastern Germany. Right-wing extremism in the East gained steam in Dresden, where Pegida, or the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, held rallies that encouraged German citizens to support tighter immigration controls, keep war refugees in their homelands and speak only German at home; in Chemnitz, where right-wing demonstrators took to the streets thrusting Hitler salutes; in Thuringia, where anti-immigrant populists beat Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats in an election

But despite this assumption, right-wing politics has rapidly made itself present in West Germany. Even before the assault in Hanau, there were attempts to conduct “Christchurch-style” attacks in mosques across Germany. Similarly, over the past 14 years, the neo-Nazi group National Socialist Underground committed a string of violent crimes that included the racially motivated killing of ten people. However, for years, German police resisted a racial and terrorist interpretation of these kinds of attacks. The failure to recognize that extremism knows no boundaries has created an insurgence of violence in Germany that should have been combated years ago. Today, Hanau is a wake-up call to Germans that right-wing terrorism is not an “East Germany” problem or a movement fueled by isolated cases of extremism; it is a German problem that must be addressed nationally.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Cynthia Sutanto is a high school senior from Corpus Christi, Texas. Her areas of interest include global affairs, intersectional feminism, and political theory. In her free time, she enjoys thrift shopping and drinking too much iced coffee.

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