Germany's response to mass violence

Four recent attacks on the public, some with links to Islamic State, have raised fears but also calls not to allow fear to create an overreaction.

AP Photo
A man prays at a makeshift memorial to those killed at a mall in Munich, Germany, during a July 25 shooting rampage.

Public violence has been rare in Germany over the past decade, which has allowed it to be a calm center whenever mass attacks have rattled other countries in Europe. But in the span of a week in July, Germany experienced its first jihadi suicide bombing as well as three other acts of violence by young men with immigrant roots. At least two of the incidents had ties to Islamic State or were directed at nonMuslims.

If instilling fear was the motive behind these attacks, it temporarily worked. A poll of Germans found 77 percent now anticipate terrorist attacks. “Islamic terror has reached Germany,” wrote Winfried Bausback, Bavaria’s justice minister, on Facebook. Chancellor Angela Merkel had to interrupt her vacation to deal with the crisis. And once again the country began to doubt its open-door policy that allowed 1.1 million refugees to enter last year from war-torn countries in the Middle East.

Like many other countries, Germany is now trying to balance a need for greater security against the desire not to feel the very fear that the attackers seek to evoke. German politics could move to the right, as has happened in other nations following similar barbarity.

The violence has stoked a public debate about hiring more police, better screening of immigrants, tighter gun laws, and more efforts to integrate new arrivals. And with so much press coverage of the incidents as well as the influence of social media, some worry about copycat violence.

A few Germans are even trying to avoid describing the incidents as terror. Such a word only plays into the hands of the attackers. One commentator, Marlene Halser, wrote in Die Tageszeitung (“the daily newspaper”) that “our fear is their power – and both are growing massively at the moment.”

What can help dispel such fears is an accurate perception of the security challenge and a calmness that avoids perceiving threats that may not exist. Overreaction from fear is often the action desired by those who commit mass violence.

Public fear cannot be dismissed but it can often be based on an exaggerated or distorted view of reality. If any country can set a model for a calm and reasoned response to mass violence, it is Germany. Perhaps that is one reason why it has not experienced such attacks until now.

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