In Arizona shooting, Europe sees an America gripped by doubt, pessimism

The Arizona shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has gotten extensive coverage in London, Berlin, and Paris. A German paper stated that the motto 'Yes, we can' has been pushed aside by the financial crisis and two wars.

Chris Carlson/AP
Well-wishers gather for a candlelight vigil outside the offices US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in Tucson, Ariz., Sunday, Jan. 9.

European reaction to the Gabrielle Giffords Arizona shooting is seen strongly through the lens of the tea party rhetoric and as symptomatic of a superpower in decline and at the mercy of “radical” politics.

With significant play in London, Berlin, and Paris, the actions of alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner are seen as typically American and not surprising in Arizona, where citizens can carry concealed handguns without a permit, something considered unthinkable here.

The Giffords story in Europe today mirrored questions in US media about the degree to which anger, conspiracy theories, and intemperate talk show rhetoric is to blame for the context of the shooting.

France's daily Le Monde asked if Ms. Giffords’ shooting “is the tea party’s fault?” and Le Figaro’s Washington correspondent opined that “The political climate in the US is sick.” The London-based Economist asked today “Are Words to Blame?” Agence France-Presse described “Hate rhetoric is in target sights,” in the US.

Much of the German editorial position on Giffords was strongly accusatory of the political climate in the US in recent years.

The conservative Die Welt stated today that: “This murderous attack came from an atmosphere of discord and self-doubt, because America is experiencing the limits of its power on a daily basis, whether it be on distant fronts or with dissatisfaction at home. It has never been like this. There always was the motto: ‘Yes, we can.’ Today, widespread pessimism prevails, because of the financial crisis, and because of Iraq and Afghanistan, lost battles ..."

Resonance in rise of anti-immigration, anti-Islamic rhetoric

If there is a “resonance point” with Europe in the Giffords shooting, it may be in the rise of anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic rhetoric and right-wing sentiment on the Continent and fears that have been steadily raised about them. However, much of the overall style and direction of those new European anti-immigration politics has been to “mainstream” them in ways considered reasonable for centrist and middle-class voters.

The Netherlands in 2002 and 2005 witnessed the killing of politicians Pim Fortuyn and Theo Van Gogh in the context of an often lurid anti-Islam rhetoric promoted by those individuals. Their mantle has been taken up by the recently successful Geert Wilders, who in Holland, rightly or wrongly, is often compared with the American Tea Party impulse, and who has compared the Koran to Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

“People in Holland as in the US are concerned about the tone of our debate, the sharper rhetoric, and especially since for the first time TV news anchors are following the Fox [News] style of figures like Bill O’Reilly,” says Peter van Os, a former Washington correspondent for De Groene Amsterdammer who writes on Dutch politics from The Hague. “The phrase ‘angry electorate’ is now used often here ... and we are having debates about what Bill Clinton recently called ‘fact free’ news.”

British media on the weekend immediately seized the importance of the story, the first attempted assassination of a US politician in 30 years; the BBC and Sky News followed it live for most of Saturday evening and it was Page 1 on Sunday.

Europeans have paid attention to numerous stories on former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and her pro-tea party website that “targets” Giffords and includes the comment “Don’t retreat … reload” – as a symptom of the tone in US politics.

A guest column in the German Der Spiegel today warned that vitriolic attacks against Mrs. Palin from the left were themselves a manifestation of intemperate anger, and warned they could backfire by making her a victim of political elites.

Many French bloggers on the right-leaning Figaro site objected to Mr. Loughner being characterized as conservative, on the basis of his reported fascination with such writings as Das Kapital as well as Mein Kampf.

Mr. van Os notes that, “When I heard about the Arizona shooting, I remembered American friends after the killing of Fortuyn and Van Gogh, who told me that political assassinations were ‘so 60s.’”

IN PICTURES: Arizona shooting vigils

(This story was edited after posting to correct the spelling of the last name of the Arizona shooting suspect).

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