It's one of the cruelties of terrorism that not all attention can be focused on its victims. After all, it's not just about those who died simply because they crossed paths with a despicable, hate-filled soul at the wrong time. It's not only about the survivors, whose psychological wounds may never heal. Rather, part of the public's interest is necessarily directed toward the perpetrator -- someone like Stephan B., who likely wanted exactly that when he murdered two people in Halle earlier this week, and who was almost certainly prevented from killing more only by chance. Even though the criminal earned nothing more than to be forgotten in his cell until the end of time, we must turn our attention to him as well. Or, to be more precise, what it was that drove him to do what he did.
Shortly before the murderer set off on Wednesday to transform his abominable fantasies into reality, he recorded a video intended for the global cesspool of neo-Nazis, right-wing extremists and anti-Semites. In that clip, he said something that was as idiotic and hateful as it was significant. First, he denied the Holocaust, before then turning his attention to feminism, claiming that it was to blame for low birthrates in the West, which in turn caused mass-immigration. And, he said, "the Jew" was behind it all.
To whom, exactly, was he speaking? The video shows that Stephan B., who spoke some English in the clip as well, apparently wanted to impress a global community of right-wing extremists via the forums in which they are active. People who believe they are engaged in a battle with Islam and Judaism and whose heroes include racist murderers like Anders Behring Breivik, the mass murder from Norway, along with the attacker from Christchurch.
But that's not all. Stephan B. wasn't just trying to ingratiate himself with neo-Nazis in the video. His anti-Semitism was presented alongside ideas that are also widespread among supporters of right-wing populist parties across Europe, including the Alternative for Germany (AfD). They are ideas which, in a slightly less strident form, are also discussed on talk shows by some who identify as conservatives. The perpetrator's hatred of Jews combined with anti-feminist narratives and the idea that Germany's population is threatened by replacement? It's a convergence of ideas that is far too common.
Even if every upstanding supporter of right-wing politics were to distance themselves as far as possible from this crime, the criminal himself apparently believed he was acting on behalf of all those who believe that Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leftist elite are following a vast and perfidious plan to swap out the German population. Right-wing populists can, of course, claim they had nothing to do with it. But the Halle terrorist used their arguments, their words and their narrative.
The new right wing are not the neo-Nazis of yore. They have managed to gain a foothold in Germany by distancing themselves conceptually from National Socialism. Whereas right-wing extremists used to regularly isolate themselves through their devotion to Adolf Hitler, today they hardly miss an opportunity to keep themselves at arm's length from the Nazis and from anti-Semitism. Even if they regularly dog-whistle to the fascist members of their electorate, they have sought, with growing success, to pose as the true protectors of the Jews. To do so, all they needed was the archetype of the pathologically anti-Semitic Muslim, allowing them to justify their virulent Islamophobia with Germany's "never again" raison d'étre. The success of this strategy can be seen in the increasingly widespread acceptance of claims that real anti-Semitism in Germany comes primarily from its immigrants.
We cannot, of course, ignore the fact that, just one week ago in Berlin, a 23-year-old Syrian armed with a knife went after guards in front of a synagogue. But hatred of Jews has long since returned to all parts of society. The attempt to root it in ethnicity, and thus situate it far away from the white German population, helps nobody but the AfD. Anti-Semitism has no skin color and no religion. It is prevalent on the left and on the right, among the unemployed and the super-rich. It has been part of human civilization for millennia.
There is a reason why the Central Council of Jews in Germany repeatedly issues warnings about the AfD and a newly flourishing racism targeting Muslims especially, but also Jews. It is the same reason why the Israeli government, which is anything but leftist, rejects any contact with the German right-wing populists.
A key characteristic of classic anti-Semitism can be found in the willingness to brand Jews as a collective acting in concert to make some sinister plan reality. As a foreign body pursuing their own goals within society -- goals which will ultimately lead to the destruction of their "host society." Another characteristic is the description of Jews as a rootless, prosperous and cosmopolitan group that doesn't share the values and norms of the majority.
These two anti-Semitic narratives merge when the AfD and its supporters speak of the demographic catastrophe that was allegedly set in motion by left-wing feminism and suddenly realized by massive Arab immigration, all supported by the leftist elites who allegedly know nothing of the norms and values of the real Germans. That was pretty much exactly the message of the terrorist in Halle, before he went on to blame everything on the Jews. Today's right-wing populists, of course, aren't nearly that inelegant. They usually leave it to their listeners to draw the appropriate conclusions. The AfD's anti-Semitism no longer needs the Jews. All it needs is the anti-Semitic stereotype.
Hatred of Jews was manifested in a horrific way in Halle this week. But it's not just this crime that should cause concern, there are many smaller signs as well. The growing number of people, for example, who say that it is time for Germany to move on from its past. Or the 45-percent support in Germany for the claim that Jews use the Holocaust for their own benefit. Then there is the vastly exaggerated number of Germans who insist that their ancestors were part of the anti-Nazi resistance. Those are all indications that many Germans have ceased taking an active interest in the anti-Semitic inheritance that led to the catastrophic genocide of the Jews -- if they ever did in the first place. Instead, there is a laughable tendency to pat ourselves on the back for the tremendous effort we as a country have expended in examining that uncomfortable past -- as though we have successfully completed the process and can now use it for bragging rights, just as we do the expensive car we have parked in our garages.
What will remain of this terrible crime in a week or in a month? In the best case scenario, a couple of people might come to the realization that the fight against anti-Semitism requires more than just a visit to a concentration camp memorial site. And recognize that the AfD has long since begun winning support with anti-Semitic rhetorical patterns -- and not just among right-wing extremists. That support, rather, extends deep into what we call the center of society.
Anti-Semitism, like racism, is inside many of us. The point is not to deny it, but to ask ourselves what effect the poison has on us as individuals. To what degree do we understand what is meant when someone speaks of the "Israeli lobby"? How willing are we to ascribe perfidious characteristics to an entire group of people just because others do so?
But perhaps things will take a different turn and once again a favored concept will make its corrosive reappearance. The lone-wolf attacker. One thing, though, is clear: Stephan B. is anything but alone.
Translator: Charles Hawley