Right after the unity of the two Germanies on Oct. 3, 1990, new winds were blowing in Europe.
On one hand, there was a Europe that uniting and integrating with newcomer Eastern European countries.
On the other hand, there was a Europe that was debating its European identity.
Europe entered a new period following the end of the Cold War, with Eastern and Western European countries reverting to being part of the same neighborhood after years of purported animosity on opposing blocs.
In order to build the intellectual foundations of re-unity, it was crucial to determine and describe who the “other” would be so as to differentiate who is European and who is not.
Despite political sociologists such as Ulrich Beck and Edgar Grande arguing that European identity should be defined upon the richness of coexistence of different cultures and hence a cosmopolitan social structure, many views on the subject focused mainly on the white racial and Christian characteristics.
Moreover, prominent politicians claimed that Islam had no place in Europe and that Europe historically had Christian characteristics.
Attacks, especially against immigrants of Muslim origin, increased since the 1990s.
Shortly after the merger, on Nov. 23, 1992, a Turkish family’s house in the town of Molln in northern Germany was torched by far-right extremists, resulting in three people from the Aslan family burning to death.
In 1993, a massacre that left five Turks dead in Solingen, Germany, carried the signature of neo-nazis.
The Molln and Solingen disasters were perhaps the first important harbingers of the dangers of far-right actions, which have today become more frequent and strong.
At that time, the identity debate in Europe and intense migration flows due to the war in Yugoslavia had, of course, been influential in the attack.
In both incidents, the victims were Turkish and Muslim families.
However, both attacks were treated as isolated incidents in the press in both Germany and Europe as a whole. Naturally, as a result of this underestimation, the attacks and massacres carried out by far-right groups continued to take place in Germany and other countries.
The Western press also supported this stance by trying to link or cover up many of the crimes of hate and racism to different causes.
“When is considered that German statistics show one in every five people see Muslims as enemies, it would not be wrong to argue that the far-right is getting stronger each and every day.”
Changes in the composition of international relations throughout the 1990s resulted in the deepening of identity debates.
While the civil war in Yugoslavia caused an increased flow of people into Europe, this flow was further supported by the full membership of Eastern European countries to the EU.
Discussions on identity continued up until the 21st century.
At the beginning of the new century, the characteristics of the “other,” through which Europe sought to define itself, came from far away, making clear who Europeans were.
The “radical religious Muslim terrorists” who were responsible for the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001 were the most important elements in defining the West’s new other.
Europeans were of the white race, belonged to the historical peoples of Europe and were Christian. Thus, Muslims and Islam had no place in Europe.
The Old Continent, which witnessed the gradual rise of the far-right in the first quarter of the 2000s, today sees a lot of racist attacks.
These attacks in Germany — where Syrian migrants, in particular, live in the greatest numbers and many radical right-wing attacks and killings have been perpetrated in 2019 — on mosques and areas where Muslims live pose a serious security hazard, especially with rising Islamophobia in eastern German states.
Not enough measures have been taken for Muslims, in the face of these attacks, no matter how politicians such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Foreign Affairs Minister Heiko Maas and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer issued condemnations of the violence and racism.
Many states in Germany have been ill-disposed to the idea of increasing security measures in mosques and places of worship, despite bomb threats, saying existing measures are sufficient and that new measures not be taken.
“These attacks in Germany — where Syrian migrants, in particular, live in the greatest numbers and many radical right-wing attacks and killings have been perpetrated in 2019 — on mosques and areas where Muslims live pose a serious security hazard, especially with rising Islamophobia in eastern German states.”
According to research in Germany, there are almost 24,000 far-right extremists in the country with almost half being in favor of violence, the targets of far-right/racist murders are generally Muslims and the places where they live.
When it is considered that German statistics show one in every five people see Muslims as enemies, it would not be wrong to argue that the far-right is getting stronger each and every day.
Moreover, these terrorists and their actions are sometimes assisted by government officials at various levels.
The most concrete evidence of this is the lethargy shown by German authorities in investigating murders committed by the neo-nazi National Socialist Underground (NSU) terrorist organization between 2000 and 2007.
In these murders, 10 people, eight of them Turks, lost their lives.
According to remarks in the Federal Parliament by German Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht, who was newly appointed in June 2019, the NSU murders had not been revealed and were kept secret for years as judicial authorities suspected the victims’ families rather than uncovering the perpetrators.
In the most recent act of racist terrorism, on Feb. 20, 2020, 11 people in their twenties and thirties, most of them of Turkish origin, were killed in Hanau near the city of Frankfurt, Germany.
The German perpetrator Tobias R., who allegedly killed himself and his mother in the immediate aftermath of the attack, was found to have contacted other far-rightists and/or racists on issues of racism and conspiracy theories via the internet.
Following this terrorist act, the leaders of the German government made the familiar statements of condemnation of the violence and expressed hope that this would be the last.
Among these, the most remarkable statement belonged to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said: “Racism is poison […] And this poison occurs in our society.”
Interior Minister Seehofer, for his part, indicated that security and protection measures would be increased, especially, in Muslim places of worship and gathering, and for civil society leaders.
Following the events in Hanau, it was understood that the perpetrator received “far-right/racism/xenophobia training” through internet connections — so to speak — that in fact, far-right movements pose a greater threat and danger to Europe than had been thought.
Although some organs of the German press tried to distort this by establishing mafia connections with the perpetrators, a video prepared by Tobias R. showed him sending a message to America and “sleeper cells.”
These “poisonous” thoughts, which could reach a much larger audience thanks to the internet, make it easier for Islamophobic and xenophobic people living elsewhere in the world to find support.
And every time, the world public witnesses the death of many people.
In New Zealand, where 51 people died and 49 were injured in the attacks on two mosques last year, new racist acts took place despite the country’s attempts to support Muslims and severe condemnation of these incidents, indicating the magnitude of the danger.
Documents released by Australian-born terrorist perpetrator Brenton Tarrant from his Facebook and Twitter accounts show how far-right networks of communication and support persist among each other.
Tarrant had also met members of far-right movements in Austria, Germany and France before the attack and aided them with funding.
According to the attacker, whose manifesto also included personal information of himself, it was unacceptable for his country and Europe to Islamize and adopt a multicultural structure.
He posted images of firearms on Facebook, with expressions indicating his animosity against Turks and Muslims.
In his 73-page manifesto published on Twitter, Tarrant said he was inspired by an earlier racist terror attack carried out by Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, and described “why he carried out this attack” with anti-Turkish and anti-Muslim slurs.
Following the terrorist action in Norway, many politicians from far-right parties in Europe stated their support for Breivik both on social media and in public.
These politicians, who belong to Italian, British and French far-right parties, expressed their opposition to the Islamization of Europe, with Jacques Coutela of the French National Front (FN) even describing Breivik as a “defender of the West” on his personal internet blog.
Indeed, Breivik, who himself wrote articles on the internet praising far-right ideas and movements, explained that he had taken this action in response to Norway’s multiculturalism policy.
After the end of the Cold War, the multipolar system emerging in world politics from the 1990s onwards not only sped up the pace of globalization by eliminating boundaries, but also triggered protectionist reflexes and regionalization over against the migration of people from their current locations as a result of hot conflicts and wars.
In addition to the main reasons for the escalation of far-right movements in the post-Cold War period, such as the global economic crisis, refugee flows and mass migration movements, technological developments are also among the most important factors supporting racism and racist terrorism.
The fact that someone in Norway, Canada or New Zealand is aware of far-right terrorist acts taking place in Germany and that people with common ideas can easily communicate, support or inspire each other through the internet points to a very dangerous situation.
These acts of far-right terrorism require far more serious joint measures than are articulated by politicians.
The increase in votes for far-right parties across Europe and the shift in this direction by right-wing conservative parties in the face of this increase played a very serious role in spreading the poison of racism.
Actions such as demonstrations and meetings by the far-right Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA) movement and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party just before the Hanau massacre encouraged members of the far-right.
Indeed, racism and hatred are poison, and unfortunately, that poison is now everywhere.
A versatile and strong antidote must be used against this poison, which may cause the biggest problems of our period.
European states, especially Germany, need to cooperate in the face of racist attacks to produce lasting, sustainable solutions instead of making temporary statements that underestimate acts of terror.
Otherwise, politicians’ sorrowful statements, vigils and flowers left at the of terrorist activities will not be enough to defeat this poison risking many more similar acts.
Thus, Western countries must cooperate with their Muslim counterparts to come up with common solutions to prevent such incidents since it is the Muslim who is the most important enemy figure for the far-right is Muslim.
(Nurgul Bekar is a political scientist at Ufuk University in Ankara, Turkey.)
*Translation by Merve Dastan