By this point in time, it should be old news that xenophobia is rearing its ugly head again in Germany of late. This past Saturday, October 17th, something new happened: While campaigning for the next day’s mayoral election in Cologne, non-party candidate Henriette Reker was attacked and stabbed by an assailant that is said to have a long standing far-right background and that spouted xenophobic phrases upon his arrest.
Mrs Reker survived and has, albeit being in intensive care for the moment, good chances to make a full recovery and has gotten the job she applied for. In the final result, she got 52.7% of the votes and reached the necessary absolute majority comfortably.
Being the incumbent head of the Department for Social Issues, Integration and the Environment, she was one of the primary actors responsible for coordinating the city’s response to the current influx of refugees. Her candidacy was supported by the Christian Democrats (CDU), Liberals (FDP) and the Greens (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen).
While I am happy to hear that she is on her way to recovery and that now, more so than probably with other candidates, the integration of migrants into the community will be invested in, it is a sad, terrible thing to have happened. Let’s be honest for just one brief second and admit that, had she not been stabbed, her victory, if at all (she was one of the front-runners before), would have been a much narrower one.
Maybe, hopefully, more people will start to take the threat posed by the extreme right more seriously now: Within hours of the stabbing, videos surfaced showing right wing ‘activists’, training to stab people in the jugular, which is exactly what happened to Mrs. Reker. The extreme right is crossing lines right now faster than we can draw them. And with only 40% electoral participation in Cologne, within 24 hours of the attack, optimism is in high demand.
We all know and knew that things are going to get worse before they get better in Germany, that people would get hurt, likely even killed during this (hopefully) transitional phase. And yet, it is scary – and it scares me. Maybe less so on a personal level, but on a structural one: It scares me that xenophobes have become courageous enough to actually go through with an attack like this one, it scares me that they will, over time, get their martyrs to celebrate, sacrificed for the ‘greater good’ in a world they don’t understand – and it makes me furious that people so much better than them will get hurt because of them.
Germany and the EU, at least politically, have been somewhat of a real-life attempt at utopia: the utopian ideal of solving different problems together amongst a community of nations, to unite people of many and more ethnicities, beliefs, traditions and geopolitics. The German social welfare system, albeit flawed, and its redistribution of wealth that outsiders have called socialist while Germans usually call it ‘broken’ and/or ‘not enough’, has been something that we should be proud of. Not because it is perfect, not because everyone gets the support he/she/they need, but because it would simply be unthinkable in too many other countries and circumstances.
Promote self-sufficiency and economic/political agency, help those that need help and take care of those that can’t help themselves, that is the core idea. An idea based on the mutual support within society and amongst societies, an idea of a fellowship, of ‘we’ rather than ‘they’, of ‘with’ rather than ‘against’ and one of ‘welcome’ rather than ‘what do you want’.
All this is under threat right now, all that is on the line when people get stabbed while speaking out for an open society, all that is on the line when too many thousands protest against things they don’t understand. And all that will not be taken away by inactiveness in the face ignorance.
It shall not.
It must not.
That being said, it is sad that by now, we have become numb to the news of human and humanitarian tragedies, to too many things that are directly opposed to an inclusive, humanitarian point of view and to the many fights at the many fronts that people are dedicating their lives to trying to make other peoples’ lives better. We have become numb, because horrible things are happening to good people and if we chose to feel and be affected by them, we would scream out in anger and pain for weeks on end.
So, we count our blessings, we count the hours and days that we don’t hear anything too horrible, celebrate motivational quotes on Facebook and are genuinely happy about any place in which utopian ideas such as ‘it works, maybe not well, but nothing is overly broken’ are still a possibility.
In the end, this is why I think every line that is being crossed in Germany hurts beyond personal sentiment: because we know it is possible, because we have seen it work.
History will be the judge of these early steps of the 21st century. Let’s wish it well; let’s hope that what we do will be enough – let’s hope that utopia prevails.
Just this once.
Moritz Borchardt is a director of GPPW.
Picture credit: dronepicr under a attribution 2.0 generic (CC BY 2.0) creative commons license