Friday, February 28, 2020
Merkel reaps the whirlwind
KEVIN OVENDEN looks at the false narratives being offered by right-wing German politicians in the wake of the murderous attacks on Hanau’s shisha bars
LARGE protests have swept Germany in the wake of the far-right terror attack at two shisha bars in Hanau on Wednesday of last week.
The mobilisations and calls for further action from anti-fascist and anti-racist organisations offer much more than a collective show of grief and solidarity with the nine dead, plus the mother of the killer. He murdered her before taking his own life and leaving a manifesto-style, racist “confession”.
The movement is pointing to the deep roots of what is the latest instance of far-right terror, and not only in Germany. It is also providing the basis for a practical response, not what are so often empty words from state officials and governments.
German chancellor Angela Merkel gave a prime example of that when she said of the Hanau atrocity: “Hate is a poison… that is responsible for far too many crimes.”
Just hate? Is this simply a product of an irrational state of mind or is there something else to why a racist would target brown-skinned people in self-evidently Middle Eastern venues?
The unfathomable act of a “lone wolf” was the line of one spokesperson for the far-right AfD, which has a large fascist wing. Jorg Meuthen said: “This is neither right-wing nor left-wing terror. It’s the crazy act of a deranged man.”
His party “Kamerad” [as nazis used to refer to one another] Rainer Rahn, who headed the AfD list in Frankfurt in 2018, claimed the party was being smeared for responsibility for the atrocity, before giving this mitigation and rationalisation for the mass murder: “Shisha bars are places that displease many people, including me. If someone is constantly disturbed by such a facility, it could somehow contribute to such an act.”
It is not only the fascists of the AfD who have demonised the German equivalents of those Arab-run pavement cafes on London’s Edgware Road. Centre-left politicians called for police raids on bars in Berlin in the false name of tackling “criminality.” No criminal activity was discovered.
There seems no accident in the choice of terror target. But the official response of bemusement and talk of de-contextualised “hate crime” (a term whose inflation is destroying all rational thought) serves to avoid investigating what is causing this.
So does detaching it from a series of neo-nazi terror attacks. In the last few months in Germany, we have had the neo-nazi murder of a liberal-minded politician of Merkel’s own party in Kassel and the attempted massacre at a synagogue in Halle.
Barely a month has gone by without fresh revelations of neo-nazi, white-survivalist terror cells being uncovered. They have disproportionately included members of special units of the German armed forces and police.
The arrests have in several cases exposed a culture of tolerance for overt extreme-right allegiance by others in those institutions but not themselves members of the terror groups, with their plans to attack mosques and left-wing targets, and stockpiling of arms caches.
Two weeks ago 12 members of a neo-nazi network were finally arrested. They included a serving police officer.
According to Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, far-right extremists committed 10,105 violent crimes in the last decade, as well as 83 murders since 1990.
It says it is aware of about 24,000 “far-right extremists”. Over half of them have expressed support for terroristic violence to achieve their aims.
Lest you think that the German equivalent of Britain’s MI5 is atop the situation, its former chief, Hans-Georg Maassen, was forced to resign in 2018. It came after pressure from the left over him expressing sympathy for the AfD and turning a blind eye to what was nothing short of an attempted pogrom by neo-nazis in the east German city of Chemnitz in August that year.
In a copycat attack on immigrants two weeks later, video emerged of neo-nazis raising the slogan “National-Socialism now!” Maassen said his agency had seen nothing other than concerned citizens taking to the streets. He then provided a confidential intelligence briefing to AfD MPs.
Defending Maassen to the last was German interior minister Horst Seehofer, who proclaims: “There is no place for Islam in Germany.”
There is an awful lot more going on than “lone wolves” in Hanau, Halle, Pittsburgh, Charleston, Christchurch, Finsbury Park, the murderer of Labour MP Jo Cox in Yorkshire.
Understanding the complete picture with all its gradations is important if the left and labour movement are to win a practical and effective response to this terror threat.
Closely associated with the “lone wolf” theory is the idea that this is a simple and direct result of reactionary ideas swirling around in society and promulgated by mainstream politicians.
There is an element of truth in that.
Mainstream racism and reaction embolden those who look to violent methods – even terrorism. If a local mayor orders police raids on Middle Eastern cafes, then why not take a more “activist” approach yourself? So combating racism at all levels is vital.
But more is happening than that. It is not just the intersection of bigoted ideas with those so dehumanised that they will act upon them in the most violent way.
That, actually, is the defence put up by major far-right/fascist organisations such as the AfD. Tory racist propaganda against asylum seekers in the early 1990s did encourage a popular racism in which attacks took place.
But the striking 300 per cent increase in racist attacks in south-east London at that time did not take place by a process of osmosis from some reactionary announcement by the Tory home secretary.
It fitted wholly with the opening of the fascist British National Party’s headquarters and its intensified activity in that area. Similarly when it made an electoral breakthrough in east London.
There was a mechanism between the spread of reactionary ideas in general and murderous, organised far-right or racist attacks. It is a fascist mechanism.
One baleful consequence of the political earthquakes that have shaken the Establishment on both sides of the Atlantic in the last four years has been to lose sight of that mechanism. All sorts of commentators have talked instead of a kind of amorphous “populism”.
For pro-capitalist politicians of the centre, and their theoreticians, populism is a danger from both right and left, against a liberal, rational centre. We are led back to the once leader of that centre, Merkel, talking piously of “hatred” in response to a far-right terrorist attack that murdered 10 people.
A left variant has been mistakenly to take at face value efforts by fascist forces to gain electoral credibility – from Le Pen’s RN in France to the AfD – as some novel “post-fascist” phenomenon.
The argument is that there is a kind convergence between fascist thugs of the 1980s looking to parliamentary methods and centre-right politicians dabbling in breaking taboos on racism and extra-parliamentary mobilisation.
It is a wholly one-sided assessment, with dangerous political consequences. The AfD’s rise has not been a process of domestication into “normal parliamentary methods”. It has both sought to carve out a national conservative space and radicalised through seeking to normalise fascist positions, and in some cases actions.
That is not without its tensions and contradictions. But we have just had, in the name of domesticating the AfD,
the conservatives and liberals in the eastern state of Thuringia cut a deal with the most fascist wing of the party to oust the left from government.
Massive reaction across Germany broke the alliance, and is probably responsible for the “liberal” FDP being punished at the polls in Hamburg last Sunday for its disgusting role in the scandal.
But the preparedness of the right of the mainstream right to make the AfD’s votes “useful” by including it in governing arrangements continues. It is contributing to a deepening crisis for the German government.
SPD politician Michael Roth rightly describes the AfD as a “political arm of right-wing terrorism.”
For the AfD is incubating such terrorism not only through its virulent racism and anti-leftism. At its base and on its fringes is a swirling cesspit that includes those in the neo-nazi subculture.
They can move back and forth, find space to discuss “tactics” (how much constitutional, how much terroristic).
The mainstream right does not want terror attacks on shisha bars. But it entertains political pacts with the AfD. And the AfD breeds those who do want terror attacks on shisha bars.
The internet enormously increases the velocity of communication and capacity for fascists or those looking to more “radical” solutions. What French anti-racists call the “fascho-sphere” allowed, for example, the Christchurch terrorist in New Zealand to forge connections globally.
That is a distinct feature – up to a point. The murderer of Jo Cox MP brewed his own murderous worldview out of fascist texts bought by mail order from the US in the 1980s.
This cannot be put down to deranged men in a grotty basement becoming “radicalised” online. There are material, social and political processes at work.
Three weeks today the left and anti-racists will take to the streets in Germany to confront those mechanisms. Stand Up to Racism and others will march in Britain on the same international day of action.
We don’t have the state resources, directed to democratic and progressive ends, directly to stop the next fascist terrorist.
But we can make a difference by intelligently focusing upon opposing racism in general, crushing the fascist mechanisms and pressuring the authorities to stop treating this as a series of “lone wolves” motivated by some vague “hate.”