Germany faces up to the dark spectre of far-right terror
The attacker struck on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, killing two outside the synagogue, and wounding two others in what the government has described as an "anti-Semitic" terrorist attack carried out with a likely "right wing extremist motive."
Had the dozens of worshippers inside the synagogue not heard the sound of gunshots coming from outside, it's likely they wouldn't have had time to lock the door to prevent the attacker from slaughtering them all.
"The attacker repeatedly shot at the door and also threw several Molotov cocktails, firecrackers and grenades to force his way in," Max Privorotzki, head of the Jewish community in Halle, told the German magazine, Der Spiegel.
While much of the discussion will focus on what has become an established trend of right-wing extremists mimicking Brenton Tarrant, the Australian born white nationalist who live-streamed himself murdering 51 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, earlier this year, the fact of the matter is this: Germany again finds itself under real threat from actual white nationalist terrorists, who share a hatred of Jews, Muslims, leftists and immigrants alike.
"Germany has a terrorism problem," wrote German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in June. He was commenting on the death of Walter Lübcke, a regional politician from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, who was assassinated by a right-wing extremist because of his support for refugees.
"Eighty years after the beginning of World War Two, politicians have again become victims of right-wing terrorists. Because of their beliefs. Because of their commitment to our country," wrote Maas.
|Hate crimes against Jews spiked 20 percent over the past year in Germany|
German intelligence agencies described Lübcke's assassin as a "violent right-wing extremist" who is known to have had links to neo-Nazi networks, including the notorious National Socialist Underground (NSU) - a far-right group that murdered 10 migrants in between 2000 and 2007.
Both the killing of Lübcke in June, and Wednesday's attack on the synagogue fall within an alarming upward trend of violence against Jews, Muslims, and immigrants, often at the hands of those who express sympathy towards neo-Nazi ideals or belong to far-right extremist groups.
According to official figures, hate crimes against Jews spiked 20 percent over the past year in Germany, with the government recording 950 attacks against Muslims in 2017.
If the country's grappling with violent far-right extremism needed a public face, it got one when thousands of neo-Nazis and white nationalists flashed Nazi salutes and chanted "foreigners out" last April, in what became two nights of violent protests in the east German city of Chemnitz.
That these violent protests and the Halle attack took place in eastern German cities of the former GDR, is significant. The formerly communist half of the country has seen neo-Nazi movements and parties take hold, for a range of complex reasons that extend well beyond economic hardship. Nevertheless, it is here that the far-right party Pegida, an anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant movement draws crowds as large as 20,000 to its rallies.
"I live among the neo-Nazis in eastern Germany and it's terrifying," wrote a Berlin-born university student in an anonymous op-ed for The Guardian in 2018, adding:
"To take the full measure of it, you have to live here. There's the conversation at the bakery where an old woman complains about the 'bad' foreigners, and the woman serving her agrees.
"There's the conductor on the tramway who deliberately checks only the tickets of the black passengers. And there are the attacks on leftwing cultural projects or community centres - stones thrown, beatings, the violence you experience when you try to get involved. And there's the passivity of the so-called civilian population - locals who stand by when a black person is beaten up in the town centre. Racist, fascist normality sets in."
Alarmingly, far-right extremism has made its way from the streets and bars popular with skinheads, to mainstream politics as exemplified by the dramatic rise of the racist, xenophobic and ultranationalist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party in the recent state level elections held in the eastern German states of Saxony and Brandenburg.
AfD doubled its vote tallies from the 2014 ballots, securing 24 percent and 22 percent of the vote, respectively - and now finds itself creeping ever closer to securing power in the national parliament.
While the eastern states of Saxony and Brandenburg do not hold a great deal of sway over federal level politics, centrist parties, including the CDU, have "flirted with the possibility of a coalition with AfD," which puts the right-wing extremist party within shooting distance of Germany's national parliament.
|The AfD doubled its vote tallies from the 2014 ballots, securing 24 percent and 22 percent of the vote|
These are indeed terrifying times for a country that was utterly destroyed in the fight to rid itself of the scourge of Nazism. A current moment made more petrifying by recent revelations of the far-right activists' links to military and police personnel; links that have reportedly helped prepare terrorist attacks, including compiling a "death list" of leftist and pro-refugee activists, and stockpiling weapons, body bags and quicklime to kill and dispose of their victims.
This is one, ugly face of the Germany we find today. A country - like others in Europe - where far-right extremists are targeting liberal politicians, Muslims, Jews, and immigrants. It's time Germany faced its far-right problem, head on.
CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.
Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.