Mr. Rogers might experience a beautiful day in his neighborhood, but things aren’t so nice in other locations. There’s bickering and dissension in Washington, D.C., and people perpetrating mass shooting elsewhere in the U.S. on an all too frequent basis. Is the problem here in America.only? Nope. Apparently being unneighborly, in fact downright hateful, is a worldwide problem.
Germany is the latest site for the most unneighborly of behavior. In Hanau, a suburb of Frankfurt, one man was not capable of loving his neighbors. He couldn’t even be content with simply hating them. No, he had to kill them. Why such extreme behavior? Well, his neighbors just happened to be–GASP!–a minority group from a different country. How could he possibly be nice to someone different from him?
Mr. Hater was not some hotheaded young man lacking maturity and worldly experience. He was age 43 and perpetrated premeditated violence. In layman’s terms, this means he planned his violent attack in advance. He just didn’t lose it when someone who looked different than he does did something that didn’t sit right with him.
So what happened? On February 19, 2020, the gunman, one Tobias Rathjen, shot and killed nine people of foreign background. Why? Because they were of foreign background. His rampage began in a hookah bar (where flavored tobacco is smoked from Middle Eastern water pipes) frequented by immigrants, i.e., he specifically targeted a place where immigrants were likely to be found. Before making a statement with his gun, he made a nasty statement, a rant really, online about the “extermination” of other races or cultures in Germany’s midst. I’m sorry, but isn’t “extermination” a term that’s supposed to be used with household pests, not living and breathing human beings?
Among those killed in the mass shooting were ethnic Kurds, Turks (five Turkish citizens to be exact), and those with backgrounds from Romania, Bulgaria, and Bosnia. German authorities, crack investigators that they are, have been treating the case as an act of domestic terrorism. German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the perpetrator acted “Out of hatred for people with other origins, other faiths or a different appearance.”
Don’t hold your breath for a sensational criminal trial. Rathjen returned home following the shootings and killed his 72 year old mother before killing himself. That’s one way to insure his poor mother didn’t have to hear about what a bad boy he had been.
What’s Rathjen’s beef with immigrants and foreigners? Well, it’s tied to his homeland’s current situation. Germany has experienced a slowing economy and a wave of immigration. In the 1960’s and 1970’s there was a shortage of workers in Germany, and foreign workers, particularly from Turkey, were sought. The idea was that young immigrants would bolster Europe’s shrinking labor force.
Chancellor Merkel’s open-door policy towards refuges brought 1.2 million new migrants into Germany in 2015-2016. Many of these immigrants were fleeing war-torn countries in the Middle East. Turks are now the largest minority group in Germany at 3.7% of the population.
The influx of immigrants has placed a strain on Germany’s finances. Poverty among elderly pensioners is at an all-time high, and of December 2017, over two million foreigners were receiving unemployment benefits. Needless to say, a downturn in the economic picture has led to anti-immigration sentiment in general and the rise of an anti-immigrant political party, AfD (Alternative for Germany), in particular.
Bad feelings against foreigners has given rise to actions against them. Turkey’s ambassador in Germany reported that Turkish immigrants in Germany are experiencing more and more hate crimes. In fact, 2017 saw a 50% rise in migrant crimes. That’s not a nice neighborhood. Chancellor Merkel, has, of course, denounced the “poison” of racism and hatred in Germany.
Unfortunately, the Hanau shooting is not an isolated incident. It is the third major hate crime in Germany in the last year. Another deadly attack occurred on Yom Kippur back in October. The targets this time were not those from a different country but those of a different faith.
The perpetrator of the October crime, a 27 year old German man, unsuccessfully attempted to enter the Halle Synagogue; however he did manage to kill two individuals nearby. He live-streamed his attack via a head camera and recorded himself using hateful language. The assailant announced that “The root of all these problems is the Jew.” Investigators characterized the crime as a being far-right and anti-Semitic, and police reinforcements were sent to synagogues across Germany. So, it’s not safe to be an immigrant or a Jewish neighbor in Germany these days.
A third hate crime made German headlines in June 2019. A local politician in Hesse was assassinated at his home by a neo-Nazi extremist. A German man named Stephan Ernst took issue with Walter Lubcke’s outspoken support of Chancellor Merkel’s pro-migrant policies. He went to Lubcke’s home not to engage in a political debate but to shut Lubcke up–permanently. Lubcke was found dead on the terrace of his residence having been shot through the head. Ernst had previously been convicted of knife and bomb attacks against targets connected to ethnic minorities in Germany. You sure don’t want HIM for a neighbor.
The fact that people don’t like and don’t want to associate with people who are different than they are is nothing new. Remember how the Jews and Samaritans despised each other in Biblical times? At least in the story of the Good Samaritan, those who didn’t like their neighbor simply ignored or failed to help him.
As much as society has progressed over the last two thousand years, relations with our neighbors have not. Now if your neighbor looks different than you do, expresses an opinion not in line with yours, or hails from a country different than yours, killing them might be considered..As a result, neighbors who are different than you are may not be safe at a bar, a place of worship, or even their own home. What a hateful day it is in our world neighborhood. Mr. Rogers is surely turning over in his grave.
Who do you think your neighbor is? If you can’t love your neighbor, could you at least agree to disagree with him? How can hate crimes be prevented? How should they be punished?