The Berlin murders show, if the killer does indeed fall into that category, that man’s proclivity to bite the hand that feeds remains a dark mystery at the heart of the human condition.
It seems inevitable that the I-told-you-so naysayers assumed that an Islamic migrant was responsible for Monday’s atrocity at Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz Christmas market where at least 12 people died. The right-wing Alternative for Germany suggested early yesterday, before the first suspect was released, that their country’s — and by tacit extension Europe’s — Christian traditions were under attack. They may well be right but judgement on this attack must wait.
The man arrested immediately after the attack had been identified as having arrived in Germany hardly a year ago. He is just one of the million or so refugees Germany accepted last year. Though the attacker remained at large — and unidentified — last evening the profile of the man arrested fitted neatly into a certain narrative, it supported a particular, aggressive view.
Germany has, by some distance, welcomed more immigrants than another other European country. That figure is greater than the number of refugees America — population 320m; Germany 80m — welcomed in the last decade. Since 2005, America has accepted 675,982 refugees. Ireland has agreed to rehome 4,000.
Though thoughts will be with Breitscheidplatz’s bereaved, the concentrated focus will be on Angela Merkel. She has, ahead of an election next year, made a concession to Germans uneasy with immigration by saying the burqa should be banned in as many places as is feasible. There was a justified sense of having been betrayed in her reaction: “It would be particularly hard to bear for all of us if it was confirmed that a person committed this crime who asked for protection and asylum in Germany.” How that disappointment is reflected, if it is, in policy will set the tone right across Europe. Should it lead to a hardening of attitudes then the victims will, sadly, be those so very in need of sanctuary.
This is not the first, nor will it be the last terror attack carried out by those presumably frightened by our values. Germany exemplifies a Christian response to this crisis but one the best expressions of that philosophy came from Norway five years ago. Speaking after Anders Behring Breivik murdered 77 people on a summer afternoon, then prime minister Jens Stoltenberg said: “We are still shocked ... but we will never give up our values. Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity.” Norway, he promised, would not seek vengeance as America had after 9/11. “We will answer hatred with love.” This was, and is, the correct response. Anything else fuels the intolerance so assertive today. This must be done in a way that advances the values seen as so threatening by those who might be happy to drive a truck through crowds of happy Christmas shoppers.