Germany grapples with a terror wave

Berlin’s calculated response to recent acts of violence should be instructive for us all

Special police officers secure a street near the house where a Syrian man lived before the explosion in Ansbach, southern Germany. AP Photo / Matthias Schrader
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Germany has suffered three terror attacks over the past week. In the latest attack, an asylum seeker from Syria blew himself up outside a music festival in the Bavarian city of Ansbach, wounding 12 people and killing himself. The attacker had entered Germany two years ago but had his asylum claim rejected last year. He had been granted permission to stay in the country temporarily pending his deportation to Bulgaria.

The manner in which German authorities have handled this wave of violence is instructive for other countries grappling with the threat of terror. Security forces tackled the immediate threats in a calm and collected manner. In an earlier attack in Munich on Friday, the city’s public transport infrastructure was closed down within an hour of a shooting spree in the city centre. The music festival in Ansbach was immediately locked down after the bombing.

Instead of fanning the flames of intolerance and collective guilt by placing blame on immigrant communities in Germany for these attacks, officials have taken a cautious tone in describing the events. While there have been far-right anti-immigrant voices that have tried to exploit these attacks for short-term political gain, the reaction of mainstream officials and those in power has been calm. Ministers from across the German political spectrum have said that they will review gun legislation and security policies to find areas for sensible reform. The government has defused the situation rather than inflamed it.

As the de facto leader of the European Union, Germany reaction to this heinous wave of terror attacks is important. Its postwar history of recognising minority groups as critical and productive parts of society is clearly informing its reaction to extremist threats. Of course, there are hiccups and pockets of toxic sentiment but the overall reaction so far from Berlin is exactly what we need to see more of across the world.

The best strategy to defeat extremism is through commonsense legislation that will help authorities counter threats as they emerge. A spirit of cooperation and unity is another critical ingredient for combating the extremists. As Germany has made clear over the past week, demonising entire immigrant communities and fanning the flames of populist racism does nothing to meet the challenges the world faces.