Maybe I have gotten spoilt regarding respect for minorities and other cultures since moving to London, probably Europe’s most multi-cultural city. But what I heard this week from a German minister about some ethnic minorities was shocking even by German standards:
Speaking about the terror threat level which had been heightened once again, the interior minister of the state of Berlin, Mr Ehrhart Körting, said: “If we see something in our neighborhood, if suddenly three rather strange-looking people move in who try to keep out of sight and who only speak Arabic or another foreign language that we don’t understand, then I think one should make sure the authorities know what is going on.”
We have gotten used to panic about terrorism being fuelled by governments, we have unfortunately also gotten used to a certain level of racism, but as far as I am aware, this is the first time that a minister of the interior has linked the fear of terrorism with racist prejudices against one specific group.
This is both stupid and dangerous:
- Most Germans wouldn’t be able to tell Arabic from Turkish or Farsi or Swahili.
- What constitutes “strange-looking”? The most strange-looking thing to my eyes in Germany are Bavarians with their traditional costumes.
- And why would it be suspicious if you “keep out of sight”? I keep to myself most of the time, because I have enough to do and because there are not too many interesting people to talk to. That makes me a bookish nerd maybe, but it shouldn’t make me a terror suspect.
- It is outrageous and sad that anti-terrorism policy has come down to calling for fear and mistrust. If the security services are in need of “information” picked up by grandmas spying on their neighbours, then we are in a dire situation indeed.
- It provides a pretence for anyone who has an axe to grind with a member of an ethnic minority: You have a business dispute with a Syrian or a child custody dispute with a Moroccan? Just blame them of terrorist ties, some dirt will stick.
- Terrorists now know that they just have to go to a beer garden more often and speak English or German, and they will be safe from detection.
- Putting one group (Arabic speakers) under general suspicion won’t help to receive the cooperation from members of this group with law enforcement.
If this kind of thinking will become acceptable or even mainstream in Germany, then it won’t be my country any longer. And I am certainly not inclined to return to a country where citizens are asked to spy and report on each other.