Terrorism from the right has not been a topic of conversation in the U.S. for some time, although it has always existed. That will now change – hopefully in Germany as well.
I flew to New York a few weeks after 9/11. My friends there had told me that the city was anguished and heart-stricken. It was still smoldering where the towers once stood and it smelled of decay. They said that New Yorkers were alone; tourists and business people were staying away. So I visited friends and family. The city had indeed become a different city, just as the world would be different from this point forward.
I attended a normal Friday service at a synagogue in downtown Manhattan, located not far from the massive hole the planes had torn open. The rabbi made jokes about the singing ability of the cantor; she spoke about the weekly portion of the Torah. She made an effort to cheer up her congregation. More than 20 of their members had died in the attack.
At the end of the service, she asked who would be responsible for neighborhood assistance this week. The congregation was taking turns protecting those who might be yelled at and physically assaulted after the attack: a mosque nearby, and Muslim families. Quite simple.
Perpetrator Was a Racist and Anti-Semite
After the murderous attack in Pittsburgh, it was the other way around: The Muslim community there immediately began to call on its Jewish neighbors, to give consolation and collect money for the bereaved. The perpetrator in Pittsburgh was a white anti-Semite and a racist. This neighborly solidarity is so much more important than distant statements that admittedly lament the victims, but continue to play down right-wing extremism.
A discussion is currently beginning in the U.S., examining whether home-grown terrorism from right-wing extremists has been overlooked and underestimated after 9/11. The violence has been much more open and more aggressive since Donald Trump’s daily rabble-rousing and a policy focused on hate and malice, but it already existed beforehand. However, it wasn’t considered terrorism because it affected those who were invisible.
Attacks on blacks and their churches weren’t considered terrorism and seldom appeared in headlines. Massacres that obviously had racist motives were also ignored as such. The public knows little about the infrastructure of militias and organizations for whom the description “extreme right” seems too harmless. With Pittsburgh, it has now finally become clear that right-wing extremism is not just the folklore of crackpots, but is actually just as relevant as Islamic terrorism.
Terrorism by right-wing extremists is the great danger: in the U.S., according to the countless dead due to racist attacks, and in Germany, according to the 194 victims of right-wing extremist and racist violence since 1990 alone.
I find that good, helpful neighborliness and solidarity, also among minorities, are the most important antidotes to hate. I wish for more of that in Germany.
Nevertheless, it is also time for security forces to finally take the danger presented by racist and anti-Semitic terrorism seriously. After Oct. 27, it doesn’t smell of smoke in Pittsburgh as it did at Ground Zero, but it does smell of decay – because the world has become a different world.
Anetta Kahane is the chairwoman of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation.