Germany has to address some tough questions after recent terror spree

The global community has been fretting over the gun laws and gun ownership in USA but why did we forget Germany and her erratic history of gun laws?

After the rampages of Nice and Wurzburg, the global community has been appalled and dismayed by an ambush on peace in the heart of Bavaria, Munich which has been known for its spell binding medieval edifices and friendly festivals.

On 22 July 2016, a shooting occurred in the vicinity of the Olympia shopping mall in the Moosach district of Munich, Germany. At 17:52 CEST (15:52 UTC), a lone gunman opened fire at a McDonald's west of the Olympia shopping mall in Moosach, a district of Munich, Germany. A video that went viral online showed him firing at pedestrians outside McDonald's.

The gunman then moved on to the mall. Most of the victims were killed inside the mall. Another video showed the gunman walking alone on the roof of a nearby parking garage before opening fire again. He can be heard yelling "I am German" (German: Ich bin Deutscher) and "I was born here" after a bystander hurled anti-Turkish slurs at him.

Nine victims and the perpetrator died in the incident, and another 27 were injured, four by gunshots.

Ali David Sonboly (called David S. by the police) was identified as the shooter. He was an 18-year-old Iranian-German with dual nationality.

The Munich Police Department said that the gunman was born and raised in Munich and had no criminal record. He lived in an apartment in Maxvorstadt with his parents and brother.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said he was the son of Shiite Muslims from Iran who came to Germany as asylum seekers in the 1990s. Sonboly's parents told police their son had possibly converted to Christianity, but he was not religious.

Police said that he had been in psychiatric care where he was treated for depression. De Maiziere said he may have been bullied by his peers, and police said he had suffered "bodily injury" in an incident involving other young people in 2012.

Sonboly had an obsession with mass shooters, including the perpetrator of the Winnenden School shooting in 2009; he compiled a scrapbook of news clippings on mass shootings and owned several books on the matter.

A classmate of Sonboly said that Sonboly changed his profile picture on the messaging service WhatsApp to a photo of Norwegian far right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik.

During the ordeal, Sonboly vociferated that he had been bullied for seven years.

It was highly agonizing for me to witness another bloodbath on our television screens now in Munich which echoes the same pathos as the one evoked by the carnage at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.

It seems that the Munich rampage will be parochially exploited too for political gains by German Opposition against the governing coalition of CDU and CSU which is being spearheaded by the chancellor Angela Merkel.

This week has not only appalled us with a rampage in Munich but also with a loathsome and despicable carnage in Kabul, Afghanistan which was perpetrated by ISIS and they targeted the third largest ethnic group of Afghanistan “Hazaras” mostly Shia in a predominantly Sunni state. The victims of this Afghan carnage were marching against the TUTAP mega power project. Reportedly, 80 people have been killed and 260 have been injured in this bloodbath by ISIS fanatics.

We can’t draw parallels between the Munich rampage and the bloodbath in Kabul as both cases are different in nature – the former being perpetrated by a deranged gunman and the latter being perpetrated by a group of fanatics bound by a narrow ideology of their own which contradicts the ideals and philosophy of every religion.

But we can draw parallels between the Munich rampage and the assault by a machete wielding Syrian refugee on a poor pregnant Polish woman who used to work at a fast food restaurant in German city of Reutlingen. Both of the cases are from unhinged individuals and are not echoing attacks which involve terrorist and political affiliations.

Then a bombing was also carried outside a wine bar in Ansbach, Germany which was reportedly carried out by a Syrian Asylum seeker who was denied Asylum in Germany and he was vengeful over that.

The bombing intended to disrupt the Ansbach festival and to seek revenge for denial of asylum has startled the German nation along with attacks in Munich and Reutlingen.

After the gruesome rampages in Orlando and Baton Rouge, the global community has been fretting over the gun laws and gun ownership in USA but why did we forget Germany and her erratic history of gun laws?

Gun ownership in Germany is the highest in the European Union and the fourth highest in the world, with more guns legally owned per capita than in Mexico, Russia or South Africa. More than 5.4 million guns are registered as being in private hands.

But it seems it would have been arduous for the Munich gunman to acquire his gun legally without a major shortcoming of German ownership regulations. To own a semi-automatic 9mm Glock pistol like the kind used in the Munich shootings, a citizen would have had to have been over 18, waited a year for his licence and undergone a psychological evaluation.

Killings by firearms in Germany are twice as many as that of the UK. But three school massacres carried out by former students – in Winnenden in 2009 where 16 people died, in Emsdetten in 2006 where five people were hurt and the shooter killed himself, and at a school in Erfurt in 2002 where 17 people died – were contributory in forcing through political reforms which are widely seen as making the country’s gun controls amongst the most rigorous in the world.

The controls have seen the numbers of murders using a gun drop dramatically, from about 40% in 2000 to 13% in 2011. Two people out of every million die in gun killings in Germany each year. The statistic is one per million in the UK – and in the US 31 out of every million deaths are a homicide involving a gun.

Firearms are still the most common method of committing suicide in Germany. The country has had a fluctuating modern history with gun legislation – after the lax regime of the 1930s, post-war German citizens were not allowed to privately own a gun at all until 1956. Then the rules were relaxed until the height of the Red Army Faction violence in the 1970s, when regulations were again re-examined.

“It can’t occur here” – solace imbued with complacency has been the standard German response to bloodletting abroad, especially in the United States. Not here because German gun laws are among the toughest in the world. Nor do we have those horrendous banlieues resonating French cities where young men from Africa and the Middle East find neither métier nor deference. Not here, with our impeccable welfare state that takes care of each and all.

Germany, once muffled up in her dreamy protective shell, has now joined the “league” of mass murder stretching from the US to France. Our standard reflexes leave us floundering about in the gloom and drab.

No, no Islamic State link in Munich. No rightwing conspiracy, either. No despotic racial discrimination. No shrieking social inequity and prejudices – not in Germany, with its full employment and munificent social benefits. No pugnacious police, as in American cities where bedlam claims the lives of black citizens and white police officers alike.

Just hours before the shooting frenzy in Munich that killed at least eight people, an opinion poll had divulged the profundity of public apprehensions in Germany that the country would be next to suffer a terror attack. More than three-quarters of Germans said they expected a terrorist barbarity soon, significantly more than just a fortnight ago.

Germany has been startled by a spate of attacks following the Munich rampage with attacks in Reutlingen and Ansbach in the same week.

The dread of the Nice lorry attack in neighbouring France, coupled with the train attack earlier in the week by an axe-wielding asylum seeker, had led to increasing trepidation. In a country that accommodates both Islamist and far-right terror groups, violent attacks have always been viable. Germany has always been vulnerable and prone to such violent attacks as antagonism between native and immigrant Germans has mounted since Germany accepted nearly one million refugees during last year's migrant crisis, in which Bavaria was on the front line. Although it has been France and Belgium that have been harmed by recent atrocities, Germany shares many of the same vulnerabilities.

Shashank Joshi, a senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said:

"There are any number of reasons Germany might be hit. It's a big state with huge open borders just like France and Belgium."

Just like France and Belgium, Germany has seen considerable numbers of its residents join the flux of international jihadists to Iraq and Syria. The most recent figures estimate more than 700 men and women from the country may have left to join extremist groups such as Islamic State of Iraq and the Syria (Isis), and many are likely to have later returned home.

Last month, the German justice ministry admitted the federal prosecutor was conducting 120 investigations into more than 180 suspects and defendants "in connection with the Syrian civil war for their membership or support of a terrorist organisation".

Germany, a member of Nato, has also played a crucial role in military campaigns during the war on terror over the past 15 years, fomenting and kindling the vexation of jihadists.

Angela Merkel, the chancellor, has allowed hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing Syria and Iraq to enter the country in the past 18 months. Jihadists may have used the influx as a guise to enter.

Mr. Joshi said that Mrs. Merkel's opponents would be closely scrutinizing the attack to see if there was any link to her policy.

He said:

"If there's a refugee connection, it will be big political news for Europe, but it's quite possible it will have nothing to do with them."

Germany's links to Islamist terrorism go back decades, long before the current tribulations.

A small group of radical Middle Eastern Islamists formed in the 1990s known as the Hamburg cell produced three of the 9/11 hijackers. Societal strains stemming from the large influx of refugees have also nurtured an abrupt surge in popularity for radical and occasionally ferocious far-Right groups.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas had said earlier in the day that there was "no reason to panic but it's clear that Germany remains a possible target".

After the rampage in Munich his words appeared to have come horribly true.

Are we going to have a guard at every McDonald’s? Or probe the baggage of millions of train travellers? Do we have to confine the peaceful protesters demonstrating for their civic rights to their homes?  Do we have to transform every nightclub into a Police HQ? Or do we have to circumscribe and fence every single restaurant to ward off the threat of a machete attack? Or do we have to abstain ourselves from having ear orgasms at a lively music festival in fear of an attack by an Asylum seeker? We might, but at what price?

My heart goes out to the families of the victims of acts of barbarism from Munich to Kabul. But pragmatism invites solemnity. Not even police states such as Russia can obliterate the menace of terror, be it ideological or the act of a deranged gunman. In other words, society has insulating systems in place that should make Sonboly’s actions, and the actions of those who scythe their fellow workers and peaceful protesters, impracticable.

I am not thinking of child-protection services or of schools or of any civic authority, not even the police; rather, I am contemplating about the bonds among people, the presence of the other in ourselves, and the receptivity around which every populace and culture is being established and invigorated, which unveils itself in the commandment which is being visible in the faces of others: do not kill.

One day when we wholly elucidate the fundamentals of humanity and what sort of personas our fellow citizens are up to, we will be truly able to witness fruitful concord and tranquility both individually and communally.

When we commence lauding and extolling our diverse societal structures, we will end up preventing attacks like the one which has been committed recently against the peaceful Hazara protestors in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Troubles may seem invincible and gloomy the potential for peace and security, but we shall strive hard to attain a single path of harmony and solicitude. We shall abstain from wallowing into murky despondency and shall remain sanguine whatever the circumstances are.

Sarmad Iqbal is a writer, blogger, columnist and a student at FC College Lahore. He can be followed at Twitter @sarmadiqbal7.

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