Latent Racism: Neo-Nazi Killings Expose Broad German Xenophobia
The discovery of a neo-Nazi terror cell in Germany has many concerned about the country’s reputation. With good reason. Racism and xenophobia have deep roots in German society — and the vocabulary used to describe the right-wing extremist crime spree is telling.
Germany was such a happy country! Easy-going, warm and open-minded toward people from all over the world. Their guests are supposed to feel as though they were “among friends.” It was the summer of 2006 and Germany was hosting the World Cup. Finally, it seemed like the country had gotten past its reputation for being xenophobic. Indeed, for the first time since the end of World War II, Germans felt as if they could proudly wave their flags.
Two months before the games kicked off, Halit Y. was murdered in his Internet café in the central German city of Kassel, executed with two shots to the head. Nobody at the time — neither investigators, nor politicians nor journalists — wanted to view the crime as a possibly extreme expression of xenophobia.
Y.’s killing was the ninth in a series of murders across Germany between 2000 and 2006 that had left no trace of its culprits. All of the victims were shop owners, eight of them of Turkish descent and one of them Greek. They included a tailor, a kiosk owner, a key cutter, a grocer and a flower seller. Only two of the victims operated doner kebab shops — but the German media, SPIEGEL ONLINE included, dubbed them the “doner killings.” Many have continued to use the term.
The phrase “doner killing” is a sad indication of the degree of latent racism permeating German society. By calling the murder spree “doner killings,” the victims are condescendingly dehumanized, as if they had no names or occupations. Imagine if it had been a series of murders involving primarily Italian victims. Would we have then called them the “spaghetti murders”? And imagine the uproar you would hear among German politicians and journalists were there a series of murders of German citizens in Turkey and people there called them the “potato murders” or the “sauerkraut killings”? It’s virtually unfathomable.