Scrolling through Facebook over the last couple of days, I came across a post that reminded me of something: for the majority of my life and the lives of many people my age, we have been under some level of threat from terrorists. It also reminded me of one of my early memories. I remember walking through a train station and asking one of my parents where all the rubbish bins were. I was told quite bluntly that there were no bins in the station as “bad people” might put bombs in them. Obviously, as a child, it was difficult to comprehend that there were people in the world that might attempt to further their agendas by blowing up bins in train stations. In my childhood brain, I simply converted this information into a simple binary concept. If I saw a bin, it was safe. I then proceeded to forget about it and move on to the other more important topics of my childhood, namely ninja turtles and Lego. Sadly in the decades following, terrorism has evolved. We no longer think about bins blowing up, but people.
In the chaos of the last week Germany has become a new front in the war on terror, explanations, vitriol and fear have seeped through the media reporting of incidents that would have been unimaginable when I first arrived in Germany five years ago. I, like many of you, will have discussed with friends and colleagues the meaning of it all, attempting to understand the motives that lead to these acts of terror and to find some comfort and safety from what appears to be a world gone mad. It’s easy to feel helpless in these situations, which can easily morph into undirected anger in the face of what appears to be total chaos. In an attempt to draw some order from all of this, I decided on my own personal, advisory plan to hopefully deal with this new zeitgeist. Feel free to use the plan yourself or not.
1.) I won’t be scared
Even though I have reason to be, I won’t be scared when I go for a drink, meet my friends, get on the ubahn, go to a festival or any number of things that appear to be ordinary but have recently become targets of extremists.
2.) Everything is not black and white
I will challenge anyone who tries to tell me this is a battle of good vs bad or that terrorists are evil. This language doesn’t help. It simply attempts to explain the motives of extremists in as simplistic a way as possible. It gives everyone an easy excuse, even the extremist. I agree life would be easier to digest if the answer for terror was that the bad guys are evil, then again life isn’t easy.
3.) Beware the single excuse
Talking heads on Tv, journalists writing articles and people discussing what’s happened in the street. Many will point to one aspect to explain what’s happening. At the moment in Germany, that one explanation is the refugee crisis. I have yet to come across any problem, big or small that can be easily packaged under one reason or excuse. The world is complex, frankly that’s what makes it so bloody scary.
4.) Talking about immigration doesn’t make me a racist
The refugee crisis and migrant crisis is the new normal. It’s not going to be solved in one meeting or even several meetings. We need to have is a discussion, nationally and internationally. There will be two sides to this conversation and the solution will have to come from that open discussion. However, there will be no discussion if every time someone criticises immigration we all scream racist. I’m the last person who might have an answer, but I know it will have to come from consensus.
5.) What was the alternative?
Since Sunday, I have heard a number of commentators and politicians point the finger at Angela Merkel. She was wrong to open the borders to refugees and migrants, claimed Horst Seehofer. AFD co-leader Frauke Petry declared on Facebook “Do you now feel Germany is colourful enough, Mrs Merkel?” I’m not a supporter of Merkel or her party and I understand why all sides may criticise her for the decisions she made last summer. However, my memory is not so short as to forget that no one else in the political landscape at that time had any idea what to do. It’s easy to criticise when you don’t have to make the decisions. When confronted with criticism of Merkel, I only ask that we consider a simple question “what was the alternative?”.
6.) search for consensus not polarisation
It’s nice to live in a bubble. We all seek the comfort of similar opinions, especially myself. However, simply residing in the echo chamber of opinion will not solve the issues that face us. We should confront our opinions and look at the other side in a search of consensus. Fighting ourselves won’t get us anywhere.
7.) Know you don’t know everything
We like to believe we have all the facts at our fingertips and with the advent of smartphones most of us do. Yet, we cannot know everything, it’s impossible. The media, politicians and government agencies don’t know everything either. Situations change, new facts are uncovered and this not a bad thing. We might not find comfort in that, but I think we can take comfort from our ability to inquire. If you don’t understand something, look it up. There are very few situations that are worse for knowing more.
8.) Don’t look away, don’t disengage
I avoided the news all weekend, I spent the majority of my time binge watching Bojack Horseman on Netflix. I consciously chose to disengage, I really couldn’t handle any more bad news. Occasionally stepping back is important, if only to conserve what sanity we might have left. Despite this, we must not simply run for cover when bad things happen. These problems are real and they must be confronted. If people are discussing these topics, don’t lean back until the conversation turns to fantasy football. Get involved, challenge opinions. This is no time to sit on the sidelines.