Column power: stereotypes west

For decades, acts of violence from the right-wing spectrum have been treated like industrial accidents. In Germany as in the United States.

Smith & Wesson shooting device at an NRA presentation. Photo: dpa

A woman died and three men were injured when a perpetrator opened fire on them for initially unknown motives in the US state of Georgia on Wednesday. The crime did not even make headlines in the local media.

It’s important to understand. If journalists in the United States wanted to take every incident of this kind seriously, they would barely keep up. Because there are simply too many.

Is "incident" an appropriate word in this context? Yes. At least if you want to stay out of the discussion of how to classify a shooting in the grand scheme of things.

Statistics have principals. The parameters say a lot about these principals – and about the outcomes they want in each case. One of the questions at stake in the U.S. right now is: What actually is a mass shooting?

There are many answers to that question. One U.S. organization fighting for stronger gun controls operates with a definition of "mass shooting" that I find compelling: any event in which four or more people are injured or killed by the use of firearms.

More shootings than days in a year

As of last Wednesday, according to this organization, there had been more mass shootings in the U.S. in 2015 than days had passed in a year. 355, to be exact. The statistics also included the violence in Georgia. So did the massacre in San Bernardino a few hours later, in which a couple in California killed at least 14 men and women.

The political right in the U.S. has reacted to the bloodbath in California by calling for gun laws to be relaxed. To improve the possibilities of self-defense. That was as predictable as it was – in my view – insane. I’m sorry, but a more factual description is not available to me at this time.

But that has nothing to do with acts of violence in Europe and the reaction to them. Or? Whichever way you look at it. The similarities are greater than they might appear at first glance.

A gunman who shot up and killed three people outside an abortion clinic in Colorado a few days ago was described as possibly disturbed, isolated, someone whose motive is unclear.

Lone perpetrator, loner

Sound familiar? Quite. For years and decades, violent acts by perpetrators from the right-wing political spectrum have been treated like industrial accidents, as events that have no political background whatsoever. Lone perpetrators, loners. This is as true in the U.S. as it is in Germany. Far more than 200 times this year, according to research by Die Zeit, refugee shelters were attacked. The overwhelming majority of these crimes were not solved. As a rule, the first reaction of the law enforcement authorities was that it was not yet known whether the crime in question had a xenophobic background.

Yes, what other background could there be? There was and is hardly ever any talk about gang crime, about the formation of a terrorist organization. Why should that be? It is not jihadists who are attacking refugee homes.

It is gratifying that the same gun laws do not apply in this country as in the USA. Who knows how many refugees’ lives this has saved. Apart from that? Apart from that, the stereotypes in the Western world are currently depressingly similar. In terms of our supposedly superior values, this is a pretty pathetic picture.