One of us
Article by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Zeit online
Twenty years ago today, Enver Şimşek was shot down. He died two days later in hospital. For eleven years, his wife and his two children did not know why. The same applies to the families of nine other murder victims of the so‑called NSU. Almost all lines of enquiry were explored during those eleven years. However, this did not include right-wing terror. Instead, the NSU murders generated a knee-jerk reaction: prejudice. The media reported on the “Döner murders”, the “Turkish mafia”, the “Bosporus special squad”. The focus was no longer on the victims and their fates. Enver Şimşek died because he was not regarded as one of us. He died because he was not seen as someone who belonged to Germany. Even though he had lived in this country for fourteen years, for too many of us Enver Şimşek continued to be “just a Turk”. That is and remains a great failing on our part. It renders us guilty.
The perpetrators were brought to justice. However, right-wing extremism remains the greatest danger facing this country: we have extreme right-wing members in our parliaments. And there are people who have no problem demonstrating side by side with racists and antisemites. Everyone is entitled to express their opposition to the measures imposed to stop the spread of COVID‑19. However, each and every one of us has a responsibility to look closely to see with whom we are associating. No‑one should allow themselves to be instrumentalised by right-wing radicals. Right-wing terror is not something that belongs to the past. The murder of Walter Lübcke, the racist and antisemitic attacks in Halle and Hanau, NSU 2.0 as well as the more than 12,000 potentially violent right-wing extremists bear testimony to that. Furthermore, there are almost daily attacks and threats against those engaged in local politics and civil society. We see the violence, the hate and the abuse directed at Muslims and Jews, Sinti and Roma, as well as refugees. Right-wing extremists feel strong enough to attempt to storm the Reichstag building and to wave the Reich flag, which was also used by the Nazis, on the steps of our Parliament. These are disturbing images and they have been seen around the world.
Many people are now concerned about Germany’s image abroad. And yes, I am also concerned but not so much about the image we project to the rest of the world. Rather, I am concerned about what holds us together within our country. Germany is a diverse country which has benefited from migration for many decades. That is visible from the outside. Within Germany, however, not everyone has realised this yet. But what is perceptible to the rest of the world must be reconciled with how people feel in our country. Only then will we be credible. We are doing much abroad to promote the image of a modern, diverse Germany. And we intend to do even more. For example, we want to further open up our cultural relations and education policy abroad and initiate projects aimed at combatting right-wing extremism and racism at international level. The struggle against structural racism is also a foreign policy task. However, that can only work if this image is in accord with the reality in Germany. And there remains much to do if, even twenty years after the first NSU murder, people with foreign roots in Germany feel that not everyone is treated the same way here: whether it be when looking for somewhere to live, in a job interview or at an appointment with the authorities. When they go to the police, their migrant background is recorded. There is structural racism in our country, even though we have long since become this colourful and diverse country which some reject so vehemently. However, if we do not succeed in creating a society in which everyone genuinely feels they belong, our society’s guiding principle will be nothing more than an empty shell.
That we cannot simply remember Enver Şimşek today without talking about current developments is shameful. Everyone is talking about the perpetrators. Everyone is talking about right-wing extremists. I wish we would talk about Enver Şimşek: as one of us. As long as Enver Şimşek is thought of as “just a Turk”, as long as not all Envers are considered to be one of us, it will be easy for right-wing extremists to gain influence. As long as migrants are only heard in talk shows dealing with migrant issues, as long as they only play migrants in films rather than, for instance, detective inspectors, Chancellors or cruise ship captains, our country will remain divided.
Today should be the day when Enver Şimşek’s story is told. He came to Germany from Turkey in the mid-1980s as a newly-married man and worked on the assembly line in a car factory. He was hard-working and ambitious. Above all, however, he had a dream. Enver Şimşek wanted to become a florist. He wanted to own his own shop! After work, he taught himself to arrange flowers and sold bunches on the street at the weekend. Enver Şimşek was so creative and so successful that he gave up his factory job and was able to hire several employees. He built a life for himself together with his wife and their two children in Hesse. The flower shop became a wholesale business with several stalls. Things were going well. Indeed, they were going so well that he was able to support his village when a fountain was built or a school had to be renovated. Enver Şimşek loved his work. Most of all, however, he loved to have a barbeque with friends in the garden and to go on holiday with the entire family, which he did every summer. Enver Şimşek would be a grandfather now. That is the story we should tell today. Enver’s story – one of us.