Today there were terror attacks in Turkey, Switzerland and Germany – and it is only getting worse. The civilized world must change thinking!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2016
Here we go again! It’s a clash of civilizations.
I guess the next president of the United States hadn’t been briefed before he got on Twitter. Otherwise he would have been aware that in the attack in Zurich the target of the gunman was a group of worshipers gathered at an Islamic center.
The local police have since found a body which they have identified as the gunman and have ruled out any connection to ISIS in the attack.
Even before more details become known, I’m willing to draw some tentative conclusions. The gunman was a gun-owner (Switzerland has a high level of gun ownership) and he hated Muslims.
The attack in Zurich occurred at 5.30pm before the attack in Berlin at 8.15pm in which 12 people were murdered and 48 injured. If the gunman was motivated by revenge of some type it wasn’t for an atrocity that had yet to take place.
Earlier in the day, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrey G. Karlov, was murdered by Mevlut Mert Altintas, a 22-year-old off-duty or former Turkish police officer.
How are these events all tied together — apart from in a Trump tweet and by virtue of having occurred on the same day?
They all involve confusion around the meaning of personal responsibility.
With the assassination of Karlov, Altintas certainly wasn’t carrying out an act of random violence and yet whether the career diplomat (an expert on Korea) and representative of the Russian state shares personal responsibility for Russia’s policy on Syria is open to question. It seems most likely he became a target of choice because his public appearance provided the gunman with an opportunity.
In Berlin and Zurich it’s even clearer that the individual victims were given death sentences by their attackers who saw them as indistinguishable from the vast collective (Westerners and Muslims) that each was taken to represent.
If a change in thinking is called for — and indeed it is — it should focus on the promotion of personal responsibility.
Acts of violence that can inflame passions and irrationality across whole societies, must be seen for what they are: the actions of individuals.
Just as gun-owners across Switzerland are not responsible for the murderous intent on one man in Zurich, likewise millions of refugees across Europe are not responsible for the grotesque violence of a 23-year-old Pakistani refugee initially suspected of having carried out the attack in Berlin. Indeed, the latest report quotes a police source who said: “we have the wrong man.”
But this is the paradox in the get-tough approach to counter-terrorism: Because justice cannot be served on individuals who so often die while carrying out their acts of violence, the reactive impulse to throw a counterpunch often results in wild strikes that land far from the mark.
The violence that grabbed the headlines yesterday is the responsibility, first and foremost, of the three men who carried out the the attacks.
This shouldn’t be turned into a showdown between a self-proclaimed civilized world and an ill-defined adversary.