Angela Merkel's Response To The Berlin Attack Sets An Example For Other European Politicians

Merkel has faced intense criticism for opening Germany's borders to almost a million refugees last year.

Monday's attack at a Christmas market in Berlin killed 12 people and left in its wake a scene of carnage and chaos. That evening, German officials announced that they had apprehended a 23-year-old asylum seeker from Pakistan and were interrogating him. Citing a lack of evidence linking him to the crime, they released him on Tuesday. 

The immense outpour of grief and support in the wake of the attack has come from all corners of the world. Social media users expressed their thoughts and prayers with the hashtags #IchBinEinBerliner and #PrayForBerlin. But amid the well wishes and flurry of support, there were detractors focused less on the victims and survivors of the attack than they were on trying to pin the blame on Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

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Merkel's decision to open Germany's borders to nearly a million refugees last year marked her as a beacon of liberal values, but also exposed her to the wrath of an increasingly powerful far-right backlash that is permeating much of the western world. In a press conference hours after the attack, Merkel said the country must assume it was a terrorist attack. 

"I know it would be especially hard for us all to bear if it were confirmed that the person who committed this act was someone who sought protection and asylum in Germany. It would be terrible for all Germans who are very active, day by day, in helping asylum seekers and refugees. It would be repugnant for those who are helping people who came to this country asking for our help," she said. 

German officials are currently on an urgent manhunt for a Tunisian man in his early 20s in connection with the incident.

The rise of far-right policies in mainstream European politics stands in stark contrast to Merkel's defense of a liberal Europe. Merkel is seeking a fourth term in office next year, but the backlash to the refugee crisis and its corresponding ascent of the far-right in Germany has seen her approval ratings drop. And she has not been immune to the criticism; last month, Merkel joined the chorus of European politicians condemning the burqa as having no place in their countries. 

This terror attack will have consequences for Merkel — as well as the European Union, of which she is its chief defender. In her remarks following the attack, Merkel made a plea for unity and rationality, a huge divergence from her critics calling for dangerous, sweeping measures targeting refugees. 

"We do not want to allow ourselves to be paralyzed by terror," she said. "It might be difficult in these hours, but we will find a strength to continue living life as we want to live it in Germany, in freedom and openness and together."

Cover image via 360b / Shutterstock.com.

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