MUNICH — It's Saturday morning at the tailor. The middle-aged woman next to me says with a slight eastern European accent, "It's terrifying. So many victims." After a short break, she goes on, "And now we have them in our own country."
I just wanted to pick up my trousers and leave. I'd never met this woman before. Still, I ask, "Who are you talking about?" She replies, "Well, the Muslims. The refugees."
I know the tailor a little bit — he's Turkish. I point at him and say, "He's not Christian either. And he lives in Germany just like you. And I don't think that him being a Muslim makes him want to shoot someone, or that you want to shoot someone just because you weren't born here."
The German anti-Islam PEGIDA movement (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident) cares little about the fact that the refugees are fleeing because of ISIS and other barbarism. Now they can combine their historic fear-mongering slogan and their latest one — that there are criminals among the refugees, parasites who are destroying Germany.
Their logic goes like this: If the people dedicated to Islam are committing crimes, then probably everyone who belongs to this religion is a criminal too. Either way, the religion itself is a crime.
These "patriots" sweep under the carpet the fact that Muslims, Yazidis and Christians alike are running for their lives from Iraq and Syria, that they are being terrorized by ISIS in the same way innocent Parisians were Friday night. PEGIDA also refuses to recognize that the war in Syria is highly complex, and that Sunni anti-Assad terrorists from ISIS practice a fundamentalist and warped form of Islam that is considered offensive to the vast majority of Muslims.
It's completely legitimate to debate Germany's liberal entry policies and the safety risks resulting from them. And yes, among the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers, there are quite a few who come to Germany with a criminal agenda (though rarely terrorism-related). This has always been true, even long before the Schengen Agreement allowing for open borders existed.
It's important that Germany soon establish an accurate overview of how many refugees have actually arrived, who they are and where they come from. It's not just imperative for guaranteeing security, but also because neither deportation nor integration are technically possible otherwise. Those requesting better law enforcement and a restriction on the number of refugees aren't necessarily right-wing extremists; they're simply right.
But those who argue that there's a direct, maybe even causal, link between refugees in Europe and the attacks in Paris are not only wrong — they're also playing with fire. Refugees from Syria and Iraq are victims just like those who have been randomly murdered in Paris. Being a young adherent of the Muslim faith isn't categorically different from being a young adherent of evangelism. For instance, most assassins in the United States are young evangelical men. Either way, it's not a person's socio-demographic characteristics that make him a criminal. Not all dogmatic middle-aged men belong to PEGIDA.
Terrorists threaten Germany because we're part of the West, whose freedom represents a horrible crime to the barbarians of ISIS. We can do more on a small scale: more police, more control, more information, more funding for cameras, special troops and agents. But we can't really prevent Paris-style attacks. Savage, determined people will always be able to shake the foundations of a modern society of 80 million.
Shouldn't we simply start by closing the borders? No, this would be nothing but a symbolic act. There are attacks in countries with open borders (Paris 2015), but also those with relatively strict controls, like the United States (New York 2001). Deadly massacres also happen in authoritarian countries like Egypt, and in democracies such as Spain and Great Britain.
The risk of terrorism hasn't been growing with the influx of refugees. Those who want to kill come to the country one way or another. But they won't try to do so by getting on a flimsy inflatable boat and then cross the Balkan Mountains by foot.
The biggest offense for the radical ideologues is freedom — freedom to believe in a god, or to consider religion nothing but ritualized nonsense. Freedom to watch anything on YouTube, or for a man to marry another man. French National Front leader Marine Le Pen and Germany's PEGIDA both exist because of this freedom. Our society is built on the freedom to object, but also the freedom to be stupid.
As long as this freedom exists, there will be someone with a Kalashnikov who wants to kill it.