Extremist violence is bad, whether it's extremism on the right or on the left. But why does it seem so difficult for the media to treat these two forms of extremism equally?
Extremism On The Rise
The uncontrolled and unsupervised flow of refugees has, over the past year, unleashed more than just an exceptionally great willingness to help among the general population. These days it's also spurring baser instincts: hate speech leveled at foreigners along with dehumanizing violations and attacks.
This is evident in the Annual Report on the Protection of the Constitution for 2015 that was released in recent weeks. The report cites an "exorbitant increase in right-wing extremist violence" and "unrestrained hate speech on the Internet."
So far, so bad.
The media's echo chamber responded in kind. "More radical, more ready for violence: the right-wing extremist scene is growing," wrote the Frankfurter Rundschau. The newspaper continued: "It's going pretty well for the right-wing extremist scene. The previous year has provided the Republic's Neonazis and xenophobes a new issue."
Right-wing extremists continue to use the refugee crisis for their own purposes, for vociferous agitation against asylum seekers and as an excuse to level hate speech against foreigners in general. They've succeeded in gaining more followers and sympathizers, as well as crafting a new sense of confidence. The scene is growing, and more than ever prone to violence. This is one of many disquieting findings in the latest report.
On German news websites tagesschau.de and heute.de headlines were in agreement: "Annual Report on the Protection of the Constitution: The right-wing scene is growing and tending towards violence."
The Frankfurter Allgemeine reported under the headline "Drastic increase in acts of right-wing extremist violence." The newspaper continued:
Politically-motivated extremist violence has increased massively in Germany in the past year and attained new dimensions on the Internet. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, in its report for 2015, speaks primarily of a "drastic increase" in violence motivated by right-wing extremism -- it has increased by more than 42 percent, to 1,408 incidents.
A rise in right-wing extremism in Germany has not gone unnoticed in the media.
But There's More To The Story
Right-wing extremists are drawing new allies and are growing more violent by the day. That's the sad truth -- but not the whole truth. Because during the same period over the past year the willingness of the radical left to use violence has also dramatically increased. But that was only evident to those who read the relevant article all the way to the end, and even then it was only presented in piecemeal.
The increase in acts of right-wing extremism is evidently seen by many publication's editorial staff as more dangerous and worthy of condemnation than the growing violence from the left. And this approach more or less suppresses the fact that at the far end of the political left spectrum there is more politically-motivated violence than at the far right end. For example The Frankfurter Allgemeine, in their article about the Annual Report, devoted only one sentence to violence by left-wing extremists.
Anyone who takes a closer look at the Annual Report will discover facts that have barely come across in most of the coverage from German media. Like the fact that while violence motivated by right-wing extremism grew in 2015 from 990 to 1,408 incidents (a growth of 42 percent), violence motivated by left-wing extremism saw an even more dramatic growth from 995 to 1,608 incidents (an increase of 62 percent).
In the case of "potentially available individuals for right-wing extremism" there was an increase from 22,150 to 23,850. Yet, the fact that the Office For the Protection of the Constitution puts the number of potentially violent left-wingers at 26,700 was notably absent in most media responses to the report.
While the media was justifiably bemoaning violent right-wing extremism, the following facts about left-wing extremism went largely unnoticed:
- In 2015 there were more instances of left-wing extremist violence than right-wing extremist violence, specifically 1,608 incidents vs. 1,408.
- The increase in politically motivated acts of violence was markedly higher on the left (62 percent) than on the right (42 percent).
- There are in more potentially violent left-wing extremists than right-wing extremists (26,700 vs 22,600).
We Must Condemn All Extremism
All this is as clear as it was absent from what we read, saw, and heard from the majority of German media. Such an absence can only be explained by the one-sided perspective of many journalists, whose logic can be paraphrased as such: Acts of violence by right-wing extremists are terrible, left-wing extremism by contrast is tolerable due to its generally more noble motives.
Nonetheless it's very clear: Anyone whose political motivations cause them to insult other people, do physical harm to others, or threaten others with death is a criminal, regardless of whether those acts are rooted in populism and racism or a glorified sense of struggle against oppression. Every crime of this sort is one too many.
Why does it seem so difficult for large swathes of the German media to treat these crimes equally?
This post first appeared on HuffPost Germany. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.