Last Friday, all of Germany stood still as news arrived of another terrible shooting. After news outlets reported that a young man shot several people outside a shopping center in the city of Munich, many believed that the first “Islamist” terrorist attack had taken place in the country. After it became clear that the gunman, Ali David Sonboly, had Iranian roots, media outlets from Berlin to New York City did not hesitate to link him with Islam. Man news channels preferred to call Sonboly—who was born and raised in Germany—a “German-Iranian,” instead of just “German.” Furthermore, many reports, mostly based on rumors which circulated during the first hours after the massacre, claimed that Sonboly shouted the supposedly characteristic “Allahu Akbar” before he murdered his innocent victims.
While the Bavarian police tried to tamp down on the uncorroborated chatter and baseless reports, right-wing politicians did their best to exploit the scenario, inciting hatred and fear against Muslims, migrants and refugees.
Once the dust of Munich cleared, the media settled on describing the massacre as a “classic shooting rampage,” and not an act of terror. The reason was simple: the shooter was not motivated by Islamist religious extremism, but by the same fanaticism as those who attempted to seize the moment to incite against Muslims.
The date of the shooting, July 22, appeared to have been deliberately chosen. Exactly five years to this date, in 2011, the right-wing extremist and self-styled “counter-jihadist” Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people at a youth camp in Norway. Sonboly selected the date to honor Breivik, his personal hero. According to the Bavarian investigators, Sonboly was gripped with an obsessive hatred of Turks and Arabs. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of Germany’s leading dailies, reported that Sonboly also admired Adolf Hitler and considered it an “honor” to share a birthday with the Führer. It has also been revealed that Sonboly supported the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the country’s leading right-wing party.
The first videos of the shooting that appeared on social media hinted at Sonboly’s racist ideology. In one, his hatred of Turks was audible. Among Sonboly’s nine victims were seven with Muslim backgrounds.
Sonboly’s racist ideology was deeply connected with a fascist, racial supremacist ideology spawned in Central Asia. Sonboly considered himself as an “Aryan” and was proud of his supposed heritage, especially because of his Iranian and German background. The narrative of Aryans being a “master race” (“Herrenrasse”) is not just widespread in Europe or the United States, but also in parts of Central Asian countries. When Persia changed its name to Iran (“Land of the Aryans”) in 1935, Afghanistan and Tajikistan protested against it. Like Iran, both countries still consider themselves the cradle of the Aryan people. From a scientific perspective, while the historical Aryans lived 3000-4000 year ago in several parts of Asia, they had little connection to those who popularized the racist Aryanist ideology in the 20th century.
Sadly, the belief of belonging to a superior race is still widespread in these central Asian countries and goes hand in hand with anti-Arab views, hatred toward Turkic people and sometimes, Islamophobia. In Iran, for example, “Arab” is still a common curse while Tajikistan’s dictator Emomali Rahmon advised parents to use Persian names instead of Arabic ones when naming their children. In Afghanistan, some ethnic Pashtuns and Tajiks fancy themselves the “real Aryans” and express racism toward minorities like Uzbek or Hazara people. In this context, it should not be a surprise that the hardcore adherents of these ideologies have, at times, expressed admiration for Hitler.
While Europe’s political elite still focuses dominantly on so called Islamist terrorism, the massacre of Munich is more evidence of how dangerous and sprawling right-wing ideologies have become. In the case of Sonboly, it should also be clear that his crime was not just a “classic shooting rampage” but a calculated massacre, and was strongly motivated by racist ideology
German authorities mostly do not hesitate to link every rampage with Islam, but when right-wing terrorism takes place, they do their best to obscure the roots of the crime. This week, Bavaria’s Interior Minister, Joachim Herrmann, insisted that Sonboly “probably had no links with right-wing networks.” And shortly after the massacre, Bavarian government and police officials claimed that there was no political motivation behind the massacre, claiming Sonboly had chosen his victims at random. According to this logic, a mass killer must shout “Allahu Akbar” in the midst of his murder spree for his political motives to be acknowledged. Everything else, no matter how clearly influenced by rightist ideology, is just a classic shooting rampage.