We know too little about the massacre in the Christmas market in Charlottenburg in Berlin to say much definitively. We don’t know whether it was a spontaneous and individual action such as those that the Islamic State likes to conveniently claim a posteriori, or a more organized attack and part of an articulated strategy to target Germany systematically, as has already happened in France.
But certainly, those who carried out the attack followed a notoriously prescribed mode and suggested the involvement of caliphate leaders: the deadly use of normal vehicles. To date, Germany had been the scene of numerous alarms, considered sometimes even excessive, and any real attacks were the result of improvisation, if not a full-blown mental imbalance (such as the shootout in Bavaria, the most severe episode, which left nine victims). In short, the terrorist threat, at least those involving political and military planning, was considered quite low and under control.
But Dec. 20 has produced a shift, not only because of the devastating success of the attack in the heart of the German capital. Germany is indeed a very important target for terrorists. The logic of an attack there is more properly political than the essentially vindictive attacks on France for its military interventions in the Middle East and Africa (Paris has not participated in the bombings in Syria and Iraq).
Berlin is the heart of Europe and the recognized center of a continental hegemony. Without its clout and political will, the European Union would succumb to the growing centrifugal forces that undermine its bonds. It is also the cornerstone of any European policy on immigration and asylum seekers. That policy is, in turn, a form of intervention in the Middle East crisis and the relationship with its various stakeholders.
Angela Merkel, again a candidate for the chancellery, is still directing this orchestra, and, at least for now, had no solid competitors on the horizon. A destabilized Berlin means to narrow Merkel’s political choices. Despite the possibility that the driver in the attack was an asylum seeker, she has reiterated once again that the principle of welcome could not be put in question, although further restrictions cannot be excluded.
Nevertheless, among the first reactions to the truck attack was a police raid at Tempelhof Airport, now a reception center for refugees. There were no arrests, but it was a fairly clear message about where authorities believe the threat may lurk.
Then there was the clamor of the nationalist right, who, knowing they’re unlikely to reach the levers of power, are useful as an argument from those within the Christian Democrats who would seek to move the party’s axis to the right. But even from the radical left, the Linke, there were disturbing expressions of hostility on the theme of immigration, considered a “diversion” from social issues.
The emotion aroused by the massacre of Charlottenburg can not be underestimated, and an insidious sense of insecurity began to emerge among the citizens of the Federal Republic. If the goal is to push a hostile polarization between supporters of Islamic immigration and the rest of European citizenship (ISIS propagandists have repeatedly asserted this), then the best strategy is to strike at the German government’s claim of orderly immigration flows and to systematically sabotage its integration policies.
If the delicate balance reached in Berlin were to crumble, with a significant shift of public opinion and policy framework toward closing the borders, Europe would take a step further, perhaps irreparably, toward dissolution.