A Christmas market in Berlin turned into a scene of horror on Monday when a truck crashed through it, killing at least nine and wounding many others. Nothing yet is publicly known about the driver of the truck, and officials have not yet confirmed whether or not the crash was terror-related. Yet already, people are reacting to the Berlin truck crash with Islamophobia and anti-refugee sentiment. We've all seen this reaction before, and it's the wrong one.
Police have detained a suspect, and are investigating the incident as a terrorist attack. The circumstances are similar to an incident in Nice earlier this year, where a truck plowed into a crowd on Bastille Day, killing dozens of people. The driver in that situation had been inspired by ISIS propaganda, but there was no evidence that ISIS orchestrated the attack. Many have been assuming that the Berlin truck driver had similar motives even though there is, at the moment, no evidence to support that. And those most closely involved in investigating have warned the general public not to jump to conclusions. The Berlin Police have been Tweeting that people should not spread rumors, while the Berlin state interior minister noted that it's entirely possible that the crash could have been an accident rather than a deliberate attack.
And yet people were quick to point the finger at refugees on social media and elsewhere, as they are every time a similar scary incident occurs. Marcus Pretzell, a regional head of Germany's anti-immigration hard-right party Alternative for Germany, tweeted that the victims were "Merkel's dead" mere minutes after the crash. (German Chancellor Angela Merkel made it a point to welcome refugees, and received a flood of backlash and criticism for it.) Pretzell may be the most prominent person to have expressed this view so quickly, but he is far from alone. Twitter is rife with people saying similar things, often in even worse ways.
First, obviously it is wrong to jump to conclusions about such serious and sad matters when so many facts are still in question. But beyond that, even if the incident does turn out to be a terrorist attack, resorting to Islamophobia and anti-refugee rhetoric is still wrong. The people who perpetrate these attacks are a minuscule portion of refugees. The vast majority of refugees are people escaping horrific violence (see the recent events in Aleppo) who need help now more than ever. The kind of fear people feel with events like this truck crash is the kind of fear they feel every day.
Letting a tragic incident like the Berlin truck crash lead to more hatred, suspicion, and xenophobia is exactly what attackers want. Let's not give it to them.