No sooner was the news of an attack by a man with an axe at Dusseldorf's main train station out on Thursday evening than there were heated comments on social media – and speculation about the perpetrator's origins. Normality in this day and age?
Interviewer: Before the situation at Dusseldorf's main train station was even close to being clarified, the social media were running hot. It was said that the perpetrator had a migration background. What does this say about our society?
Brother Paulus Terwitte (Capuchin priest and media expert): It says that one is always perplexed when one hears of such acts and then needs explanations. The most primitive explanations are there in the first moment good enough to give a certain satisfaction to the own soul. Violence can never be understood, no matter who it comes from. Violence always affects us. For me it is first of all an expression of consternation in a deep helplessness, which unfortunately is taken out on the weakest in our society – in this case those who always get it anyway at the moment.
Interviewer: When serious media admonish to wait for the facts, they are called lying press. How can media still report at all? What should they do?
Brother Paul: Above all, they should always say that they can no longer report. The more the media say that they only report what they know, that is, they act according to the journalistic principle "I say what I have seen and heard personally and do not report anything else that I know from hearsay", they act according to a good media principle. All those who spread hate comments were not even there themselves. They give themselves the worst report card, because they lie, because they tell something they have not heard or seen.
Interviewer: Chancellor Merkel and NRW Interior Minister Ralf Jager were berated in social networks as the real perpetrators, who do not protect Germany from this alleged terrorism. The situation is different – but what to do against these right-wing messages?
Brother Paul: As Christians, we will soon be looking again in Holy Week at the one we also call the "scapegoat" and whom God has made sin for us. That is, we actually know that whenever something bad happens in this world, blaming people for it is the stupidest thing you can do. Of course people have responsibilities, but not when a sack of rice falls over in China. But when we realize that we need some kind of explanation in our time of need, we Christians say: We look to Christ, who takes this guilt upon Himself and who wants to calm our hearts.
Interviewer: They also use social media themselves. Are these then a curse or a blessing? What do they think?
Brother Paul: I saw on Facebook, to my own astonishment, that a mother of one of the victims posted the picture of her son lying comatose in the hospital and being intubated. I wrote to this woman and asked her to please delete this photo again. This could traumatize her son for life. It is indeed a curse in the sense that we immediately trumpet our emotions without reason and, unfortunately, without heart and love. There is also a danger that we will unlearn our culture of togetherness. In this respect, social media, when unbridled emotions are let loose, are unsocial media, because they separate us from each other more than they bring us together.
Interviewer: Some people are afraid to go out on the streets or to be in public places. What would you advise them to do??
Brother Paul: We just go out and approach each other. It is much more dangerous to get into a car or ride a bicycle than to show yourself in a public place. However, we should already take what happened to heart. Life is simply uncertain. No one has the certainty of what will happen in the next moments. We should reckon with the fact that every moment can be the last one and know that we are all the more invited, full of hope, to simply take a step outside again, towards people and – whoever can – towards God.
The interview was conducted by Tobias Fricke.