‘Mama Merkel’ helps heal wounds of Germany’s past

The photo of Aylan and of Syrian refugees on trains struck a particular chord among Germans

Diana Moukalled
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We have become used to seeing photos of German Chancellor Angela Merkel on social media networks, particularly on pages pertaining to the Syrian diaspora, accompanied by slogans voicing gratitude and appreciation.

For Syrians escaping death, Merkel has managed to offer shelter, with her country setting the bar high for its European neighbors, in the welcome it is giving the refugees.


Syrians responded to the German leader by voicing their affection any way they could, with many using social media as it is the easiest means to voice gratitude. They are circulating selfies snapped by Merkel with Syrian refugees during her visit to one of the camps in Germany. And the media is full of comments commending Merkel, and condemning other leaders.

The photo of Aylan and of Syrian refugees on trains struck a particular chord among Germans.

Diana Moukalled

Even some negative articles that claimed those escaping war are not supposed to be carrying smartphones did not detract from the positive image of the Chancellor – whom some have dubbed ‘Mama Merkel’.

German nationals are pleased at this positive image of Merkel – something that is being linked, by association, to the country itself.

‘Unmerciful tyrant’

During the past few years when the economic crisis was at its worst in Greece, Merkel was often pictured as an unmerciful tyrant by European media. Many photos and comments drew similarities between her and Hitler.

But Merkel chose a moral stance over how to deal with the refugees. It’s true that Merkel’s courage is being challenged by racist groups in Germany and Europe – groups that base their argument on fear of Islam, and claims that these refugees cannot integrate in society. However, broader German public opinion seems to be more in favor of Merkel’s choices.

Yes, the photo of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old boy who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while fleeing to Europe with his parents, has been especially powerful, especially in a country where the collective memory is haunted by photos of Jews on trains as they were taken to extermination camps. That massacre still impacts on the Germans’ public image today. And so the photo of Aylan and of Syrian refugees on trains and crossing borders in Europe struck a particular chord among Germans – influencing their stance on the refugee crisis.

‘Tired of being the bad guys’

This emotional response in commending Merkel has comforted many Germans, with some thinking that this marks a new positive image for their country and people. The culture of welcoming refugees has been strengthened, thanks to both laws and Germans' acts of kindness in receiving refugees with flowers. Photos of such gestures have positively affected public opinion of Germany, which is still influenced by history and the Nazi era.

More than one German commentator has said “we are tired of being the bad guys.” And a new image is developing, as Germany wants the world to love it more. So perhaps the Syrian tragedy will help heal the wounds of Germany’s past. But as for Syria’s recovery, it seems now is not the time.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat.
Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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