Inclusion serves prevention of extremism

ISIS terrorism in Syria and Iraq may seem a distant threat to most Germans – but Islamist fanatics are recruiting fighters in Europe. Experts agree that the radicalisation of young people must be prevented.
Islam is part of Germany: mosque and TV tower in Cologne. Allgöwer/picture-alliance/dpa Islam is part of Germany: mosque and TV tower in Cologne.

Düzen Tekkal is a German journalist and practising Yazidi. She emphasises that many fundamentalist terrorists today are European citizens. Extremist groups recruit youngsters, and they use propaganda material and videos on the internet to reach out to young Muslims. Moreover, they even manage to convert and radicalise some non-Muslims.  

Hundreds of people migrate from Germany to Syria or Iraq every year, in order to join ISIS and support the “Holy War”. According to Germany’s Bundeskriminalamt (BKA – Federal Criminal Police Office), the number of Germans who joined the jihad has more than doubled in the first months of this year.

In Germany, Muslims are exposed to frequent discrimination and lack opportunities. Because of such experiences, many young German Muslims are open to militant agitation. Tekkal observed the daily life of youngsters from migrant families in Bonn for a year. In her eyes, stigmatisation makes them susceptible to radical ideologies.

Germans who return from the battlegrounds of the Middle East are traumatised. In the worst cases, they have become even more radical than before their departure. Security experts see a rising danger of Islamist terror attacks in Germany.

Tekkal argues that the German government has the responsibility to support integration of migrant communities into German society. Otherwise, she sees democracy at risk. At the same time, Tekkal wants Muslims all over the world to disown the radical ideologies of ISIS and similar groups: “We must rise up to show that we disagree with the fundamentalists.”


Religious education

Necla Kelek, a sociologist, similarly demands that Germany’s Islamic organisations take a stand against religious fanaticism. Faith-based communities have to face the problem of religiously motivated violence and promote a peaceful practice of the Islamic religion. Kelek says that children must learn early on to discuss and assess controversial suras in Koran school so they can develop a profound understanding of the religion. She asks: “Who can teach a peaceful Islam, if not the religious communities themselves?”

Islam is a religion that spells out laws for its believers, but the sharia is a set of Koranic rules and not the religion itself. This distinction matters, according to Kelek, as she insists that sharia must not cast doubt on German law. “We want to live our religion in our heart,” she says. In order to find effective preventive methods, Kelek sees the need for more research on why a growing number of young Muslims find extremism attractive. The influence of fundamentalist groups needs to be contained, Kelek demands, and Salafi organisations should be forbidden.

Imam Husamuddin Meyer argues that the faith itself is not to blame. In his eyes, it is being manipulated by extremists. He holds Friday sermons in various German prisons and, on a daily basis, offers advice to inmates in Wiesbaden. Most Muslim prisoners, he says, have hardly had any serious religious education at all. The cleric emphasises that extremists abuse the Islam as a justification for violent actions that are actually not religious. He wants to raise awareness among prisoners and eradicate “ideological misconceptions”.

The young inmates are thankful for the opportunity to discuss their religion with him, Imam Meyer says. In his experience, a trained mentor is needed to counter superficial ideas that are spread in propaganda videos as well as in personal interaction. Because of anxieties, hate and feelings of inferiority, many identify easily with extremist ideologies. The belief systems of inmates in prisons where there is no imam are remarkably radical, according to Meyer.

It is necessary to prevent the radicalisation of inmates in prisons, agrees Holger Münch, the BKA president. The high-ranking police officer says that, if more imams were available in German jails, radicalisation processes would be detected earlier and stopped more easily. At a panel discussion hosted by Konrad Adenauer Foundation near Mainz in late May, Münch admitted that it is very hard to prevent radicalisation through social networks on the internet as the world wide web allows extremist groups to reach anyone anywhere. Many young people find the glorification of martyrdom and images which resemble action films appealing, according to Münch.

Münch is aware of the rising number of ISIS-recruits. According to the BKA, some 680 Germans have travelled to the “Holy War” in Syria and Iraq since 2013. This trend has to be stopped, demands Münch. He wants authorities to block departures. Other prevention measures include raising awareness and staging public discussions on extremist ideologies and terror propaganda.

Extremism experts agree that radicalisation of young people is avoidable. Germany has to accept that Islam is part of Germany, as Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Christian Wulff, the former president, have affirmed.

Islam must not be understood as a religion of terror and violence. This assessment is shared by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which is close to Germany’s Christian Democrats. Apart from hosting public events like the one near Mainz, the Foundation has recently initiated the “Muslim Forum Germany”. It promotes the peaceful coexistence of Muslims and non-Muslims in the country. The stated goal is to encourage “peaceful and democratic Islam in Germany”.

The Forum includes representatives of various Muslim and Christian communities. It aspires to give a voice to Muslims, who, so far, do not feel adequately represented in Germany.

Rebecca Renz

Founding declaration of the Muslim Forum Germany (in German):


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