Combatting Salafist radicalisation in Germany

Under scrutiny

Media representatives and academics would do well not to pre-judge the German security services′ Salafism prevention initiatives. Hazim Fouad, Islamic studies expert for the Senator for Home Affairs in Bremen, submits his response to the arguments proposed by Salafism researcher Nina Kasehage

On 1 May 2017, Qantara published a Deutsche Welle interview with the religious studies scholar Nina Kasehage. In it, she criticised the German authorities′ approach to preventing Salafist radicalisation.

Right at the start of the interview, she accused the security services of regarding Salafism mainly as a national movement prior to 2013. Counter to this is the Lagebild zur Verfassungsfeindlichkeit salafistischer Bestrebungen (Overview of anti-constitutional Salafist endeavours) produced in 2011 with substantial involvement from the security services.

This 63-page document expressly describes the Salafist movement several times as transnational. The national working group behind this overview, the ″Bund-Lander Arbeitsgemeinschaft Salafismus″, had been formed in 2009. And the brochure produced in 2012 by the intelligence services network, Salafistische Bestrebungen in Deutschland (Salafist endeavours in Germany) points to the connections between German Salafists and internationally active jihadist groups.

No prerogative of interpretation

The next thing Kasehage criticises is the term “Islamism”. The term is of course legitimate within academic discourse; however, the security services neither coined the term, nor do they have the prerogative when it comes to interpreting it. They do not place Islam on a level with Islamism and they differentiate between the two accordingly in their publications. The term has, in fact, been adopted from academia.

In what is probably the most comprehensive reference work on Islamic studies in German, ″Der Islam in der Gegenwart″, edited by Udo Steinbach and Werner Ende, the term is used in an article on ″Islamist groups and movements″ by Jan-Peter Hartung und Guido Steinberg written as early as 2005.

Hazim Fouad (photo: © Marina Lilienthal)
Hazim Fouad has been working as an Islamic studies expert for the Senator for Home Affairs in Bremen since 2011 and is active in various national prevention-focused bodies as part of his work. He has edited a volume of essays entitled ″Salafismus. Auf der Suche nach dem wahren Islam″ (Salafism: in search of the true Islam, published 2014) with Behnam T. Said, while his essay, co-authored with Andre Taubert , ″Salafismuspravention zwischen Sicherheitsbehorden und zivilgesellschaftlichen Tragern″ (Preventing Salafism: security services and civil-society agencies) appeared in the book ″Salafismus in Deutschland – Ursprunge und Gefahren einer islamisch-fundamentalistischen Bewegung″ (Salafism in Germany – origins and threats of an Islamic-fundamentalist movement) edited by Thorsten Gerald Schneiders

Just under 10 years later, the current standard work on the topic was published in the Beck Wissen series. Tilmann Seidensticker′s book ″Islamismus. Geschichte, Vordenker, Organisationen″ (Islamism: History, Masterminds, Organisations), gives a detailed reappraisal of the historical genesis of the concept. Seidensticker provides evidence that the term was used as far back as the 1980s.

Both the term and its definition are also used by the international pioneers of modern Islamic studies, such as Gilles Kepel and Olivier Roy. A search for ″Islamism″ in the Index Islamicus, the largest database of academic articles on Islamic Studies topics in the world, returns over 1200 results. Conduct an additional search of political sciences databases such as JSTOR, Web of Science or Academic Search Premier and you will find more than 5000 results.

The evidence for ″Islamism″ as a recognised concept is also underlined by the fact that the terms ″Islamism″ (islamiyya) und ″Islamists″ (islamiyun) are also widely used in the Arabic-speaking world, by both academics (like Usama ′Abd al-Haqq) and Islamists themselves (like Hassan al-Turabi).

The next accusation to be levelled at the security services is that they had hoped the jihadists who had travelled abroad wouldn′t come back and were therefore unprepared for this scenario.

But page 197 of the Verfassungsschutzbericht 2013 intelligence service report mentions the danger of returning jihadists. At that time, the authorities were aware of a regular increase in departures; the number of those returning was minimal by comparison.

Prevention programmes already being implemented

Kasehage′s criticism continues, directed at the Federal Justice Minister Heiko Maas, who has apparently failed to make good on his promise to support prevention measures. What she does not say is that justice-department prevention programmes are implemented via the federal Demokratie Leben programme run by the Ministry for Families, Seniors, Women and Young People (BMFSFJ).

Working closely with the justice departments in each state and the state centres for democracy, the projects in this programme area are aimed at creating preventative, educational offerings for young people who have been imprisoned after committing crimes, supporting them during and after their sentences.

In addition, work is being funded to help prisoners who have already been radicalised to abandon and distance themselves from this ideology. Instead of creating parallel structures in the prevention landscape, there has rightfully been a decision to use existing, effective programmes and mechanisms.

Federal Minister for the Interior Thomas de Maiziere (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
Huge response: in the five years since it was set up, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees′ radicalisation counselling service, ″Beratungsstelle Radikalisierung″, has seen more than 3400 people take up its offer of advice. According to Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, over 1750 individuals have received counselling. The hotline was set up in 2012 to enable concerned friends and relatives to seek help anonymously. The counselling service now has a comprehensive network, with offices in several federal states, says de Maiziere

With regard to existing prevention and de-radicalisation programmes, the claim is made that money is never given to ″small groups″, but only to large federal projects – and that most projects are also attached to security-service institutions.

Looking at the heterogeneous landscape of prevention activities in Germany, this blanket statement is inaccurate. In some states, the social security office, and in others the municipal office of the interior takes the lead in co-ordinating prevention networks.

Hamburg, for example, has the Legato advisory service, which is run by two local agencies and financed by the social security office. It is not connected to a federal project. The countrywide agencies Ufuq e.V., or ZDK gGmbH with its HAYAT-Deutschland initiative, also have no connection to the security services.

Independently of this, there is the fact that under §138 of the German Criminal Code, even agencies in civil society are obliged to report any criminal acts. In a field where work is being done with strongly radicalised and potentially violent people, the security services cannot take a completely hands-off approach.

Huge response to state radicalisation counselling service

The figures alone contradict the views that links to government are a fundamental error and create an insurmountable mental barrier for people who want to seek help. In the five years since it was set up, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees′ radicalisation counselling service, Beratungsstelle Radikalisierung, has seen more than 3400 people take up its offer of advice. Added to that are hundreds of cases in which people have turned directly to local agencies in their own state.

Federal Justice Minister Heiko Maas (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
"Kasehage′s criticism continues, directed at the Federal Justice Minister Heiko Maas, who has apparently failed to make good on his promise to support prevention measures. What she does not say is that justice-department prevention programmes are implemented via the federal Demokratie Leben programme run by the Ministry for Families, Seniors, Women and Young People (BMFSFJ)," remarks Hazim Fouad

In comparison to far-right de-radicalisation, work on preventing Islamist/jihadist radicalisation is a relatively new area. As a result, there are certain to be some faults in the authorities′ work. In order to optimise the work where necessary and to readjust policy – especially in the light of new challenges – the various initiatives being implemented on a national scale are undergoing academic evaluation.

Furthermore, those involved in the programmes are constantly exchanging information. In this regard, the media needs to remain critical in its handling of over-hasty blanket judgements of work being done by the authorities, judging them against the facts as they stand and taking into account the authorities′ constant reflection on their own work in this sensitive area – for the sake of fairness and in the interests of responsible, well-informed journalism.

Hazim Fouad

© Qantara.de 2017

Translated from the German by Ruth Martin

More on this topic
In submitting this comment, the reader accepts the following terms and conditions: Qantara.de reserves the right to edit or delete comments or not to publish them. This applies in particular to defamatory, racist, personal, or irrelevant comments or comments written in dialects or languages other than English. Comments submitted by readers using fantasy names or intentionally false names will not be published. Qantara.de will not provide information on the telephone. Readers' comments can be found by Google and other search engines.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.