Going down in history for an act of violence

A more significant role is played by attackers with personality disorders, for example those with narcissistic personality disorder who aim to inflate their miserable self-image through their actions. They cannot be helped with medication or psychotherapy. If they decide to perpetrate an attack in the name of Islam, it is often a convergence of several aspects: the desire to no longer be alive; the encouragement of Islamists who support them personally, via text message or videos online; and finally the prospect of stepping onto the world stage with a bombastic performance and going down in history for an act of violence. Regardless of the fact that they will no longer be around to witness it.

Islamism is currently extremely attractive, one could even say a top trend, among such attackers, because murders committed in the name of Islam are far more high profile than other killings. In another recent attack, a man opened fire with an assault rifle in a disco in the city of Konstanz, killed one man and died in an exchange of fire with the police. Unlike the attack by the Palestinian in Hamburg, his actions have largely been forgotten by the public. The perpetrator did not shout "Allahu Akbar". It is this perception in particular that Endrass describes as a huge problem.

He also holds the media responsible: these show the faces of the Islamist attackers, tell their life stories, quote their Facebook entries. For people who feel disregarded in public life, the prospect of this happening is especially appealing, he says. But he also concedes that such attacks must not be hushed up.

Islamism as new youth movement

As a rule, those attracted by the IS propensity for violence barely engage with Islam. The Bielefeld-based violence researcher Andreas Zick sees clear parallels between the kind of propaganda peddled by right wing extremists and Islamists. Endrass describes what attracts young men to such ideologies as "the main thing is, it's extreme". Together with researchers from Osnabruck, Zick recently published a study appraising the WhatsApp-chats of a Salafist youth group in Germany. The group had been planning an attack, but also chatted about questions concerning Islam. Or their perception of it.

One of the researchers described the world view assembled by the young men as "Lego Islam"; a view that does not draw on knowledge of the Koran, but that is thrown together from snippets found on the web. "The cruder and simpler the theories were, the more successful they were," said Zick at a presentation of the study in July. The important thing for the young men was the message that they were warriors.

Even Muslims who feel discriminated against in Europe and drawn to Islamism, appear to find the sense of community more important than the religion invoked by IS.

According to findings by U.S. researchers such as the anthropologist Scott Atran, the prospect of entering Paradise is no longer a major motivation in joining jihad. The promise of adventure and a purpose in life is more important for most young people, he says. "Islamic State" propaganda focuses on this. It shows fighters bathed in the warm light of a sunset, contented faces. Atran describes Islamism as an ultra-successful youth movement that represents something cool to those who feel marginalised in the West.

For Endrass it follows that precise monitoring must be conducted into which Salafists in Germany display anomalies – and who is managing to form groups of supporters. In addition, the authorities must improve their networking systems, on an international level too. Early intervention must also happen where necessary, he advises, and adds that there have been cases where "people inclined to carry out an attack have been helped to see reason."

Frederike Haupt

© F.A.S. 2017

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

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