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Missing persons

Rachel Gessat / bkAugust 28, 2012

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich wants to use fake missing person notices to campaign against the radicalization of young immigrants. Turkish community organizations have criticized the posters.

One of the posters, with the word Missing above a picture of a young man. Source: http://www.initiative-sicherheitspartnerschaft.de/ Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge
Image: Beratungsstelle Radikalisierung

"Missing" - the word is written in large font above a portrait of a young man with dark hair. Beneath the headline it reads: "This is our son Ahmad. We miss him, because we don't recognize him anymore. He is withdrawing more and more, becoming more radical every day. We are afraid of losing him altogether - to religious fanatics and terrorist groups." Then there is the appeal to call the "Radicalization Advice Center."

One of the posters, this time of a woman in a headscarf. Source: http://www.initiative-sicherheitspartnerschaft.de/ Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge
Hundreds of these posters will soon hang in German citiesImage: Beratungsstelle Radikalisierung

This advice center was founded at the start of 2012 and is part of the initiative "Security Partnership - working together with Muslims for security," started by German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich "to counter the Islamist radicalization of young people." His ministry also started the ad campaign to promote the center's work.

Emotional appeal

That campaign includes posters, postcards and these fake missing person notices - with four different models - three young men, and one young woman wearing a headscarf.

The ministry's optimistic statement said, "The emotional representation makes clear the basis of the Security Partnership: countering radicalization and supporting those affected." The authority intends to hang the posters - in German, Arabic and Turkish - mainly in the immigrant districts of Berlin, Hamburg and Bonn.

'Humiliation of Muslims'

But the target audience has not taken too kindly to the initiative. Bekir Yilmaz, president of the Turkish community organization in Berlin, was shocked. "This is a generalization. It's the assumption that all Muslims could be radicalized," he told Deutsche Welle. "In my opinion, this is a humiliation for the Muslims who live in Berlin and Germany."

One of the posters on a billboard Source: MiGAZIN (original picture: west.m/flickr-cc-by 2.0) source: http://www.migazin.de/2012/08/27/wie-innenministerium-und-islamische-religionsgemeinschaften-rechtsextremisten-in-die-hande-spielen/ provided by: Rachel Gessat
Immigrant community organizations criticize the campaignImage: MiGAZIN

Birol Kocaman, editor of the online magazine MiGAZIN - Migration in Germany, has a similar view. "What's dangerous about the poster campaign is that the people pictured could be a work colleagues, a friend from the sports club, or the neighbor," he said. "They could be anyone who looks like a Muslim. They are all made subject to a general suspicion that they could be dangerous."

Yilmaz also makes another point: Turkish Muslims have long arrived in the mainstream of society - they pose no threat. But they are under threat themselves. "People of Turkish extraction have been victims of attacks - in Mölln, in Solingen, and through the far-right extremist murders by the NSU of the past few years," he said. "One should really ask the question, who should these notices really be directed at?"

Bekir Yilmaz Copyright: DW/Jülide Danisman
Bekir Yilmaz thinks the campaign is a mistakeImage: DW

MiGAZIN reacted with a satirical version of the poster, showing a picture of the interior minister himself, with the notice: "This is our Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich. We don't miss him, because we don't recognize him anymore. He is withdrawing more and more, becoming more radical every day. We are afraid he will disappear altogether - into the hands of right-wing fanatics and terrorist groups."

But not all Muslims will react to the posters with humor, says Yilmaz. "It could well be that such campaigns lead to people just getting sick of having to prove every day that they're loyal to the German constitutional system."