Fighting Islamic Extremism in German Classrooms | Current Affairs | DW | 27.07.2002
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Current Affairs

Fighting Islamic Extremism in German Classrooms

Lower Saxony announced this week it will join a small group of German states offering German-language Islamic education in schools. Advocates say there is no better way to root out extremist views.

Holy warrior: Bringing extremism into the classroom discussion

"Holy warrior": Bringing extremism into the classroom discussion

In the months since Germany became known as the launching pad of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, politicians have been working eagerly to better integrate the country's large Islamic community.

Among the proposed measures have been efforts by some German states to standardize Islamic education in German schools in the German language. This week, Lower Saxony announced it was planning to offer classes as part of the regular curriculum by Fall 2003.

German students are required to take religion classes unless they get written permission to take an ethics class instead. The schools offer classes in either Protestantism, Catholocism or Judaism, which are set up as public corporations in Germany to whom citizens pay a tax.

Until now, Islam education in schools had been a casualty of an undisciplined government integration policy. Private lessons have existed since the first Turkish immigrants began arriving in Germany in the 1960s and are now offered by teachers across Germany in Arabic and Bosnian as well. But federally-sponsored Islamic education is non-existent.

Keeping watch over extremism

Advocates on the state and national level hope that changes with the post-Sept. 11 revelation that Germany harbors an active Islamic extremist movement. State control of what is being taught will ensure that extremist views don’t trickle into the lesson plan, said Udo Beckmann director of the North Rhine Westphalia Association for Education and Training.

“There are forces that are trying to heavily influence what is being taught,” Beckmann told DW-WORLD.

North Rhine-Westphalia, where 800,000 of the estimated 3.4 million-strong German Islamic community lives, has sponsored optional Islamic religion instruction classes as a sort of test run in 24 schools since 1999, with a lot of success.

There are around 260,000 Islamic education students and the state recently reached an agreement with a local university to train teachers to fill the demand.

From state to federal

The state’s heavy involvement is rare among Germany’s 16 states. Bavaria, which has allowed Turkish students to take Islamic education classes in their mother tongue, will only begin classes in German in eight schools this Fall. Berlin plans to provide lessons in 20 schools this coming school year.

But programs like North-Rhine Westphalia's are winning more and more bipartisan support among federal politicians.

“When Islamic classes are held in German and under the state-school board, we know what gets taught,” said social democrat Ute Vogt, head of the domestic policy committee in Germany’s parliament recently.

Her counterpart in the conservative Christian Democratic Union agreed and called for Islamic education on a national level using similar wording.

But the revelation earlier this year that one Islamic teacher in Berlin was part of the government-watched Milli Görüs organization showed how difficult the challenge is. Many believe that Germany must produce more qualified teachers before any talk of a federal program can take place.

“It’s important for the state to have control so that there’s no possiblity Islamic education could turn into an anti-democratic movement,” said Hans-Gert Lange, speaker for the Federal Office for the Protection of the Consitution, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency.

  • Date 27.07.2002
  • Author Andreas Tzortzis
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  • Date 27.07.2002
  • Author Andreas Tzortzis
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink