German security officials Thursday raided Salafist groups in seven different states. The interior minister declared such groups to be anti-constitutional and issued a ban.
Muslims, making up about 5 percent of the population in Germany, comprise the third-largest religious group in the country. Of the approximately 4 million Muslims, only about 1 percent can be considered Islamist, German security services say.
And according to the organization Sekteninfo NRW, only about 5,000 of these are Salafists. Of these, 100 are seen as "missionaries," while 24 have been labeled as "dangerous." More than 1,000 police were called in to search Salafist centers in the seven German states.
Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich justified the raids by saying the Salafists maintain terrorist ties. Constitutional Protection President Heinz Fromm stated that although not every Salafist is a terrorist "almost all terrorists that we know of have had contact to Salafists, or are Salafists."
Islam expert Herbert Müller, in a DW interview, warned that the Salafist scene "openly threatens the German state."
Militant minority awakes suspicion
In German public perception, Salafists played virtually no role for a long time. This only changed once they started handing out thousands of Korans in public places, and getting into street battles with right-wing extremists of the Pro-NRW movement. Recognizable through their long, white garments and crochet caps, they've now become objects of suspicion.
Part of this suspicion rests with the uncertainty about Salafists' relation to German society. Salafists promote the idea that democracy is the "work of the devil," while they believe that jihad is comprised not of religious devotion, but armed struggle for the six pillars of Islam. Men and women are not seen as possessing the same rights. And anyone who disagrees is labeled an "infidel."
Friedmann Eißler of the Evangelical Central Department for Questions of Worldview warned of groups, which in their interpretation of Islam "explicitly reject democracy and glorify martyrdom." Since the Salafist sect is based on a literal interpretation of the Koran, "it's about statements from the 7th to the 9th Century. That was the golden age of Islam, when politics and religion were intertwined," said Eißler.
That the values associated with this era may not be compatible with modern democracy holds true not only for Salafism, but for other fundamentalist groups as well. Sekteninfo NRW has published a number of reports and documents illustrating this point. Eißler added that the complexity of a globalized world has led some to seek out "simple black-and-white solutions," something which may be contributing to the rise of fundamentalist tendencies in other areas of society.
Abuse of democratic freedoms
German society is particularly sensitive when groups within the constitutional state make counter-democratic assertions. The Nazi party in the 1930s issued anti-Jewish propaganda under laws guaranteeing freedom of expression. Yet, as will go down in the annals of history, the party invalidated the law after coming to power.
Public distribution of the Koran has stoked the public concern, along with talk show appearances of prominent Islamists, who provided only vague responses to inquiries about democratic values, such as pluralism and tolerance. Sharia, the Islamic system of law, is also considered a threat to the secular state.
Author: Matthias von Hellfeld / sad
Editor: Gregg Benzow