Opinion: Extremists from the fringe of society | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 17.09.2014
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Opinion: Extremists from the fringe of society

An increasing number of jihadists are leaving Germany for Syria and Iraq, where some are killing innocent civilians. There are interesting parallels between them and neo-Nazis, says DW's Kersten Knipp.

Readers of German daily "Süddeutsche Zeitung" could watch death come in slow motion on this morning's cover page. The paper shows five video stills taken from three different positions. In the pictures from July 19 of this year, a white vehicle can be seen as it slowly approaches a checkpoint in central Baghdad. Once the car arrives, its driver causes it to explode. As a result of those actions, 54 people died with many others injured or dismembered. Based on what's known so far, the driver seems to be a young man with Turkish roots from the western German town of Ennepetal.

Ahmet C., as he is named in reports, had arrived in Baghdad just hours beforehand. His radicalization seemed to happen with the same dizzying speed as his murderous deed. In March of this year, he posted two photographs on Facebook. One shows him in a laid-back and cool posture with a bottle of whiskey and cigarettes. The other shows him as a Muslim in prayer.

"It's not too late," he commented below the pictures of his transformation from Saul to Paul - a Paul who would kill more than 50 people just four months later.

Jihadists and neo-Nazis

How did this transformation come about? And above all: How can such an extreme propensity for violence develop within just a few months? Sociologists and psychologists are only just beginning to grapple with the heart of the phenomenon: such a transformation is too incomprehensible to be understood step by step and analyzed down to the smallest detail. But certain aspects turn up again and again: the feeling of being excluded and left behind or of no longer being in control of one's life - being unable to find a pace in society. It's no coincidence that Islamists dubbing themselves the Sharia Police in Wuppertal this summer thought they might find new supporters in arcades and casinos, of all places. They're locations where at least some people with plenty of time and few plans for their lives tend to congregate. Those who are promising a new take on life will likely find more than a few takers there.

Kersten Knipp

DW's Kersten Knipp

Marketing jihadist ideology with pop culture elements - such as eye-catching costumes, powerfully long beards and catchy slogans - offers supporters the feeling of moving from the outer reaches to the center of a group. In this case, it's a group posturing as enlightened individuals who want nothing less than to reform society from head to toe. Psychologically, this dynamic corresponds precisely to what brings people together under the banner of Germany's neo-Nazis, who tend to live in the eastern part of the country. Meanwhile, the jihadists turn up in the West - pop culture jihadists, some of whom have become mass murderers. Germany's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution estimates that 400 fighters have made their way to Syria and Iraq from Germany. At least five of them have already carried out suicide attacks.

Dispelling the allure of jihadist ideology will take years. The success of any efforts to do so will come down what meaningful alternatives can be offered. Those who might fall into jihadist ideology need to have a place for their lives in society. Extremism doesn't breed in the center of society, but at its edges.

Of vigilance and hysteria

Initially, however, it will be a matter of subverting any acute dangers. Currently, German security agencies are taking up two questions above all: How can young jihadists be prevented from leaving the country? And how should they be dealt with upon returning from war zones? Interior Minister Thomas de Maziere has made various proposals, including taking away their German citizenship. Passing harsher laws on foreigners living in Germany is also under discussion - with the intention of making it easier to expel foreign extremists. A working group composed of state and federal representatives is reviewing the suggestions now.

The current situation is difficult in part due to the impenetrability of the jihadist scene. As such, it's easy for the distinctions to blur between alarm and alarmism or between vigilance and hysteria. Nonetheless, the topic at hand must be discussed, even if it will take on shrill dimensions at times, and action must be taken. German citizens aren't the only ones who should be able to expect that from lawmakers. At stake are also the lives of Syrians and Iraqis who may face the same fate of fellow civilians killed by German jihadis.

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