How can young Muslims be shielded from extremism? A symposium in Frankfurt recommends carefully vetting partners, while working closely with Muslim organizations.
Safia S. was 15 years old in February when she stabbed a policeman in the neck in Hanover. It was supposedly an act of martyrdom in the name of "Islamic State." The trial against the high school student began in mid-October. Cases like this have put prevention of radicalization at the top of political agenda – just like the nearly 1,000 young men and women from Germany who left the country to take part in the Syrian or Iraqi jihad.
It makes sense that Islamic associations and mosque communities act as partners in prevention. It is good for Islam's image, and the groups also receive government funding. But the state must carefully vet organizations before they become authorized municipal partners, i.e. state partners, said Susanne Schröter, director of the Frankfurt Research Center on Global Islam (FFGI) in an interview with DW during a symposium in Frankfurt in late October. She told DW that she was critical of the fact that in the past, the "fox was allowed to guard the hen house and communities whose ideologies were dubious were brought aboard." One glance at the organizations' websites was enough to shock authorities about the kind of groups that were receiving state funding for prevention and youth work.
For Schröter, a negative example is the "Deutsch-Islamische Vereinsverband Rhein-Main" (German-Islamic Association Rhein-Main). The German Ministry of Family Affairs accepted the association, which includes over 40 member organizations, into the government program known as "Demokratie leben" ("Living democracy"). But in the summer, state funding was cut. Now the association is being monitored by Germany's domestic intelligence service. The state interior minister of Hesse, where Frankfurt is, has classified about a third of the member organizations as "extremist, or influenced by extremists."
Isolated from mainstream society
At the symposium Muslim Youth between Integration, Isolation and New Paths, Schröter, an ethnologist, presented findings from her many years of field research in Wiesbaden's mosque communities. Every community there is active in youth work, albeit on different levels and of varying calibers. Actually, a lot of exemplary youth work is being carried out in mosques that open up and cooperate with other youth services. However, in all mosque communities, girls and boys are separated. Schröter observed that most of the work in mosques is aimed at withdrawing from mainstream society. "They want to take the young people under their wing. They do not want to be spoiled by German society by not following the rules of gender segregation in terms of chastity." As a consequence, young people are not equipped with skills to live in our society, found Islam expert Schröter.
Youth work in Islamic communities is important because the Muslim population is much younger than the overall population in Germany. The average age of the four million Muslims in Germany is 30, explained Hussein Hamdam from the Academy of the Diocese of Stuttgart. The average age of the overall population is 46. Furthermore, religion plays a much greater role in the lives of young people raised in Muslim homes than for most young people in mainstream society. "Religion as an identity marker is a very strong tendency today and has pushed ethnic identity into the background," explained Schröter.
Salafists better social workers
Ahmad Mansour, author of the book "Generation Allah" and psychologist in Berlin, told DW in an interview, "There is a group that belongs to this society and is completely inconspicuous and its members lives are based on democracy. But there is also a group of people who only have religion as an identity-building element, which then becomes an ideology containing problematic values."
Politicians and security authorities would classify people who want to set off bombs as "radical," said Mansour. But he wants to delve deeper. "Young people who put down this society, who live here but believe in completely different ideologies are already a type of risk to me. That does not mean that we have to lock up these people. Instead, we have to fight for these young people. We have to win over these young people. They are a pool in which radical groups go fishing for future members." Sadly, added Mansour, the Salafists often happen to be better social workers.
In Mansour's view, prevention of radicalization is a generational challenge that requires perseverance. Schools will have to accept even more responsibility. Teachers not only have to convey values, promote critical thinking and even work against patriarchal parents, they also have to be able to identify radical tendencies, said Mansour.
At the symposium, a group from the Muslim Boy and Girl Scouts of Germany demonstrated what successful work with young people looks like: Boys and girls stood together on the stage while holding up a German eagle symbol. This scout group, established six years ago, organizes joint camps with Christian scouts. With approximately 300 members, it is still quite small. But interest in the scouts is huge; the demand is so great that prospective members have been put on a waiting list.