Youth novel explores real causes of terror in Germany | Books | DW | 25.08.2016
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Youth novel explores real causes of terror in Germany

A German-Turkish teen joins the 'IS' and plans a terror attack in Germany. While that's the basis for a new work of youth fiction, it's disturbingly close to the reality in Germany, writes DW's Rolf Rische.

"Allahu akbar!" shouts the 16-year-old in front of the St. Paul soccer stadium in Hamburg. He's about to blast himself and hundreds of innocent people to bits.

The young man is a native German, a soccer fan and, as of recently, a religiously motivated terrorist. The scene is both frightening and absurd at the same time. But tragically, it's also all too reminiscent of things that have really happened in Germany this past year.

The novel "Kadir, der Krieg und die Katze des Propheten" (Kadir, the War and the Prophet's Cat), by Peter Mathews und Benno Köpfer, opens with this scene. The book traces the path of German-Turkish youth Kadir from an inconspicuously, relatively well adjusted teenager to a jihadist.

It's through his local mosque and Quran school that Kadir finds himself under the influence of radical Islamists. "IS" YouTube videos fascinate him and he can't stop watching them. Finally, he decides to travel to Syria via Turkey.

At home in his Hamburg neighborhood, Kadir's best friend Mark wonders where he's gone. The local kebab seller gives him a concise answer: "Kadir is jihad."

Benno Köpfer (right) and Peter Mathews, Copyright: Cyril Schirmbeck

Islam expert Benno Köpfer (right) teamed up with crime writer Peter Mathews

The absurdity of life with the 'IS'

In the training camp of the "Islamic State," Kadir prepares for mass murder. Considering that aim, his everyday routine seems bizarre. Out of boredom, he spends hours watching Rambo movies with his buddies, who've also traveled to Syria from the West. Then he watches as several people's heads are cut off in the name of god while bystanders cheer.

After days of listlessness, he learns how to handle a machine gun. Then he is required to rape a 15-year-old "IS" prisoner.

Later, he looks after the small, sweet red-and-white spotted cat that he'd found in a trash can. Terror, it seems, has its trivial sides.

The reality of terror - in Germany

The novel by Mathews and Köpfer is mainly aimed at young readers and is based on real-life cases. Kadir is a fictional figure, but he stands for the over 800 young men that have traveled from Germany to join the "IS" in Syria. Around a quarter of them have Turkish roots like Kadir.

Of the over 8,000 radical Islamists in Germany, as tallied by Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, many are considered dangerous.

What Kadir experiences and how he is treated corresponds to reality, according to the book's authors. Benno Köpfer has worked for many years as an analyst for the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. His mission is to fight Islamist terrorism.

Köpfer studied Muslim Studies in Freiburg, Cairo and Sana'a. As an archaeologist, he participated in excavations in Yemen and Syria and has traveled the Islamic world from Mauretius to Pakistan.

"Unfortunately there is a lot of truth in this fictional character," says the Islam expert about the protagonist Kadir.

Köpfer aims to help his colleagues at the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution understand what leads young men in Germany to become terrorists. "Islam as a religion is only part of what draws young people into the jihad for the 'IS,'" he says.

Ultimately, it's about overcoming adolescent crises and exploring the identity issues that come up during that time of life, explains Köpfer. "And then answers and offers come from the wrong friends - the Salifists. Keywords like honor, duty, fame, fight for justice, power, victory or defeat, paradise and hell are inflated and take on a great deal of meaning for the young aspirant jihadists."

Help for those in the clutches of extremism

In Germany, these befriended Salifists sometimes go completely unnoticed under the guise of religious freedom. Hans-Georg Maassen, president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, told the Sunday edition of Die Welt, "Many mosques have extremist tendencies or are being observed by the authorities due to their Salafist orientation."

Jihadists in Iraq, Copyright: picture-alliance/AP Photo

Jihadists in Iraq

Germans have become increasingly aware of the bloody consequences Salafist propaganda can have in their own back yard. This realization is playing into the current discourse on double citizenship or a burqa ban.

Hamburg, where the protagonist Kadir lives in the novel, has a publically financed "office for religious radicalization," as do other cities in Germany. The bureau, which has a staff of nine people, helps those who want to get out of the radical milieu and councils relatives of those who demonstrate violent extremist tendencies.

In "Kadir, der Krieg und die Katze des Propheten," the authors have succeeded in depicting Kadir's world realistically: the conservative Turkish family, the absent father, the confrontational sister, the uncle with a grocery store.

Torn between world views

Since the early 1990s, the term "parallel society" has been used to describe the self-organization or even ghettoization of minorities. Kadir experiences both sides: his soccer club and his Quran school; his German friends and his Turkish clique; the radical "brothers" in the Islamic cultural organization and his naive high school teacher who tries to be politically correct.

IS fights in trucks, Copyright: picture-alliance/AP Photo

The "IS" portrays itself as threatening and powerful

Kadir is torn between diametrically opposing worlds and world views. "It's all made up and that's why it's true," says co-author Peter Mathews.

Mathews, a successful crime author, is responsible for bringing a dynamic plot and believable characters to such a complex topic. He and Köpfer were an ideal team for the project. The novel is both touching and disturbing; it's informative and enlightening. It poses difficult questions without providing simple answers. While the story of Kadir is gripping, the novel is too true to be beautiful.

"Kadir, der Krieg und die Katze des Propheten" (Kadir the War and the Prophet's Cat) by Peter Mathews and Benno Köpfer, published by dtv, is released on August 26 in German.

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