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What Germany should do about Salafism

Salafism is a challenge to German society. Groups that support or incite violence should fall within the responsibility of law enforcement, while those groups that stick to missionary activities might be an issue for society and normal politics and should be handled accordingly with the help of information programs and education.

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Salafism

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Federal Office for the Protection of the Consitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence service, estimated for 2011 that about 3.800 people belonged to the Salafist movement in Germany. In addition, about 50 mosques are believed to subscribe to some form of Salafism although the BfV itself notes that this is only an estimate. Generally it is believed that this group is growing, however it is hard to come across more reliable numbers: since there is no Salafist “church” with registered members this will always be a challenge.

Salafism has different sub-groups that are more or less problematic. One of the major problems in the current debate in Germany is the lack of differentiation. Indeed, a difference lies between pious Salafists and more militant forms (lets call them Salafist-Jihadists). While the former pose a challenge on a social, political level only a fraction of the Salafist sphere in Germany subscribes to Jihadist thinking. This latter group is a potential threat to security. However, we also need to realize that “Jihadists” might be interested in becoming foreign fighters in e.g. Syria but would not commit terrorist attacks in Germany and not be a direct threat to the country.

Nevertheless, for historical reasons such a differentiation does not come natural to the German debate. In the German discourse exists the term “intellectual inciters” (geistige Brandstifter) and authorities tend to monitor and sanction them as well, through the BfV and other institutions. However, when it comes to government measures against radical Islamist groups such a differentiation might be crucial. Why is that? Well, Germany is a relative latecomer to this debate, given that the Salafist groups have spread over the country rather recently since ca. 2002. In the UK there has been a debate on whether pious Salafist groups might act as an ideological firewall against Jihadism or whether they actually provided the ideological underpinning for such activities. I personally believe that we lack empirically reliable evidence to make a decision for one of the two positions. It might very well be true that more activist individuals seek out pious Salafist groups to satisfy their radicalism but they move on because those are not radical enough. Such an assumption obviously blows in the face of the position currently held (German authorities have a couple of high class studies on this issue to which the public has no access, sadly).

Germany, on the one hand side has suppressed violent groups and groups it believed to incite violence (as displayed by frequent arrests and raids). On the other hand, it has started a dialogue with the wider Muslim community (that seems however stalling at the moment). The fact that since 2001 there has only been one successful Islamist inspired terrorist attack in Germany is the proof that authorities must be doing something right. Anyway, the level of care in dealing with the Salafist movement should be kept high, otherwise one might cause the radicalisation one wants to prevent. Groups that support or incite violence should fall within the responsibility of law enforcement, while those groups that stick to missionary activities might be an issue for society and normal politics and should be handled accordingly with the help of information programs and education (as well as kept under some surveillance: in the past Jihadist networks have formed in the proximity of these groups). On the individual level I believe Germany has expertise from the handling of sects to helping people that are willing to leave a group: those measures and efforts have been revealed to be effective.

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Photo Credit: Ahmadtal3t

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