How does one explain the phenomenon of Salafism? And what causes young Islamists the world over to take up jihad? Wolf Schmidt offers some answers in his insightful book “Young, German, Taliban”. Albrecht Metzger has read the book
The recent riots in the Islamic world triggered by a crude film about the Prophet Mohammed once again demonstrates how deep the cultural divisions have become between the Islamic world and the West over the past decades.
Most Muslims regard it as taboo to ridicule religion, whereas most people in the USA and Europe have no problem with such insulting behaviour, even when directed against prophets, whether Christian or Muslim. These are differences that cannot be so easily bridged.
At the very least, non-Muslims should try to understand the nature of these religious sensibilities in the Islamic world and what can set them off. For many Muslims, the defence of religious honour is a way of challenging the political, cultural, and economic dominance of the West – even through the use of violence.
This disposition to violence is unsettling, particularly in a prosperous society like Germany, where most people appear to live well in comparison to other countries. Anxiety rises whenever religious motives are involved, as the notion of going to war for the sake of the cross is one that has been lost long ago.
The height of misunderstanding, however, is reached in cases where someone is prepared to sacrifice their life for a religion. Most people in Germany see this world-view as a relic from the Middle Ages.
Many intelligence officials in Germany are baffled by the political response to the Salafist movement. As far as they are concerned, there is too much populism, not enough strategic thinking, and ineffective communication to boot. Albrecht Metzger reports.
At 6 a.m. on 14 June, a hundred-strong police unit advanced on the Millatu Ibrahim Mosque in Solingen and cleared the house of worship. Just a few hours later, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich announced a ban on the eponymous association, whose members had expressed open allegiance to al-Qaeda, and had its Internet site removed from the web.
Abu Usama al-Gharib, who until a few months ago was a preacher at the mosque and is now thought to be in Egypt, posted an immediate reaction on his blog: “Until you believe in Allah alone there will clearly only be ENMITY AND HATRED FOREVER between you and us. You can’t ban Millatu Ibrahim. Because we carry Millatu Ibrahim in our hearts. Victory or martyrdom.”
The Islamic extremists have since fallen silent. But for how long? “The confrontation with Salafism has only just begun,” says Guido Steinberg, a specialist in terrorism at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin. “Millatu Ibrahim has openly issued propaganda for al-Qaeda. Dealing with the Salafists who advocate jihad but don’t express this publicly is much more difficult.”
Until now, German public perception of the Salafists placed the phenomenon firmly on foreign soil. Recent events involving followers of this radical school of Islamic thought such as the distribution of copies of the Koran in German cities and violent clashes with police have raised some concerns, but how dangerous are the Salafists in reality? Answers from Albrecht Metzger
Until recently, German public perception of the Salafist movement was of a phenomenon primarily taking place abroad. The fundamentalists with the long beards and cropped trousers captured some 20 per cent of the Egyptian vote. Now they aim to impose Sharia law on the nation and induce society to live by the example of the Prophet and his disciples.
They also made negative press in Tunisia, with verbal attacks on Jews and anyone challenging their rigid world view. But in Germany? For sure, police and intelligence agencies have long had the German Salafists on their radar, and they warn of the potential dangers posed by this ideology. Members of what was known as the “Sauerland cell”, who planned attacks on US installations in 2007 and were sentenced to serve long jail terms, came from this milieu.