How to deal with extremist voices: Inclusion of hard-line Salafi in TV debate causes uproar in Germany

‘My life for Allah’

Recent reports indicate that the flow of German recruits to the jihadist groups on the Syrian battlefields is declining.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/jihad-reisen-101.html )) Nevertheless, among all European countries, Germany comes second in terms of the number of its citizens that have joined ISIS, al-Nusra Front, or related groups. Against this backdrop, the German public broadcaster ARD used its flagship political talk show Anne Will to discuss the reasons behind the foreign fighter phenomenon.((The full show is available at http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Anne-Will/Mein-Leben-f%C3%BCr-Allah-Warum-radikalisie/Das-Erste/Video?bcastId=328454&documentId=38785504 ))

Debating under the title “My life for Allah – why do more and more youth radicalise themselves?”, guests included Ahmad Mansour, a Muslim sociologist and anti-radicalisation activist; Mohamed Taha Sabri, a Berlin-based Imam; Sascha Mané, father of a girl who has joined ISIS in Syria; and conservative CDU politician Wolfgang Bosbach.((For a portrait of Ahmad Mansour and some of his work, see http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/02/20/ahmad-mansour-on-generation-allah-radicalisation-of-young-muslims-in-germany/ ))

Ties to the Syrian jihad

Yet the most controversial guest proved to be Nora Illi, converted Swiss Muslim woman serving as women’s affairs commissioner at the ‘Islamic Central Council of Switzerland’ (IZRS). In spite of this seemingly inclusive name, the hard-line Salafi IZRS represents only 0.5 per cent of Swiss Muslims.((https://www.welt.de/vermischtes/article159313844/Nikab-Nora-liebt-die-Provokation.html ))

The organisation is the target of a criminal investigation in Switzerland for facilitating the travel of foreign fighters to Syria.((http://www.nzz.ch/schweiz/strafverfahren-gegen-izrs-vorstandmitglied-eroeffnet-1.18665759 )) The IZRS has also publicly screened a movie shot by one of its board members while in Syria during the war. Ostentatiously presented as a travel documentary, the movie in fact contains a host of interviews with Syrian jihadists.((http://www.tagesanzeiger.ch/schweiz/standard/islamischer-zentralrat-setzt-sich-provokativ-in-szene/story/30538028 ))

Calculated provocation

Against this backdrop, the talk master Anne Will undoubtedly expected Illi to play a certain provocative role during her show; a role which she fulfilled splendidly. Wearing a niqab, she appeared to defend the jihadist fighters joining the Syrian conflict: Illi asserted that breaking free from the constraints of European life was “not at all objectionable from an Islamic perspective”, and that doing so even “needed to be highly lauded as an example of moral courage.”((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/medien/warum-lud-anne-will-die-islamistin-nora-illi-ins-studio-14517143.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Illi went on to assert that wearing the niqab was liberating her as a woman. She claimed that Western societies were consistently oppressing Muslims and preventing them from living in accordance with the fundamental tenets of their faith.

Reacting to the radical challenge

Subsequently, the entire rest of the round rallied against Illi. All other Muslim participants denounced her as propagating a hateful ideology and of condoning or actively fostering the atrocities in Syria. The father of the ‘jihadi bride’ provided an insight into what he believed were his daughter’s thought processes when travelling to Syria – most notably her fervent belief to contribute to the making of a better world by joining the Islamic State.((For an excerpt on this, see http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Anne-Will/Die-Jugendlichen-m%C3%B6chten-gern-die-Welt-/Das-Erste/Video?bcastId=328454&documentId=38785454 ))

However, among Muslim discussants further fault-lines opened up quite quickly. Most notably, Ahmad Mansour criticised Imam Sabri for his defensive attitude and for his somewhat hapless attempts to dissociate Islam from the Islamic State by simply asserting that ISIS and its actions are ‘un-Islamic’. Mansour accused the mainstream Sunni Muslim clergy of having failed to “offer youth an understanding of Islam that is reconcilable with democracy and human rights without ifs and buts”. This failure, according to Mansour, coupled with the conservatism of much of established theology, provides fertile soil for subsequent radicalisation.((http://www.rp-online.de/panorama/fernsehen/anne-will-tv-kritik-welcher-islam-passt-zu-deutschland-aid-1.6379034 ))

Islamists and populists

Beyond demonstrating the very strained nature of the entente between different Muslim voices standing against radicalisation, however, the discussion round also cast into sharp relief the difficulty of reining in hateful fringe discourses. Critics noted that without the concerted help of her other guests, host Anne Will not have been able to deconstruct Illi’s blunt yet powerful rhetoric. At times, the crude logic of Illi’s argument threatened to overwhelm the host.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/medien/tv-kritik/tv-kritik-anne-will-nora-illi-macht-offen-propaganda-fuer-den-is-14516141.html ))

This highlights the fact that offering a public forum to voices like Nora Illi is challenging, because she is not willing to abide by the rules upon which discussion in such a forum is based – notably a willingness to build an argument based on hard facts, or a minimum requirement of civility. Unfazed by facts and conventions, Illi proceeded to offer her own concoction of theological rigidity, conspiracy theories, and distorted truths.

In this respect, the predicament faced by Anne Will in relation to the Swiss radical propagandist is not altogether different from the challenges encountered by media across Western democracies in their dealings with ‘populists’. Donald Trump’s victory has been widely hailed as signifying the triumph of anti-establishment post-truth politics. Similarly, in Germany the established parties struggle to unravel the elaborate edifice of anxieties, fears, and half-truths exploited by the rising Alternative für Deutschland party.((Another recent TV debate provides a perfect instantiation of this point: In the episode of Maischberger broadcast on September 22, AfD leader Frauke Petry gleefully manipulated the discussion. Exasperated by the populists’ ability to blur the line between facts and fictions, SPD Secretary General Katharina Barley at some point noted with bewilderment that the AfD had managed to make the burka ban a central topic of the electoral contest in regional elections in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, in spite of the fact that no burka-wearing women had been spotted on the state’s streets. http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Maischberger/Das-schwarz-rote-Debakel-Volksparteien-/Das-Erste/Video?bcastId=311210&documentId=37887778 ))

Enlarging the discussion or providing a forum for hate speech

Consequently, like in the case of populists, the media are faced with the difficult question of whether to engage with voices like Nora Illi. Anne Will’s decision to invite Illi was heavily criticised, with some accusing Will of unnecessarily providing a platform for the spread of hateful propaganda. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung asked whether Anne Will wanted to invite neo-Nazis to her next debate.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/medien/warum-lud-anne-will-die-islamistin-nora-illi-ins-studio-14517143.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Will herself reacted by asserting that “the editorial team has carefully considered the invitation of Mrs. Illi”, especially given Illi’s “controversial position” regarding foreign fighters travelling to Syria. Will argued that by including Illi “the discussion offered many insights […] in the field of the tension between religion and liberal pluralistic values that preoccupies our society.”((http://www.zeit.de/2016/47/anne-will-ard-talkshow-islamismus-verschleierung-frauenrechte/komplettansicht ))

Forcing extremist views to justify themselves

Irrespective of whether the host’s intentions were as noble as that – or whether she was more concerned with increasing the market share of her show – simply blanking out positions like Illi’s does not appear to be a viable option. It is only when they are forced out into the open that such views can be engaged with. It is also only in such a public context that we can hope to demystify them and showcase their flaws.

By the end of Anne Will’s show, the participants had been more or less successful in this regard. Yet wrestling down Illi and her blunt argumentation had proved to be a formidable undertaking; an undertaking that on multiple occasions teetered on the verge of failure.

Dismissal of prison chaplain over extremism accusations highlights growing tensions between state and Muslim associations in Germany

Model project on prevention

The Ministry of Justice in the state of Hesse has ended its cooperation with an Imam working as a prison chaplain at a correctional facility in the city of Darmstadt. Authorities reacted to advice given by the German domestic intelligence agency (the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz): the agency had classified Imam Abdassamad El-Yazidi as a security risk.

Starting point for this assessment had been El-Yazidi’s association with the organisation Deutsch-Islamischer Vereinsverband Rhein-Main (German-Islamic Associational Union, DIV), deemed since August 2016 to be ‘under extremist influence’ and consequently placed on a surveillance list. El-Yazidi had been the DIV’s chairman until three years ago; presently, he chairs the Hessian chapter of one of the country’s largest Muslim associations, the Zentralrat der Muslime in Deutschland (Central Council of Muslims in Germany, ZMD), of which the DIV is a member.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/rhein-main/so-treibt-man-verdienstvolle-muslime-ins-innere-exil-14478785.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Complex institutional landscape

This episode highlights the complex institutional landscape of Muslim representation in Germany, with the ZMD being an umbrella body composed of further umbrella organisations. The DIV, which is now in the spotlight, for instance, brings together 46 local associations. One of them, the Europäische Institut für Humanwissenschaften (European Institute for Human Sciences, EIHW), located in the Ostend neighbourhood of Frankfurt, now triggered the intervention by the Verfassungsschutz. The Institut is perceived to be part of a transnational Muslim Brotherhood network. ((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/rhein-main/so-treibt-man-verdienstvolle-muslime-ins-innere-exil-14478785.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Amidst this organisational diversity and fragmentation, El-Yazidi asserted, it was at times impossible for the mostly unpaid volunteers working in the ZMD to scrutinise all aspects of fellow players on the associational scene. At the same time, El-Yazidi also defended decisions to retain contacts with institutions deemed to be under extremist influence, on the grounds that only continued engagement would make it possible to prevent further radicalisation. ((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/rhein-main/so-treibt-man-verdienstvolle-muslime-ins-innere-exil-14478785.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Criticism from Catholic representatives

In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, El-Yazidi noted that he had only received a call from the Hessian Ministry of Justice informing him that he had to end his work as a prison chaplain without being given more concrete information about the suspicions directed against him.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/rhein-main/so-treibt-man-verdienstvolle-muslime-ins-innere-exil-14478785.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Joachim Valentin, responsible for Christian-Muslim understanding at the Catholic bishopric of Limburg and chairman of a Catholic cultural centre in Frankfurt, decried the measure as disrespectful and counter-productive. He criticised the Verfassungsschutz for “failing to differentiate between orthodox Islam, radicalism, extremism, and terror threats.” Blanket accusations and criminalisation would only serve to “drive meritorious Muslims into inner exile.” ((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/rhein-main/so-treibt-man-verdienstvolle-muslime-ins-innere-exil-14478785.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

The ZMD itself reacted with a press release deeming the exclusion of its representative from prevention programmes against radicalisation “incomprehensible”, stressing that so far Hessian authorities and participants had appreciated the collaboration and its effects. ((http://zentralrat.de/28081.php ))

Signs of strain between state and Muslim associations

The affair surrounding chaplain El-Yazidi is only the latest episode in a gradual worsening of the relationship between German authorities and the country’s Muslim associations. In recent months, much of the political discussion has centred on DITIB and the influence of the Erdogan government over this association and its mosques.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/freiburg-declaration-secular-muslims-starkly-reveals-fault-lines-among-german-muslim-associations/ ))

Yet it is questions of foreign financing and control more generally have taken centre stage, amidst a renewed debate about the (lack of) loyalty Muslim citizens exhibit vis-à-vis the German state. ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/old-question-loyalty-german-turks-relationship-erdogan/ )). This prompted the ZMD in its reaction to the El-Yazidi affair to stress its determination to “reject any influencing from abroad, no matter from which country.” ((http://zentralrat.de/28081.php )) Yet recent developments surrounding the EIHW have rekindled voices accusing the ZMD itself to be an apologist of the Muslim Brotherhood. ((http://www.allgemeine-zeitung.de/politik/hessen/im-schatten-der-muslimbrueder_17372765.htm ))

President Obama Slams ‘Yapping’ Over ‘Radical Islam’ And Terrorism

He called it yapping, loose talk, and sloppiness. President Obama dismissed criticism of his administration’s avoidance of the term “radical Islam” and urged America to live up to its founding values Tuesday, speaking at length about inclusiveness and religious freedom.
Obama called out Republicans for criticizing the way he discusses terrorism and extremist groups — which follows the same logic as his Republican predecessor — and he directed particular attention at the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump.
Regarding terms such as “radical Islam” and “radical Islamists,” Obama said, “It’s a political talking point. It’s not a strategy.”
NPR.org: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/06/14/482041137/president-obama-slams-yapping-over-radical-islam-and-terrorism

Officer criticizes prison’s Terrorism Department

Dutch Public Prosecution Service criticizes the strict manner jihad-suspects are being held in detention. Public prosecutor and coördinator counter-terrorism Bart den Hartigh tells that they are are not in favour of the treatment the inmates receive, but they do not determine the rules. The responsibility lies with the Dutch Custodial Institutions, a department of the Ministry of Security and Justice.

Suspects’ attorneys call the way the suspects are treated a form of paranoia, that instead of preventing terrorism, creates a extremist ideology. Examples of this treatment are: visitation of the private areas, staying 23 hours a day in cell and very restrictive contact with the outside world. But those treatments are not legitimate.

According to a spokesperson from the Ministry of Security and Justice the suspects’ complaints are exaggerated. ‘And it’s not a surprise they present themselves as victims’.

Muslim Charities lose government grants due to accusations of extremist links

Muslim Charities Forum (MCF) is one of two Muslim charities in Britain to have lost their government grants following allegations of links to Islamic extremist activities.
Muslim Charities Forum (MCF) is one of two Muslim charities in Britain to have lost their government grants following allegations of links to Islamic extremist activities.

Two Muslim charities have lost their government grants following allegations of links to Islamic extremist activities.

Birmingham based ‘Islamic Help’ and the London based Muslim Charities Forum (MCF) protested the government’s decision, after the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) revoked their grants. The government informed the charities it did not want to support groups “linked to individuals who fuel hatred, division and violence.” The decision could affect a number of Muslim charities across the country, particularly those working with groups in Syria and Iraq.

The action follows a report produced by the think tank Claystone, which earlier this year found that more than a quarter of charities being investigated by the government were Muslim advocacy organizations. The think tank criticized what it saw as the “targeting” of Islamic organizations, particularly following the appointment of Sir William Shawcross as head the Charity Commission. Shawcross has also been criticized by Muslim groups for claiming “Europe and Islam” are among the world’s most “terrifying” problems, and that Islamic extremists were infiltrating British charities.

 

In France, five terror attacks thwarted, networks broken

France’s top security official announced that the country has thwarted five terror attacks and dismantled 13 networks affiliated with radical groups in Syria, but stated that the number of young people leaving to become foreign fighters has doubled in the past year.
France’s top security official announced that the country has thwarted five terror attacks and dismantled 13 networks affiliated with radical groups in Syria, but stated that the number of young people leaving to become foreign fighters has doubled in the past year.

France’s top security official announced that the country has thwarted five terror attacks and dismantled 13 networks affiliated with radical groups in Syria, but stated that the number of young people leaving to become foreign fighters has doubled in the past year.

There are more foreign fighters from France leaving to join extremist groups than from any other European country. France’s government is worried that these fighters will pose security threats when they return to the country.

Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve affirmed the government’s commitment to stopping radical networks, but stated that 1,200 Frenchmen have already left for Syria. There are currently 400 in the war zone and 200 travelling.

Since August 2013 the government has stopped five attacks but would not state if they were attempted by returning fighters or those who had not left.

In December 2014 two women and their children were prevented from leaving Paris when they attempted to travel to Turkey with the intention of joining an extremist group in Syria.

Cazeneuve also stated that a third of would-be jihadis are converts.

IS “fishing” for teenage girls in Spain

A view of the Principe District in Ceuta. Ceuta is inhabited by majority North Africans and is increasingly a hotspot of recruiting activity for ISIS. (Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP)
A view of the Principe District in Ceuta. Ceuta is inhabited by majority North Africans and is increasingly a hotspot of recruiting activity for ISIS. (Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP)

The Islamic State captures teenage girls in Spanish Muslim communities through propaganda disseminated through social networks. Ceuta is the area most affected by this trend. In one of the known cases a girl from the region (just under 14 years old) tried to travel to Iraq through Turkey, but was intercepted in Melilla. She wanted to join the jihad and marry some extremist fighter. In total there have already been at least five cases of successful ‘fishing’ of minors in Ceuta.

According to experts, the contents spread extremist movement militants are designed to ‘catch’ specifically to adolescents with traditional values, many are fascinated by very simple causes, others consider it a culmination of their practice of Islam. At their age, they perceive it as an adventure and want to participate in it.

In turn, to the extremists, the virgin girls are a key point in their strategy. Although its function is merely reproducing, the idea is to contribute to the expansion of radicalism through the repopulation of the ‘infidels’ nations.

 

Spanish Jihadist returning from Syria arrested in Spain

30 April 2014

 

Spanish authorities have arrested a French-Algerian man suspected of participating in terrorist activity in Syria.

Spain’s Interior Ministry says Abdelmalek Tanem was detained in the southeastern region of Almeria on Wednesday.

Tanem was helping Europeans enter Syria to join extremist groups and fight the Syrian government.

Tanem was a member of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from October 2013 to January 2014, according to the Interior Ministry.

The ministry said in a statement that the 24-year-old Tanem is accused of participating in unspecified terrorist activity in Syria with radical groups operating there and also worked on Syria’s border with Turkey to help European would-be extremists get into Syria.

Born in May 1989 in Vitry-Sur-Seine, France, Abdelmalek Tanem, recently returned from Syria.

The arrest is the second Spain has made of an alleged extremist arriving in the country from Syria.

French authorities assisted Spain’s Civil Guard with the investigation. The statement says Tanem holds Algerian citizenship.

Relaxed photographs of ‘suicide bomber Briton’ emerge

February 14, 2014

 

Pictures of a man suspected to be Britain’s first suicide bomber in Syria have emerged showing him looking relaxed and smiling with local children. The images were sent by Abdul Waheed Majeed, 41, from Syria to his family in the Langley Green area of Crawley, West Sussex. In one picture, he is seen wearing pink Minnie Mouse-style ears while he cuddles a child. In another, he is pictured kneeling surrounded by children as they give the peace sign.

Married father-of-three Majeed is suspected of driving a lorry into a jail in Aleppo and detonating a bomb last week. Officials have not confirmed the identity of the bomber amid reports that a UK jihadi, who used the name Abu Suleiman al-Britani, carried out the bombing.

Counter-terrorism officers have searched Majeed’s home in Martyrs Avenue, which is also the ex-home of schoolgirl Sarah Payne’s killer Roy Whiting, according to neighbours. Majeed, known as Waheed, left Britain six months ago, telling his family he was going on a humanitarian mission to Syria. Majeed’s uncle, Mohammad Jamil, 65, said Majeed – who is a father of two boys and a girl aged 18, 16 and 12 – had never shown any sign of extremism.

But this week extremist preacher Omar Bakri Mohammed told the London Evening Standard that Majeed was ”a very dear brother”. He claimed Majeed had been an active student and valued member of the banned extremist Al-Muhajiroun organisation between 1996 and 2004 and had wanted to further the ”Muslim cause”. Bakri said Majeed would organise his sermons in Crawley and record the lectures and distribute them.

 

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10638651/Relaxed-photographs-of-suicide-bomber-Briton-emerge.html

Former government adviser believes warnings of extremist attacks were ignored

A former government adviser has hit out at the security agencies and the way they assessed potential extremist threats on British soil in the months and years before the killing of Lee Rigby.

Days after the conviction of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale for the murder of the Fusilier Lee Rigby, Jahan Mahmood, a former adviser to the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) in the Home Office, has decided to speak out over warnings of potential extremist attacks on British soldiers in the UK that he believes went unheeded.

Mr Mahmood, a historian and former lecturer at the University of Birmingham, specialising in the martial traditions of Afghan and Pakistani diaspora communities, had contact with the OSCT between 2009 and 2010 on a volunteer basis. He remembered one particular meeting on 27 January 2010 at a mosque in Birmingham, which involved five young Muslim men as well as the director of the OSCT, Charles Farr, and what Mr Mahmood called “another OSCT civil servant”.

Mr Mahmood said: “One of the young men responded by saying he was angered by the death of women and children in Afghanistan and, if given half a chance, he would go abroad to fight British soldiers in Afghanistan. Another member of the group intervened and said: ‘Why do you want to go abroad when you can kill them here?'”

While there is no evidence to suggest that any of the five men were involved in terror activities of any kind, the exchange remained lodged in Mr Mahmood’s memory.

Mr Mahmood’s motivation for setting up the meeting was to explore the link between gang and jihadi culture. He said that some of the men were drug users. He said he set up the meeting after one of the young men, called Sabeel, and expressed concerns about the vulnerability of his peers and particularly the attraction of jihadist materials.

After the Government come into power in 2010, there was a change in the Prevent strategy that began under Labour and was modified in 2011 to tackle radical ideology first and foremost, rather than what Mr Mahmood described as the more important problem of grievances within the Muslim community.

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/former-government-adviser-believes-warnings-of-extremist-attacks-were-ignored-9020222.html