German NGOs seek to coordinate and enhance their work on religious extremism

25 German non-governmental organisations active in the prevention of religiously-driven radicalisation and violence have come together to create a new coordination body. The Federal Working Committee on Religiously Motivated Extremism, founded on November 30 in Berlin, seeks to pool expertise and best practices from a range of actors engaged on the ground.(( http://www.ufuq.de/gruendung-der-bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft-religioes-begruendeter-extremismus/ ))

Capacity building among diverse organisations

Participating organisations are diverse, ranging from local social work initiatives active in underprivileged neighbourhoods to associations operating at the national level. Major Islamic associations, such as the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) also take part.(( http://islam.de/28232 ))

The Committee’s creators hope to forge a network that crosses Germany’s often cumbersome federal administrative divisions that have vitiated a common approach in the past. Its foundation comes as the parliamentary opposition has once more criticised the lack of a national-level prevention strategy against violent Islamist movements.(( https://www.welt.de/newsticker/news1/article159834940/Gruene-fordern-bundesweites-Praeventionszentrum-gegen-islamistischen-Terrorismus.html ))

Beyond Islamism

However, the Committee and its participating NGOs have stated that they will seek to assert their independence from politicking and a public debate that is uniquely focused on the Islamist threat. Instead, the Committee seeks to retain a broader, cross-religious focus: whilst radicalisation of Muslim youth will be a prominent aspect of its work, it will also encourage projects dealing with Christian fundamentalism or extremist sects.

Moreover, the group seeks to build bridges to organisations active in preventative efforts in the far-right and neo-Nazi scenes. This is an approach with considerable potential, given the fact that over the past years and decades, a whole landscape of NGOs and institutions working with individuals and communities vulnerable to right-wing extremism has developed.(( http://www.ufuq.de/gruendung-der-bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft-religioes-begruendeter-extremismus/ ))

Need for a strong voice

The actual impact of the newly created Committee remains to be seen. Its members will gather in early 2017 for a first conference and exchange of ideas. Yet the Committee’s biggest task is perhaps to develop stronger capacities for public advocacy and lobbying. Whilst demands for their services are on the rise, many projects and organisations working with groups vulnerable to the appeal of jihadist messaging are struggling with financial constraints and cutbacks. (( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/praevention-in-berlin-es-fehlt-geld-fuer-kurse-gegen-radikalisierung/14929730.html ))

Indeed, as politicians shift to the right and advocate a ‘law and order’ approach to Islamist terrorism in order to tap into the growing voter base of the populist Alternative for Germany party, ‘soft’ strategies of prevention and social work are in danger of being side-lined. The creation of the Committee is thus exceedingly timely.

Perpetrators or suspects: French Muslims at an impasse

August 6, 2014

August 8, Less than a week apart, two public figures have characterized French Muslims as being “too discreet in their denunciation of extremists that claim to be a part of Islam.” On July 28, Figaro journalist Natacha Polony published her article “Letter to a young Muslim compatriot” in which she says that she’s “hurting for her France.” On August 2, Jean d’Ormesson, also a journalist for the Figaro, called on French Muslims to explicitly denounce the Muslim state in Iraq.

Nils Sinkiewicz states that, “On the one hand, the difference between the good and bad Muslims is considered evidence in itself. On the other, the good Muslims are urged to say loudly and clearly that they disapprove of the bad ones. This is hardly consistent, but ‘There are things that are better when said,’ according to Polony.”

French Muslims are required to be both patriotic members of society and to assimilate, “leaving them no choice between the role of the terrorist…or the groveling alien eager to prove his loyalty.”

In the wake of an attack on a church in Alexandria, UMP member Bernard Carayon declared that “the Muslim organizations of France [must] declare a moderate Islam, they must prove that they are not satisfied with press statements that are moving and courteous, that they advocate as a whole against the violence of their fundamentalist coreligionists.”

Sinkiewicz asks, “And what if the advocates for peaceful coexistence have fed misconceptions instead of stopping them? The media attention focuses more on the corruption of the real Islam that it is held to be a religion ‘of love, of peace, and of tolerance.’ From this perspective, terrorist acts are a godsend for the cunning wrongdoers who otherwise couldn’t ask Muslims to ‘prove’ their loyalty without being reminded of the principles of this secularism that is so dear to them.”

In a 2013 IPSOS survey, 74% of Frenchmen found Islam to be “intolerant and incompatible with the ‘values of the French society.’” Beyond the convenient opposition between the good Muslim and brutal Islamist it is “time to admit that far from closing the debate about Muslims in France, the idealization of Islam has instead trapped Muslims and non-Muslims in a never-ending polemic on the moral obligation to condemn everything that moves away from the brochure. One small step for peaceful coexistence–a giant leap for the dialogue of the deaf.”