The German Interior Ministry’s Controversial Poster Campaign: Encouraging Prejudice and Paranoia

Sometimes good intentions are just not enough: a new campaign by the German interior ministry, says Robert Misik, only contributes to the widespread paranoia about “the Muslims” – and thus encourages the very radicalism it wants to fight

The German interior ministry is currently on the hunt for missing persons. In fact, quite a lot has gone missing from the country’s security services: files about a gang of neo-Nazi killers which got lost and shredded, for example. But that’s not what the ministry is looking for: the “missing” it’s looking for are called Ahmed, Hassan, Fatima and Tim. Their friends can’t seem to talk to them any more – they’ve become strange.

All four of them – the three immigrants and the young German – have in common that, in fact, they don’t exist. They’ve emerged from the fantasy of some PR-types who’ve thought up a nice public relations campaign for the ministry’s “Radicalisation Advice Centre”. What they also have in common – at least according to the brief texts on the “missing” posters – is that they have all drifted into Islamist fundamentalism; they’ve been caught in the fangs of some radical preacher and their character has suffered a deep change, so that their former friends don’t recognise them any more.

It’s not just Muslim organisations and immigrants’ associations which are up in arms about the new campaign; many people working in the integration field are also shaking their heads in disbelief: the campaign, they say, encourages prejudice and paranoia. They want it stopped.

Lower Saxony: Muslim Organisations Criticize De-Radicalisation Programme

08./09.03.2012

Last week, Lower Saxony’s interior minister Uwe Schünemann presented his proposal for a de-

radicalisation programme designed to prevent young Muslims from being lured into extremist

groups. With his proposal, Schünemann continues his hardliner course on extremism and terrorism;

in 2010, he had already proposed a plan to fight an increasing terror threat, which was meant to lead

to a national action plan for inner security.

Schünemann’s most recent proposal is based on a close partnership between security services and,

for instance, mosques, city councils, youth services, foreign offices, and social services. An important

element of the proposal is the possibility to exchange personal information about individuals

suspected to support religious extremism or even terrorism. In addition, Schünemann is planning

on making employers more aware of and receptive to radicalisation processes amongst their staff.

Overall, Schünemann’s proposal is reminiscent of the highly controversial “security partnership”

proposed by federal minister of the interior Friedrich at the Islam Conference in 2011.

When he initially presented the programme last week, Schünemann claimed that it had been

developed in close cooperation with Muslim communities and organisations. However, the two

Muslim organisations Ditib and Schura countered that they were only included in the development of

the programme when they demanded to be involved after they had heard about it by chance. Their

critical remarks, however, were not considered in the development of the proposal.

After its presentation, the Muslim organisations heavily criticized Schünemann’s proposal, as it

places Muslims under general suspicion. Ditib and Schura distanced themselves from the programme

and expressed their rather sceptical stance.

“Several” Dutch Nationals Involved in International Jihad

13 September 2011

 

The Dutch Security Services indicated that ‘several’ Dutch nationals are involved in holy war in foreign countries. The comment was made to NOS television by the head of the Dutch security services, though no further details were provided. DutchNews reports that these individuals may attack Dutch or Nato operations in risky countries or return home with concrete plans to attack their home base.

Interior Minister Friedrich: Threats to Germany Remain “Real”

04.09.2011

A week before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Germany’s Interior Minister Friedrich told the Bild (tabloid) newspaper that Germany was home to an estimated 1000 people who can be identified as potential Islamic terrorists, 20 of whom have actually trained in terrorist camps. While Friedrich commended the work of German security services and the wide range of security methods, he wanted that al-Qaida inspired terrorism was still a real threat in Germany. However, the greatest danger is not radical groups, but individual offenders, who are difficult to detect. 

Fighting radical tendencies

23.06.2011/ 24.06.2011
Lower Saxony’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution is planning on stepping up efforts to counteract radical tendencies within Muslim communities. During the 4th “extremism-symposium” in Hannover, the President of the Office, Hans-Werner Wargel, emphasised the pressing need to prevent the radicalisation of young Muslims. To counteract radical tendencies, the security services aim to collaborate with Muslim associations. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution is especially concerned about the Salafi stream within Islam due to their anti-constitutional views and attitudes.

Friedrich’s “Prevention Summit”

24.06.2011/ 25.06.2011
Earlier this year (as reported), German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich invited Muslim groups and security services to a meeting to discuss strategies for fighting Islamic radicalism and preventing further radicalisation. What has come to be called the “prevention summit”, in which the Interior Minister met with Muslim community leaders, politicians, and representatives of the police and German security services, was held by Interior Ministry on June 24th.

During the meeting, Friedrich called for the highest vigilance within society against the radicalisation of young people by Islamic radicals. According to him, Muslim citizens and residents can play an especially important role in the prevention of radicalisation, by counteracting radical tendencies in the private sphere, clubs, and religious meetings. More specifically, Friedrich urged Muslim families to help prevent young Muslims from turning into jihadists by being “observant about what their children are up to and how they are changing” (DW News). Overall, he aimed at initiating a “security partnership” (Stern) between security services, Muslims in Germany, and Muslim associations.

Both the political opposition as well as several Muslim organisations criticized the meeting for its specific focus on the radicalisation of Muslims, which bears the risk of stigmatizing the entire Muslim community in Germany. Parliamentary leader of the Social Democrats, Thomas Oppermann, for instance, called for increasing support of moderate Muslims to isolate those who are prone to violence (DW News). Similarly, Muslim organisations, such as the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, are sceptical about the meeting’s focus. Chairman of the Central Council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek, who had already voiced his concern ahead of the meeting (as reported), argues for a clear distinction between Muslims and extremism. According to Mazyek, by dedicating a conference to Muslim radicalism, the small group of radicals in Germany are merely strengthened. Instead, the government needed to work harder to make Muslims feel “at home” in Germany and to campaign against Islamophobia (Stern). Mazyek also called for the improvement of integration measures, as a lack of integration was a main cause for radicalization. Similar criticism was voiced by Kenan Kolat, head of the Turkish Community in Germany, who questioned the purpose of the summit. Both Kolat and Mazyek point to the already existing security stream within the Islam Conference; they are concerned that a strengthening of the security aspect of the dialogue between German Muslims and the government may reinforce a general suspicion against Muslims in Germany.

German security services warn of targeted radicalization

Pierre Vogel, born in 1978 and also known as “Abu Hamza”, is a German (radical) Islamic preacher. Vogel, a former professional boxer, converted to Islam in 2001 and completed studies in Arabic at an institute in Mecca. He is especially known for his missionary work, trying to persuade young people to convert to Islam. Based on Vogel’s activities as a “hate preacher”, German security services warn of targeted radicalization which may once they have decided to convert.

7/7 Inquest: Debate about whether the Bombers Could’ve Been Stopped

07.05.2011

Following the 7/7 bombings, many of the victims’ families had called for a public inquiry into the bombings to establish whether the attacks could have been prevented by the police and MI5. Debate especially arose about the fact that the MI5 largely ignored the appearance of Mohammed Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer on their terrorism radar a year earlier. Khan and Tanweer had been caught on surveillance cameras in 2004; however, to disguise the origin of the photograph before showing it to an Al Qaeda informant in the US, the image was cut in halves and cropped, making Tanweer unrecognizable. The picture of Khan was discarded entirely.

The coroner Lady Justice Hallett was critical of the Security Services’ procedures and the decision to crop the image. While she believed that MI5 had held important clues to identify the 7/7 bombers before the attacks, she ruled that Security Services could not have prevented the bombings. However, she pointed out flaws in MI5’s decision-making and recommended reviews of and improvements to their techniques as well as the recording and assessment of targets to prevent events like 7/7 from happening again.

After Frankfurt Attack, Germany Checks Possibilities to Detect Online Radicalisation

15 March 2011

Arid U., who killed two US soldiers at Frankfurt Airport, went through an intense phase of radicalisation for around two years prior to the attack. However, this development took place almost exclusively on the internet and was therefore hardly visible to people in Arid U.’s environment nor to security services.

German officials are therefore currently debating how to better monitor Islamist groups online and the radicalisation of their followers. Intelligence officials are putting together a list of Islamist organisations that operate via internet, for instance on social networking sites. Computer surveillance, however, is not always covered by the law, which is why officials are proposing to ban certain Islamist organisations. This would include the radical Frankfurt based group “Dawa Ffm”, of which Arid U. listened to lectures online.

Dutch Sources for Al Qaeda Website

December 9 2010

Telegraaf reports that the Ansar Al Mujahideen website, a mouthpiece for al-Qaeda worldwide carefully monitored by security services, is run by a group of Dutch Muslims. The site, registered with a Brussels PO Box, also includes an Arabic and a German section in addition to primarily English and Dutch articles. According to the Telegraaf report, “intelligence sources confirm that the English part of the website is run by a dozen Dutch Muslim extremists” including women and those with ties to the Hofstad Group.