The German government has launched a nationwide poster campaign aimed at fighting against the radicalization of young Muslim immigrants.
The ad campaign is the brainchild of German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, who has been leading Germany’s multifaceted response (here, here and here) to the rise of radical Islam in the country.
Beginning on September 21, the posters, which feature photos of four different Muslims under the caption “MISSING,” will be put up in the immigrant areas in Germany’s large cities (mainly in Berlin, Hamburg and Bonn), and will feature text in German, Turkish and Arabic.
The Interior Ministry says the posters — which feature a helpline telephone number for worried acquaintances and relatives — are designed to “counter radicalization” and “provide support.”
One of the posters includes the word “MISSING” in very large print above a portrait of a young man with dark hair and reads: “This is our son Ahmad. We miss him, because we do not recognize him anymore. He is withdrawing more and more, becoming more radical every day. We are afraid of losing him altogether — to religious fanatics and terrorist groups.”
All of the ads include an appeal to phone the “Radicalization Advice Center,” known in German as the Beratungsstelle Radikalisierung, which was launched on January 1, 2012. It is part of an initiative called “Security Partnership: Working Together with Muslims for Security,” which the German Interior Ministry hopes will “counter the Islamist radicalization of young people.”
According to documentation published by the anti-radicalization center, “Parents, relatives, friends and teachers are often the first to notice that a young person is becoming radicalized, and are also often the last people to whom a young person maintains contact despite becoming increasingly isolated. In order to provide them with the best possible support in such a difficult situation and so to jointly counter the radicalization of the people close to you, professional consulting services are now available.”
The text continues: “German Interior Minister Friedrich, within the framework of the ‘Prevention Summit’ on June 24, 2011, confirmed that the radicalization of Muslim youth and young adults by Islamist groups would be resolutely pursued. The counseling center is an important element of this. Those within the social environment of the affected individuals are usually the first to notice when a son, student, friend or colleague change their religious attitude or even their entire worldview, increasingly withdraw from their existing environment, turn off from their past and embrace a radical spectrum and are increasingly guided by ideologies that are incompatible with the principles of a liberal democratic state.”
According to the center, the victims “often pull back sharply from their previous environment and refuse to ‘mix’ anymore. This leads to friends, but especially parents to uncertainty: they are in a conflict between the potentially welcome religiosity of the child and the concomitant concern that their child might fall into the ‘wrong circles’ and they might lose contact with them. This is especially true for non-Muslim parents, whose children have converted to Islam, and who have many questions about Islam as a religion.”
The text concludes: “In these cases, professional advice is important and necessary. It is important to recognize the problem as such and to accept to resolve pressing issues and finally to consider ways to counter the radicalization process. The ‘Radicalization Advice Center’ at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees is in close contact with various consultancies and knows contact persons as well as networks for special topics in all areas. The offer of counseling is for all citizens provided free of charge.”
According to the Interior Ministry, the Radicalization Advice Center is currently handling about 20 cases, mostly involving German parents whose children have converted to Islam. The objective of the poster campaign, which will cost about €300,000 ($375,000), is to reach out to Muslim parents who may be concerned about the radicalization of their children.
But many Muslims have been outraged by the campaign, which they say will foment more prejudice against Muslim immigrants. In an interview with the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, Aydan Özoguz, a Turkish-German deputy national chairman of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), said: “The pictures of nice-looking Muslims in the context of this campaign suggest that anyone may be a fanatic or even a terrorist.” She also says the Interior Ministry has not clearly defined what “radical” actually means in concrete terms: “Will the Interior Ministry intervene the moment my child converts to Islam?”
Germany has about four million Muslims, who make up approximately five percent of the population. Germany has Western Europe’s second-biggest Muslim population after France, with Turks being the single biggest minority.
In July, the German state of Lower Saxony published a practical guide to extremist Islam to help citizens identify tell-tale signs of Muslims who are becoming radicalized.
Security officials said the objective of the document is to mitigate the threat of home-grown terrorist attacks by educating Germans about radical Islam and encouraging them to refer suspected Islamic extremists to the authorities — a move that reflects mounting concern in Germany over the growing assertiveness of Salafist Muslims, who openly state that they want to establish Islamic Sharia law in the country and across Europe.
The 54-page document, “Radicalization Processes in the Context of Islamic Extremism and Terrorism,” which provides countless details about the Islamist scene in Germany, paints a worrisome picture of the threat of radical Islam there.
According to the report, German security agencies estimate that approximately 1,140 individuals living in Germany pose a high risk of becoming Islamic terrorists. The document also states that up to 100,000 native Germans have converted to Islam in recent years, and that “intelligence analysis has found that converts are especially susceptible to radicalization…Security officials believe that converts comprise between five to ten percent of the Salafists.”
In a June 8 interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, Interior Minister Friedrich stated: “Radical Salafism is like a hard drug. All of those who succumb to her become violent.”
Friedrich also said that “the threshold for [Islamist] violence has decreased in an alarming way. There can be only one answer: The government must make it clear with all the force of the law that our democracy is fortified. Salafists are fighting the liberal-democratic legal system and in its place they want to introduce their radical ideology in Germany. But we will not let that happen. We will defend our freedom and our security with all our might.”
Soeren Kern is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook. Follow him on Twitter.