In the light of the current events I want to share an interview with you that I gave a few months ago with the Czech newspaper Economic Daily (Hospodářské noviny). Back then I was asked to give an interview after the Paris attacks in November. It is about the very up-to-date topic of Muslims in Europe and radicalization. The printed interview is in Czech and also contains some additional information from my very first blog article (read here) and my conversation with the journalist. Luckily, I still have the original interview In English (for the full interview, send me a message and I will share the link with you). Unfortunately, the interview earned a lot of nasty comments. I was shocked at the level of racism, because this time it wasn’t only against Muslims, but also against Germans and Germany. I stopped reading them (with the help of Google translate) after the 13th comment or so. I trust my readers to be able to have a decent, unbiased conversation. Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading my blog in the first place, right? So if you have any thoughts or comments, I am happy to hear them.
I. Muslims and European Society
How will the relations between Muslims and non-Muslims develop after the incident in Paris?
There have been always Germans disapproving of Muslims. The media plays a crucial role in this matter. The biggest newspapers regularly publish negative headlines about Islam and cause more fear like this. Also, the news selectively report on Islamist terror attacks, but not on non-religious terror attacks. This procedure is being repeated over the years over and over again, so that even tolerant people are influenced subconsciously. It is almost like brainwashing. After the attacks in Paris this attitude of rejection towards Muslims has increased and so have the attacks on Muslims, Mosques and refugee homes.
But there are also many people in Germany that do support Muslims and who are not shaken in their opinion by terror attacks. On the contrary: they do a lot to make sure that everybody knows their feelings towards the Muslim community haven’t changed.
Speaking from a Muslim’s point of view, there is always the fear that the hostility towards Muslims in Europe, in particular in Germany, will increase further. After the Paris incident I had the fear that we will feel the repercussions. Personally, since I am not a “visible” Muslim (a female wearing the hijab, the headscarf) I didn’t face any hostility whatsoever. But there have been more attacks against Muslims, especially women, refugee homes and Mosques (for example in Hamburg or Cologne) after Friday, 13th November. These things remind me a lot of the German history with the Jews and I really do hope that everybody realizes this and stops this madness while we’re still in the beginning phase. I have faith in the German people.
What do you think would be the best response from the German (European) government(s) towards the situation now?
The challenges that the German government is facing at the moment are multidimensional and hence more than one response is called for. To answer this question it is important to understand how complex the situation is right now. Islamophobia has been an existing phenomenon ever since September 11th and has been exponentially increased by the large influx of refugees in the past year.
Many Germans fear to be “overrun” or “Islamized” by Muslims. They have this negative image of Muslims in their mind, but never interacted even once with one. The terrorist attacks in Paris fuelled this fear of the unknown, things and people that are strange to them, even more. So a good response would definitely be the active integration of migrants and cultural exchange between Muslims and Non-Muslims. Something has to change in the mindset of people and I am talking about both parties here.
Then we have to make sure that all this happens in a healthy ratio. Germany cannot take every refugee in. When I hear that a village of 100 people is getting a refugee camp for 1000 refugees, I ask myself: How is this supposed to work? Germany has to say no to further refugees coming in. The ones that are here must be distributed evenly among the German society and not be put in camps or homes in the outskirts of the cities as it happened with the guest workers 50 years ago. Also, the refugees must learn that they have to abide by the German law. They cannot come here isolate themselves and make their own rules. They have to learn German, be integrated in German society and value our constitution.
The refugee issue is the biggest challenge for Germany in post World War II. If we don’t get the situation under control, this might be not only the downfall for Chancellor Merkel, but also Germany.
How do you see the integration of Muslims in German (European) society? Why are there so many failed cases and only very few successful ones?
First of all, it is important to understand that there is not “one” Islam in Germany. Islam has many faces and is influenced by culture. The largest group of Muslims in Germany is also the largest group of people with foreign roots: the Turkish people. They came to Germany in the 50s and 60s as guest workers. There are Sunni Muslims from small villages in East Anatolia, Alevis and many other different Turkish groups that are Muslim. And we are speaking only of the Turks here. There are also Muslims from Bosnia, Asia and African Countries. This is where I see the issue with badly integrated people from foreign countries and/or with foreign roots: They are influenced by their (parents’) cultures and stay in their peer groups. They don’t intermingle with Germans. There is no intercultural communication. When the first guest workers came in the 50s and 60s, they were put in poor homes in the outskirts of the big cities. All foreigners were put in the same area. Today it hasn’t changed much in some big cities. And this is where the problem lies: The German government has to accept that these people are not planning on returning to their home countries. It is high time to integrate them. Don’t put all foreign children to the same school (like the famous Rütli-School in Berlin). Make sure the ratio of Germans and non-Germans is healthy. And this change starts, as I stated already before, with the mindset of the people. I can see an improvement already, but there is still much work to do.
I wouldn’t say that there are very little cases of successfully integrated Muslims in Germany, because all Muslims I know are successfully integrated. Their families live here since 1 or 2 generations, are educated and employed, actively engage in community work and help refugees. I will not deny that there are failed cases, especially since the arrival of ISIS. Studies have shown that many of those who joined ISIS are the so-called “losers” of society. They are unemployed, uneducated, come from broken homes. They don’t feel accepted by the German society and live a life of self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of working their way out of this cycle of negativity, they give in and join groups such as ISIS. But this is only a very, very small percentage of Muslims in Germany. That is why I am saying: Don’t let the young Muslims feel like they have been let down by the German society. Don’t wait for the Muslims to approach you. Approach them, too. Work on cultural exchange. Integrate them. Learn something about their culture and teach them in return your culture. There is no hurt in getting to know each other. This is also the best way to see for yourself if all the rumors and stories on the media are true.
It is common sense: Diversity is key to survival in evolution. Sooner or later Germany will be this diverse place and I hope it will be a diverse place, where people actually mingle with and learn from each other and not live in parallel groups of their religious beliefs/cultures/ethnicities.
Can you give an example of a successful integration of Muslims? Where? And what have they done differently?
The best example I can think of is my family. I am a 2nd generation Muslim living in Germany. Both my parents work and hardly face any issues because of their religion. They taught me that it is important to respect people of all religions, colors and nationalities. They also taught me that you should not let anyone hold you down because of what you believe in or are.
I remember having once a conversation with a Turkish Muslim guy my age from my hometown. He congratulated me for graduating from high school and said he looked up to me, because I achieved “so much” in life. I told him graduating from high school isn’t a big deal and that it should be the norm. He disagreed and told me that he feels pushed aside by the German society and that he feels he has no chance of ever coming up in life. Well, I will not say that he is entirely wrong. It is hard as a Muslim in Germany, especially when you have a Muslim name or look like one. But here’s the difference between him and me: I made the decision already from a very young age that I will not live up to people’s expectations. I will not get caught in this circle of doom. I told him that we hold most of our lives in our own hands and that only we decide what we will make out of our lives. Of course, this way of thinking stems from the way my parents brought me up and for this I am grateful until today. I finished my education (I hold a Master’s Degree), I worked across Germany and the world, lived in different countries. I travelled to places I never dreamed of when I was a kid and received scholarships. I achieved all this because I took my fate in my hands and did not let people put me down because of my religion. Yes, I still struggle sometimes, because I’m Muslim, but I also consider myself a German citizen. German is my mother tongue, Germany is my home and I am very accustomed to the German values and way of living. I am as much German as the “pure-bred” German, it is just that I added Islamic values to my life. I think this shows how well Islam can be a part of German culture and does not contradict the constitution or German values. Respect and education is the key. Learn as much possible about the other religions and cultures in your neighborhood, respect them and find a way to peacefully coexist.
II. Muslims and Radicals
How does the Muslim community respond to the attacks in Paris?
The Muslim community clearly condemns the attacks in Paris. Whether private or representative Muslim Organizations in Germany: The message is clear. The killing of innocent people is a despiteful act and goes clearly against the teachings of Islam. “Whoever kills a person it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind.” (Qu’ran 5:32)
Will the opinion of Muslims on the radicals (ISIS) change after Paris? How?
The opinion of Muslims was the same before and after Paris. ISIS corrupts the name of Islam for its own political and selfish goals. ISIS has nothing do with Islam. If anything has changed, than the fact that the Muslims are even surer now that ISIS is an insult to all Muslims in the world and that they must be stopped.
Do you think it will encourage more young Muslims to join the IS or on the contrary?
I think the attacks itself would discourage young people to join ISIS. A couple of ISIS fighters returned to Germany because they were disillusioned by the reality in Syria and Iraq. The promises that were made weren’t kept. Life in Syria and Iraq was everything else but cushy, fun and adventurous. ISIS is fighting a loosing battle in the Middle East. They lost a lot of territory. That’s why they are using the desperate measure of terrorism. They want to cause further disunity in the world between Muslims and non-Muslims and we cannot let them succeed. For this reason, France attacking ISIS in Syria is everything but smart. Who do they bomb? Not only ISIS, but also schools, hospitals, innocent people. Those peoples frustration is fuelled, they are being let down by the rest of the world and join ISIS in order to fight this unjust world. Take Russia, for example. A passenger flight was target of a terror attack by ISIS. Only a few weeks prior, Russia started flying airstrikes against ISIS. They are seeking retaliation. Fighting back with bombs is not the solution. The same goes for countries like Germany and the US that sell their weapons in the Middle East. This circle of doom will never stop if the overall situation doesn’t change. As long as the West sells weapons in the Middle East, continues to bomb civilians and Saudi-Arabia and other wealthy GCC countries finance terrorist groups, ISIS will be able to recruit more members in the future.
III. Radicalization of Young Muslims
Most of the attackers from Paris were never considered to be religious people. Than all of sudden, they become radicals. Why do young Muslims radicalize? What is the cause for this phenomenon?
I wouldn’t say that most of the attackers from Paris were radical Muslims. In the past days facts came to light that the attackers owned bars, took drugs and lived a Western lifestyle. They weren’t religious at all. It seemed like they jumped on the bandwagon of ISIS for their heinous crimes.
In other cases, though, it is true that young Muslims radicalize. And this has something to do with integration, as mentioned earlier. In their minds, their country does not help them and society makes them feel like they’re at the bottom of the food chain. They don’t have jobs, are not educated. They feel left out and forgotten. Then somebody approaches them with radical views of Islam and promises them a whole lot of things while fueling their hatred towards the West. The Muslim community, the ummah, gives them a sense of community. The only thing they have to hold on to is Islam. They try to “excel” in this by becoming more and more radical.
What makes young Muslims leave their homes and families and go fight for IS? Do you know the tools ISIS is using to decoy more followers? What does the whole procedure look like?
The failed integration and lacking success in the society is the main cause for young Muslims to leave Germany. The people that join ISIS are not only Muslims with foreign roots, but also Germans who converted to Islam. Leading figures from ISIS, like the German Denis Cuspert, who was killed in an airstrike some time back, publish propaganda on the Internet in which they call for all Muslims to join their cause. These people live in the past. They want to revive the time of our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the Sahaba, his companions. They have this romantic image of reliving that state, but totally corrupted what it really was. Conquering other countries, killing innocent people to build a so-called caliphate and spreading fear through terror attacks have nothing to do with the Prophet’s era. They decoy their recruits with this romantic idea of an adventure and promise them a good life in Syria and Iraq, while fighting for the “cause” of Allah. It must also be added, that in the age of Internet, ISIS and its members boast themselves by making a media spectacle with their crimes. They use social media as a platform to gain publicity and attention. This is also one of the reasons why so many young people are attracted: They want their 15 minutes of fame.
The “recruitment” process takes place in many ways. The Internet doesn’t play as big as a role as initially thought. Personal “recruitment” for ISIS through private persons or other radical extremists organizations that have already existed in Germany prior to ISIS turned out to be more effective and the main tool for recruitment and radicalization. It takes about one year for these people to radicalize. This means one year passes after they first get in touch with ISIS or another affiliated organization and then eventually leave Germany for Syria and Iraq. A few years ago this radicalization process took a couple of years, but more recently, things have been moving fast. They organize their departure at the end of this period and typically enter Syria through Turkey.
People get radicalized from all over the world. It is not just a problem of e.g. Belgium or France. Do you think there is some common cause for this phenomenon? Something that makes people from different countries and social backgrounds join over one purpose? If yes, what is it?
The Muslim World is in a crisis. The lack of education and openness, intercultural communication, is the main cause for this. Do you really think the members of ISIS read the Qur’an? Because if they did, they would know that killing of people is haram, forbidden. The only one who can take and give life is Allah. Then take the Taliban. Afghanistan is a country with a high illiteracy rate. It is an easy game for the Taliban to indoctrinate and teach those people what they want and give it the label of Islam. Even personally I met Muslims that didn’t grow up in Germany during my time at university with worldviews that shocked me. I will not go into detail about what they said, but what makes everything worse is that these people are supposed to be academics! Education does not only mean literacy, going to school and getting an academic degree. Education means also cultural education, openness and critical thinking. The people recruited for these radical groups are easily manipulated by few master manipulators. Their hatred towards the West and the propagated community feeling within these organizations is the joining characteristic for radicals. These people don’t think for themselves, they don’t try to improve their lives, but instead choose a path of destruction. If these people were thoroughly educated, in all senses as I mentioned above, they would also know their religion better. The constant focus and reminiscing on the past will keep them just there: In the past. It is up to us majority of Muslims and non-Muslims that don’t want to live in a world of hatred, fear and terror to turn the tables around. We must implement this holistic approach of education and focus on now. What can we do to improve the world of tomorrow? How can we get young people away from extreme influences? What can we do to implement a peaceful coexistence between the religions? Change always starts with oneself. “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Qu’ran 13:11)