Salafist radicalisation raises fears in Germany

Sunday 09/04/2017
Radical ideology. German police guard outside the Islamic Society of Hildesheim (DIK) mosque after a raid in Hildesheim in Germany,
last March. (AP)

London - The number of Salafists in Germany has sharply in­creased in the past dec­ade, Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) said, rais­ing fears of radicalisation at a time when authorities are seeking to shut down extremist preachers.
Government figures indicate there were an estimated 3,800 Salafists in Germany in 2011. This figure almost doubled to 7,500 in 2015. Two years later, there are more than 10,000 Salafists in the country, local media reported.
“In Germany, as well as at the international level, Salafism is cur­rently being regarded as the most dynamic Islamist movement,” the BfV said.
Salafism is an ultra-orthodox in­terpretation of Islam that gained prominence in the 18th century. It advocates what it describes as a re­turn to the traditions of early years of Islam and prizes a restrictive in­terpretation of the teachings of the Quran. The term “Salaf” relates to the Arabic term al-salaf al-saliheen — the “pious predecessors”, other­wise known as the first three gen­erations of Muslims.
A 2015 report by the German Fed­eral Office for Migration and Refu­gees (BAMF) said there were 4.4 million-4.7 million Muslims living in Germany, meaning that, despite the rising number of Salafists, they make up a tiny fraction of the Mus­lim community.
While most Muslims in Germany — particularly those who are Ger­man citizens — are thought to be of Turkish background and follow a secular understanding of the re­ligion, it is understood that an in­creasing number of mosques and Muslim community centres are promoting Salafist views about Is­lam.
Although the BfV was at pains to draw a distinction between the “majority of Salafists”, who have nothing to do with terrorism, it did accept the presence of an “oppos­ing minority of jihadist Salafists who use violence to pursue their aims”. The BfV added that all Is­lamist terrorists identified in Ger­many had some ties to “Salafism or the Salafist milieu”.
While most adherents to the ultra-conservative strain of Islam are not considered politically radi­cal and traditionally view political involvement as un-Islamic, a desire for the implementation of Islamic Sharia law and an Islamic caliphate leaves some members at risk of radicalisation.
German Vice-Chancellor Sig­mar Gabriel, who leads the coun­try’s Social Democratic Party, last year called for a ban on Salafist mosques after an ISIS-inspired terrorist attack. “Salafist mosques must be banned, the communities dissolved and the preachers should be expelled as soon as possible,” he said.
Despite their comparative small number, German’s Salafists are thought to be much more organ­ised than followers of other Islamic schools of thought in the country. German authorities have begun a series of measures targeting Salafist groups, most recently against the German-speaking Islamic Circle group in Hildesheim.
“Banning the association has crushed a hotspot for the radical Salafist scene in Germany,” Lower Saxony Interior Minister Boris Pis­torius said.
In November 2016, Germany car­ried out raids in 60 cities target­ing 190 mosques, apartments and offices believed to be linked to a Salafist missionary network known as “The True Religion”. The group had been operating in Germany for more than ten years and was popu­larly known for a nationwide cam­paign distributing translations of the Quran to ordinary people.
The group was banned by the government in 2016 after facing accusations that it sought to radi­calise young people and encour­age them to travel to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State (ISIS) and other jihadist groups.
The German Interior Ministry said the ban had nothing to do with its distribution of Qurans and was tied to the fact that as many as 140 youths left Germany to join ex­tremist groups in the Middle East after becoming involved with the group. “The ban is directed against the abuse of religion by people propagating extremist ideologies and supporting terrorist organisa­tions under the pretext of Islam,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said.
“We don’t want terrorism in Ger­many and we don’t want to export terrorism,” he added.
With additional reporting by news services.