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Why have Islamists turned on Germany?

Dr James Hodkinson, Associate Professor in German studies, comments on mosque raids by Berlin Police that lead to the arrest of two suspects yesterday, catalysed by the terrorist attacks in Paris two weeks today,

'This week has seen the fear of Islamist terror come alive in Germany. Abdelkader Daoud, the Imam of a mosque in Tempelhof, Berlin, is suspected of recruiting for Islamic State, and raids followed on various mosques and homes across Berlin occurred on Tuesday 24 November. Thursday saw raids on two further Mosques, the arrest of two men, and the confiscation of a “suspicious object” by police. Yet this is by no means the first direct action taken by German authorities against suspected radical Islamism on German soil. Such raids have been taking place for over a decade now, and have been growing in scale and frequency since the 9/11 attacks. In 2010, German police finally shut down the Taiba mosque in Hamburg, which had been frequented by the 9/11 bombers, suspecting it of functioning as a magnet for radicalism. In June 2012, German police raided homes and religious sites across several states in an attempt to disrupt the activity of the Salafist group Millatu Ibrahim. In fact, there appears to have been a particular surge in suspected Islamist activity in Germany over the last five years.

Police intelligence surrounding this week’s raids suggests attacks were being planned in Düsseldorf. Yet, to any one familiar with Germany history and current affairs, the idea of Islamist groups threatening German cities directly still seems just that little bit more shocking. Unlike Britain or France, Germany does not have a history of colonizing Islamic territories. In the run up to WWI, the German Empire, with its long tradition of cultural and scholarly engagement with the Islamic world, lined up with her Muslim ally, Ottoman Turkey, against Britain and France – albeit in pursuit of a self-serving imperial ambition. From 1945 onwards the ‘special relationship’ with Turkey continued, albeit on a radically different basis, with liberal, post-war Germany accepting waves of guest-worker immigrants from Turkey and elsewhere, building, in the process, a truly mixed society with a community of over 4 million Muslims to date. And that community is still growing by the day, as Germany has been the most generous of all European nations in accepting vast numbers of refugees from war-torn Syria, numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

So if historically “Islam-friendly” Germany had previously been more of a neutral location for coordinating Islamist campaigns targeting other nations, why is it now itself becoming a target? There are various, in part competing explanations. Most obviously, there is the slow realignment of German foreign policy over the last decade. Having opposed the war in Iraq, Germany had become involved in policing and rebuilding Afghanistan, with German troops losing their lives in the process. Now Angela Merkel’s government is not, according to the German Foreign office website, ruling out military operations in Syria, and the interventionist foreign policies adopted by Western nations towards Islamic countries are all too often cited by radical groups as grounds for attack.

Then, there has been an anti-Islamic backlash within Germany. Police have foiled a number of bomb plots by extreme right groups in Germany since 2010, though, perhaps more significantly, we have also seen the rise of a far-more widespread, grassroots movement known as PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamification of the Occident), which has staged mass marches through German cities, ironically at their strongest in Germany’s least-Muslim eastern states. The movement has mobilized German citizens to march for the revival of a more Christian Germany. There is, of course, the broader view that Germany is now simply as much at risk as any other nation from global Islamism, with its hi-tech and media expertise and chic appeal for (especially young male) Muslims. Equally, though, there are hardline views taken by commentators outside Germany, especially in the US and the UK, who see precisely Germany’s liberal stance towards Syrian refugees as the problem. Is a Germany that is offering safe haven to those fleeing the rule of Islamic State incurring the wrath of the Caliphate and offering itself up as a target, or, worse still, letting in the very radicals who seek to spread terror in the process? Such viewpoints arguably veer uncomfortably towards the very Islamophobia that I.S. seeks to propagate.

The investigation in Berlin continues to unfold, though, as of Thursday evening, and despite recent events in Paris, the mainstream German media are not splashing this story across their webpages just yet. And whilst the threat in Germany is both real and alarming, those who leap to comment, sensationalize and offer early diagnoses usually say more about their pre-formed beliefs and agendas, than they do about the truth in all its complexity.'

Alex Buxton
Communications Manager
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