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“Die Geister, die ich rief!” (The Ghosts that I Awoke); German Anti-Terror Law and Religious Extremism

“German police have raided 300 mosques, searched 2000 offices and apartments, and interrogated thousands of Muslims- yet little evidence has been made public to suggest that these invasive measure have yielded any information relating to terrorist activities.” - Dr. Nadeem Elyas (Chair of the Zentralrat der Muslime in Germany)

“If you keep prodding a hornets nest, people’s emotions will eventually boil over and the youth will declare “If you don’t want me, I don’t want you’.”- Ali Ahmed (Islamic Center, Aachen)

A New Social Order

The home-grown brand of Islamic extremist-based terrorism displayed during the July 7 London bombings provided Europe with a tangible display of the anger boiling just below the surface in its Muslim communities.  Countries like the UK and Germany have long prided themselves on the intricate measures established to protect minorities and promote tolerance within their boarders.  Yet, in an alarming survey conducted for The Daily Telegraph by YouGov, around six percent of British Muslims believed that the attacks were justified and some 24 percent said they sympathize with the sentiments and motives of those who carried out the bombings.  What societal pressures or government actions could have pushed the suicide-bombers to such great lengths?  Why do a significant margin of their national religious counterparts agree with this cause? These tragic and shocking actions and attitudes frame the ongoing debate within Germany regarding the potential negative impacts of state anti-terror law on the nation’s Muslim community.  

A Preemptive Security Strategy 

Germany, often criticized as the temporary home of 11 of the 9/11 terrorists, has played an increasingly proactive role in the American-led global war on terror. According to the Ministry of the Interior’s information department, one percent of Germany’s estimated 3.2 million Muslims are classified as extremist.  The government officially defines an extremist as any individual that seeks to undermine the “liberal democratic fundamental order” of the German state.  According to Prof. Mathias Mahlmann, a legal expert from the Freie Universität Berlin, encapsulated among the elements of this “order” are items like “rule of law, human rights, plurality, and a multi-party political system.” The Ministry of the Interior estimates that there are 24 Muslim extremist organizations, representing 31,800 people, operating within Germany (Annual Report of the Office of the Protection of the Constitution, 2004)

On September 19th, 2001 the German government passed a new set of emergency measures, known as the first security package.  According to Prof. Werner Schiffauer, an expert on terrorism and Islam in Germany at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder), “this package set fourth the laws for associations and established programs to directly combat terrorist threats such as the placement of air marshals on German flights.”  On January 1st, 2002, a second package of anti terror law went into effect.  This legislation grants increased powers to the Federal Office of the Protection of the Constitution (Verfassungsschutz) to “monitor organizations that are against the ideas of international understanding of the peaceful coexistence of nations.”  Further, the Federal Office of Criminal Investigations (BKA-Bundeskriminalamt) now has the authority to investigate “certain types of criminal activity on data networks without having to obtain permission to do so in advance.”  This has led to the creation of massive databases profiling German Muslims and other potential members of extremist groups.  The new laws also rescinded the right of “religious privilege” that had allowed religious associations to form with relative ease.  (German Federal Government Document: Second Anti-Terrorism Package Approved)

According to the Verfassungsschutz and the Ministry of the Interior, these new policies have manifested themselves in a number of direct ways; Muslim organizations like Milli Görüş (IGMG-Turkish-Islamic organization representing more than 211,000 European and 26,000 German Muslims, as well as 514 mosques and 30 associations in Germany),  have been put under watch by the Verfassungsschutz and Muslim organizations accused of having links to terrorism or dangerous ideologies –such as “Al-Aqsa, Hizb-ut Tahrir, and Kalifatsstaat”- have been banned. Further, hundreds of “successful searches” carried out in locations like Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, Baden-Württemberg and at the al-Nur mosque in Berlin, have yielded terror suspects, training materials and other propaganda.  High-profile terrorists like Abdelghain Mzoudi and Mounir el-Motassadeq (accused of helping to facilitate the September 11, 2001 attacks) have been arrested and imprisoned (Annual Report of the Office of the Protection of the Constitution, 2003 and 2004)

Battlefield View

While the aforementioned data might convey the German government’s official view of the new anti-terror laws in action, Muslim leaders see things very differently.  Dr. Anas Sabbagh, leader of the Khalid bin Walid mosque in Bochum claims the April 16th 2004 police raid, involving 400 police, of his religious center was anything but constitutional or successful.  “All persons attending Friday prayers (regardless of age) were interrogated for over six hours.” The Imam claims that nothing was found and that the police ultimately issued an apology. He later found out that local police had continued to monitor his sermons by paying three youth members 800 euro per month to relay his daily messages to authorities.  “A mosque is a transparent place”, he claims “There is no reason for them to carry out such intrusive and secretive actions against us.” 

Ramazan Kuruyüz, president of the board of directors of the Islamische Religionsgemeinschaft Hessen (representing more than 11,000 Muslims from 30 ethnic backgrounds in the Bundesland Hesse) is among those who claim that these new policies have led to institutional discrimination and massive civil rights infringements. “Muslims have essentially been bared from working at airports, many states have outlawed headscarves in schools (as well as from public offices) and police continue to implement raids without result.”  Prof. Schiffauer, echoes these complaints.  “If you closely examine the police reports, you can see that the officers found nothing.”  Kuruyüz gave further concrete examples of massive police raids that yielded no results.  He claims that the Taqwa mosque in Frankfurt (Main) was searched by over 200 police officers who initially claimed in large press headlines that videos were found promoting violence.  Only days later, in a back-page, one line article, did authorities acknowledge that the materials uncovered had no link to terrorism.  

Some Muslim leaders acknowledge that though the raids themselves may be constitutionally justified and necessary as a dragnet to capture potential terrorists, the methods employed are highly objectionable.  Ali Ahmed, a member of the Islamic community of Aachen claims that “police raids of mosques, searching for terrorists and extremist propaganda, do not respect the rules of the holy sites.  For instance, shoes should not be worn into mosques.”  Dr. Heiner Bielefeldt, Director of the German Institute for Human Rights points to other direct impacts of the new anti-terror policy on immigration and naturalization issues.  He claims that “The Interior Ministry can now strip citizenship, expel students from university, and rescind resident status based on the suspicion that an individual is a member of an organization that is under Verfassungsschutz watch, regardless of whether the person or organization are actually linked to extremism or terrorism.”  He warns that this sets a dangerous precedent, as the “new anti-terror laws reject the principle of rule of law, because individuals can be punished for poorly defined offenses without a standard burden of proof.”  Dr. Nadeeem Elyas, chair of the Zentralrat der Muslime in Deutschland (Central Council of Muslims in Germany which represents 400 out of the 2000 mosques in Germany) claims that the new security policy and raids are incomprehensible to the Muslim population because “Terrorist and extremists do not carry out their activities through transparent organizations like mosques and public associations like Milli Görüş.”  These policies are taking a profound toll on the lives and mindset of Germany’s Muslims population.  Prof. Schiffauer claims that police raids in places like Baden- Württemberg and Lower Saxony “came without warning or without concrete evidence.”  As a result, he claims that many Muslims in Germany are shying away from mosques and taking their names off of official member rolls “for fear that they will be databased or controlled.”

A Poisoned Atmosphere 

A general perception exists among the members of the German Muslim community that the new anti-terror laws represent a state-imposed discrimination policy.  Özcan Mutlu, (Member of the Berlin City Parliament/Green Party and Committee on Immigration and Migration Policy in Berlin) claims that German post-9/11 policy has led to a general feeling among the Muslim community that they are guilty of crimes which they did not commit and whose sentiments they vehemently oppose. “The German Muslim community” he says, “has been forced to confess their guilt of being fellows of the same religion as the delinquents of 9/11.” The impact he says, is that “isolation and ethnic separation” have grown exponentially.  He maintains that “instead of helping to fight religious extremism, this policy has had a negative influence on integration and dialogue.”  Oğuz Üçüncü, Secretary General of Islamische Gemeinschaft Milli Görüş notes an alteration in the dynamic relationship between the Muslims and the rest of German society.  “The new laws have poisoned the relationship between religious groups and local communities.  The majority of Muslims are being stigmatized when, in reality, only a tiny group of extremists exist.”  According to Mr. Üçüncü, a recent survey from the Allensbach Meinungsforschungsinstitut found that 83% of German people associate the word “Islam” with terrorism.  One can surmise that within the framework of the new security policy, dangerous perceptions and stereotypes have been cemented.  Ali Ahmed underscores the troubling manifestations of this government-facilitated new-found public fear of Muslims.  “Stereotypes of Muslims as terrorists have been solidified among the general German population, leading to incidents of both verbal and physical discrimination.  We are hit, spit on, and graffiti is painted on our mosques.”

Other Muslim leaders contend that this new environment has resulted in a loss of connection and productive dialogue between the German state and the Muslim community.  Dr. Elyas contends, “The relationship between the German majority and the Muslim community has broken down.  There is no longer a sense of trust between the two groups.”  Other scholars, however, argue that these claims of rupture are exaggerated.  Prof. Stephan Reichmuth, Director of the Department of Islamic studies at Ruhr University Bochum claims that the post-9/11 German sociopolitical environment has actually fostered greater awareness, as there is greater interest in Islamic studies in general and a wider audience for inter-religious/cultural dialogue.

Some Muslim leaders have gone so far as to claim institutional racism against the German state in the wake of the implementation of these policies.  “Racism has become politically correct” says Chaban Salih, director of public relations for Muslimische Jugend in Deutschland e.V. (Muslim Youth in Germany).  Mr. Kuruyüz echoes these charges of state-imposed bigotry, saying "Muslims are often discriminated and treated unequally by the

government".  He qualifies this by saying “German basic law does not, in itself, discriminate against Muslims, but government officials can easily interpret it in a way that is highly prejudiced.”  Government representatives and legal experts are quick to emphasize that these policies were not aimed at the Muslim community, but rather designed to respond to all forms of extremism.  It is interesting to note, however, that Bekir Alboğa, a representative of D.I.T.I.B, one of the largest Muslim organizations with close ties to the German government, reports that none of his organization’s mosques have been raided by state police.  Mr. Georgios Tsapanos of the Ministry of the Interior questions the motivations behind these claims of discrimination; “If (German Muslims) feel that they are under general suspicion, it is no fault of German security policy.”  He underscored that these individuals may have something to hide.  “I know a lot of Muslims who support this policy because it keeps them safe and allows them to clear their names.”

The Security vs. Civil Liberties Balance

Inevitably, an aggressive anti-terror policy will result in charges of infringement on civil liberties by individuals that fall within the ethnic, religious or political profile of the violent actors.  As was previously defined, the German state considers an individual an extremist if he or she poses a threat to the fundamental principles upheld in the Constitution.  But some legal scholars and human rights activists claim that from a rights-based standpoint, this policy may do more harm then good.  Dr. Bielefeldt stated that the “damage the new policies will do to the liberal values -which they claim to be protecting- compromises the very principles upon which our constitution is based.” According to Mr.  Ahmed, “Some Muslims, fearing for their families and jobs, have shaved their beards and stopped going to mosque.”  Dr. Bernhard Santel of the Landeszentrum für Zuwanderung elucidated that the new “Zuwanderungsgesetz“ (Law of Migration) allows the authorities to expel hate preachers to their country of origin.  In this sense the new codes present legitimate, albeit indirect, threats to the freedom of speech and religion of those subjected to their searches and profiling.  

According to Prof. Mahlmann, the German state appears to be promoting a form of “militant democracy” where even verbal threats (e.g. threats to do bodily harm) and so-called “hate-speech” are punishable offenses.  

He contends that in a liberal democracy, “any exchange of views must be free, regardless of its message.”  Mahlmann draws the line at the point where these “ideas take form and can concretely harm someone (e.g. by inciting a village to attack asylum seekers).”   

Not everyone feels that these new policies, prima facie, are unwarranted and oppressive. Georgios Tsapanos presented the pragmatic necessity of such policies; “These so-called ‘interrogations’ don’t come out of the blue.  Preemptive and sometimes aggressive steps are necessary to provide for German security.”  He surmises, “Judging from the fact that we haven’t had any attacks here, the policy appears to be working.”  Still, many Muslim leaders are unconvinced.  Dr. Elyas warns “The violation of basic human rights is a slippery slope- today it is the Muslims, tomorrow it will be the normal citizen.”  Some leaders like Dr. Sabbagh state, that while they do not support extremist ideologies, they can sympathize and “feel solidarity” with those who oppose the German state’s perceived oppressive crackdown on the Muslim community.

Action and Reaction 

While the vast majority of the German Muslim population has responded rather passively to the restrictions imposed by the anti-terror laws, not all are able to maintain the status quo or simply dismiss the perceived discrimination.  In his research, Prof. Schiffauer has found that, “angered by unjustified governmental and societal hostility” a large portion of Muslim youth “have begun to give credence to the extremist voices that speak out against the West.”  These individuals, once rejected by the German Muslim ideological community, “argue that the West doesn’t accept Muslims.”  Prof. Schiffauer contends that people are becoming more receptive to the preachers who exploit this sentiment.  “Anti-western hate speech and extremism are becoming more widely accepted and viewed as viable.”  Dr. Elyas underscores this potent issue, “For extremists, there is no better time to attract recruits then now.” 

While German Federal Minister of the Interior Otto Schily argues that the new policy aims to “cut (terrorists) off from their sources of material and ideological support”, it seems that the security packages have actually been providing the empirical fodder to back up these ideological extremists. (Speech in Washington D.C., February 4th, 2003).  There appears to be concrete evidence to support the existence of a growing extremist movement.  Chaban Salih reported that he has seen uncharacteristically large numbers of youths at Hizbu at-Tahrir meetings (a German extremist organization) since the policies took effect.  Prof. Reichmuth claims that “There are indications of a mobilization of German Muslims to Iraq.”  Even moderate Muslims like noted author and journalist Dr. Navid Kermani stated that “Radicalization is a direct consequence of this agitation”, as German Muslims “struggle to find their religious and ideological roots in the face of growing criticism and censure.”  Salih warns, “Within this high-tension atmosphere, danger is on the horizon as German Muslim anger toward these policies grows.”  He said the he would not be surprised if an event similar to the murder of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands were to occur or possibly even “a direct attack against a German public institution.” 

The Way Ahead 

While claims of impending extremist violence may be premature, it is important to consider the overarching impacts of the new German anti-terror laws.  The vast majority of German Muslims are not extremist and stand unaffected by these measures, but it is those on the fringe that one must be concerned with.  

It is members of this group that feel ostracized and angered (by the atmosphere within their home society) to such an extent that they buy into the preaching of violent religious extremists.  In his remarks, Prof. Schiffauer ultimately concluded that “These measures do not make the country safer, but rather, less safe.”  The hatred, skepticism, and distrust spreading among a small, yet potent minority of the German Muslim population is providing a dangerous incubation space for terrorist sentiments to develop. According to Shiffauer, “the state these people had pledged to defend has turned its back on them.  Now, they no longer want to cooperate with authorities, integrate, or even be part of German society.”    Just as British citizens feel that the London bombers acted as traitors to their country, a significant percentage of Germany’s Muslim community feel that they have been betrayed by their state.  Prior to the enactment of this policy, Germany had never faced a Muslim-based domestic terror risk, but the new laws appear to be fueling an ideological revolution that could threaten to end this peaceful reign.  Similar to the dilemma faced by Zauberlehrling in Goethe’s poem, it is unclear if or how the German state can control the dangerous forces it has unleashed through its new domestic security measures. 



Ahmed, Ali; Member of the Islamic Centre in Aachen, June 24, 2005

Alboğa, Bekir; Public Relations D.I.T.I.B – Turkish Islamic Union - linked to a certain extent to Ministry of Religious Affairs in Turkey- DIYANET; Köln, June 29, 2005

Bielefeldt, Dr. Heiner; Director of the German Institute for Human Rights (Deutsches Insitut für Menschenrechte) Berlin, June 27,  2005

Elyas, Dr. Nadeem; Chair of ZMD- Zentralrat der Muslime in Deutschland, Eschweiler, June 28, 2005

Gottstein, Margit; Head of Department of the Representative of Migration, Refugees and Integration- Berlin, June 29, 2005

Kaube, Jürgen; Journalist of FAZ-Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Germany, June 27, 2005

Kermani, Dr. Navid; Islamic Scientist, Islamic Expert and Author – Köln, June 26, 2005

Kızilkaya, Ali; Chair of Board, Islamrat Germany, June 30, 2005

Kuruyüz, Ramazan; Chair of IRH- Islamische Religionsgemeinschaft Hessen- Frankfurt, June 25, 2005

Mahlmann, PD Dr. Matthias; Department of Law at FU- Freie Universität Berlin, June 27,  2005 

Mutlu, Özcan; Member of City Parliament in Berlin and Member of Committee on Integration and Migration Policy, Berlin, June 27, 2005

Reichmuth, Prof. Stefan; Director of the Department of Oriental and Islamic Sciences at Ruhr Universität Bochum, June 30, 2005

Sabbagh, Dr. Anas; Physician and Director of Khalid bin Walid Mosque in Bochum, June 25, 2005

Salih, Chaban; Public Relations of MJD e.V- Muslimische Jugend in Deutschland – Berlin, June 27, 2005

Santel, Dr. Bernhard; Senior Researcher, Landeszentrum für Zuwanderung in NRW-North Rhine Westfalia – Solingen, June 27, 2005

Schiffauer, Prof. Werner; Professor of Cultural and Social Anthropology, Expert on Islamism in Germany at Europäische Universität Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder), June 28, 2005

Schmalz-Jacobsen, Cornelia; Former secretary general of the FDP - Liberal Democratic Party, former Member of Bundestag and Representative of Migration, Refugees and Integration (1993-1998),- Berlin, June 26, 2005

Tsapanos, Georgios; Ministry of Interior – Berlin, June 27, 2005

Üçüncü, Oğuz; Secretary General of IGMG-Germany- Milli Görüş – Kerpen, June 26, 2005

Literature and Documents

Annual Report of the Office of the Protection of the Constitution, 2003 and 2004

German Federal Government Document: “Second Anti-Terrorism Package Approved” (01/07/2002)

Otto Schily, Federal Minister of the Interior, speech "What can and what must Germans and Americans do to fight terrorism?" (Washington, D.C., 4 February 2003)

King, Anthony “One in four Muslims sympathises with the motives of terrorists” The Daily Telegraph (23/07/05)

Internet Sources

Ministry of the Interior: (http://www.bmi.bund.de/)

Islamische Religionsgemeinschaft Hessen: 


Office of the Protection of the Constitution: 


German Federal Government website: 


Information on recent police raids: (http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/375)

Information on recent police action: (http://www.jihadwatch.org/archives/004158.php)

Law changes: 


Schily statement:


Full laws listed: 


Profiling of German-Arab students: (http://www.wsws.org/articles/2001/oct2001/germ-o06.shtml)

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