There is no end to religious extremism

Reflect your past

Manjana Pay

Manjana Sold is a research fellow at the Leibniz Institute Hessian Foundation for Peace and Conflict Research (PRIF), a member of the Leibniz Research Group on Radicalization and a Research Fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD). Her main research interests are in particular the role of the Internet in individual radicalization processes and the relationship between virtual and real-world radicalization. She is doing her doctorate on the mobilization techniques of Salafist and right-wing extremists in the virtual world.

Extremism in its various forms is increasingly moving into the foreground of the state, politics and society both in Germany and in other European countries. While anti-democratic, extremist tendencies have increased in recent years, the demand for "more democratic participation" is growing at the same time (Jesse / Mannewitz 2018: 12).

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According to the definition of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), extremist persons aim to "eliminate the basic values ​​of free democracy" (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, no date). The term extremism stands as an "umbrella term for different extremism variants" that differ "in terms of their organizational form", "forms of action" and "intensity" (Mannewitz et al. 2018: 19-22). The rejection of the "institutions of constitutional democracy" can be established as a common denominator of different forms of extremism (Jesse / Mannewitz 2018: 159). But if extremists aim to fight democracy, then they must also have an idea of ​​what they think a better political order should look like. So what is the alternative that extremist people prefer to the values ​​of the free democratic basic order?

This question can have different answers as it targets the ideology represented by extremist persons or groups. A basic distinction is made between "politically motivated" and "religiously motivated" extremism (Bötticher / Mareš 2012: 219, 243). In the following, the two forms of right-wing extremism and Islamist extremism are examined in more detail.

Islamist extremism

Religiously motivated extremism "is a religious movement that follows a view or interpretation that no one else tolerates and / or whose followers are willing to enforce it by violent means" (Dienstbühl 2019: 145). Islamist extremism is a form of religiously motivated extremism and is often referred to as "Islamism" (cf. Bötticher / Mareš 2012: 245f.). But there is "no generally accepted definition of the term Islamism" (Seidensticker 2014: 9). The BfV defines "Islamism" as "a form of political extremism" which "aims at the partial or complete abolition of the free democratic basic order of the Federal Republic of Germany" (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution 2019: 170). While the definition of the BfV particularly emphasizes the extremist, i.e. the fight against the constitutional state, broader definitions of Islamism can also be found in science, which emphasize the goal of restructuring the state and society. Seidensticker (2014: 9) defines Islamism as "efforts to reshape society, culture, state or politics on the basis of values ​​and norms that are viewed as Islamic."

According to Farschid and Rudolph, the distinguishing features of Islamist ideology are:
  • "the derivation of an explicitly political claim by the Islamist religion",
  • "References to Islamic law [are] understood not only as a legal system, but as a specific and social ordering principle",
  • the interpretation of the Koran and Sunna as "a function of a code of law with a model character for political action",
  • "Attempts to legitimize specific concepts of rule by referring to supposedly religious foundations",
  • the "claim to absolute truth [and] rejections of the principle of secularism",
  • the construction of "enemy images of 'Jews' and 'Christians', who defame non-Muslims as alleged 'infidels' and which are often based on a dichotomous division of the world into 'area of ​​Islam' (dar al-islam ) and one 'area of ​​the war (dar al-harb) are based "as well as" all references to the militant variant of jihad "(2008: 406 ff.).
The most relevant form of Islamist extremism in Germany in recent years is Salafism. According to the BfV, "Salafism [...] is still the fastest growing Islamist movement in Germany" (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, undated). Dominic Musa Schmitz from the web video series "Reflect Your Past" was also a Salafist. But there are also differences within Salafism; especially with regard to the question of violence. The best-known categorization into "purist", "political" and "jihadist" Salafists comes from Quintan Wiktorowicz (2006: 207-239). Although Islamism in Germany is often associated with "Salafism and Jihadism", these are "only to be understood as facets of Islamism, which also includes various non-Salafist currents and organizations" (Said 2017: 12). The BfV differentiates under the "generic term 'Islamism'" between "legalist currents", "Islamist-terrorist groups" and "jihadist groups" that appear in different groups, organizations or political parties (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution 2019: 170, 178).

Right-wing extremism

Politically motivated extremism includes classic political camps of the extreme right and left. Right-wing extremism is thus a form of political extremism. Similar to Islamism, there is no generally applicable definition of right-wing extremism either (Stöss 2010: 10) and right-wing extremism "is not an ideologically uniform phenomenon in Germany" (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, undated). An expert group of researchers has agreed on the following definition (Stöss 2010: 57): "Right-wing extremism is a pattern of attitudes, the common characteristics of which are ideas of inequality. Justification of National Socialism. In the social field they are characterized by anti-Semitic, xenophobic and social Darwinist attitudes. "A similar definition can be found in Hans-Gerd Jaschke (2001: 30), who, however, in contrast to the mere" affinity to dictatorial forms of government "(see above Stöss 2010: 57) in right-wing extremism a rejection of the "pluralism of values ​​of a liberal democracy", the recognition of "multiculturalism" and the goal of "wanting to undo democratization".

In addition to "racist and nationalist views", "xenophobia and racism, anti-Semitism and historical revisionism as well as [...] anti-democracy" are relevant characteristics of right-wing extremist ideologies, which is why the "right- wing extremist understanding of values ​​[...] fundamentally contradicts the Basic Law "(Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution 2019: 46).

Similar to the term Islamism, the term right-wing extremism is also a collective term that includes various groups and organizations. There are right-wing and / or right-wing extremist attitudes in parties (such as NPD, Der III. Weg, AfD), in citizen and protest movements (such as PEGIDA, Identitarian Movement Germany, New Right) or in other violent groups (such as Autonomous Nationalists, Old School -Society) observable (Dienstbühl 2019: 98-104).

Differentiation between "political" and "religious" extremism in the criticism

The extent to which the terms "political" and "religiously motivated" extremism are to be upheld should at least be subjected to critical reflection, since the term "religious" as the counterpart to "politically motivated" gives the impression that religiously motivated extremism is apolitical. But the term extremism itself always has a political component. According to Backes (2006: 198) at the beginning of the 1970s in Germany at the federal level those who undertook "anti-constitutional" (emphasis in the original) endeavors were described as extremists. The term extremism therefore always refers to a political context. Therefore, religiously motivated extremism is always politically motivated. What is specific about this form of extremism is only that the extremist political ideas and actions are derived from religious sources. An alternative term could therefore be "religious-politically motivated extremism" (cf. Hafeneger 2015), which can be thought of as a (sub) category of politically motivated extremism. In this sense, for example, Kailitz (2004: 164, 172) describes Islamist extremism as a "religious variant of political extremism" or Gansewig (2018: 466) as a "religiously founded form of political extremism". The distinction between "politically motivated" and "religiously motivated" extremism should therefore always be reflected upon, as this - in view of the political character in both cases - is an artificial separation.

Forms of extremism: similarities and differences

As already mentioned, there are different forms of extremism, which differ in particular ideologically and in their objectives. But even if they are based on different ideologies, there are cross-ideological "same basic psychosocial patterns in the biographical developments" of extremist persons (Lützinger 2010: 67). This is particularly evident in the biographies of Dominic Musa Schmitz and Maximilian Kelm. Although both young men went through radicalization processes with opposing ideologies (Salafism vs. neo-Nazism), great similarities can be seen in their radicalization processes: Both Dominic and Maximilian describe their youth as isolated, which in turn made both more susceptible to the effectiveness of a relevant contact person, namely one School friend - Dominic was a Muslim friend with a Moroccan background, while Maximilian was a German classmate from the parallel class. Both came into the respective scene through these key people and describe the event as the beginning of their radicalization process. The developments after that also show parallels: The circle of friends changed rapidly, both underwent a change in their external appearance according to the respective ideology and the lifestyle also changed within a short time. People who go through a radicalization and especially visually convey this to the outside world rarely go unnoticed. With their change, Dominic and Maximilian also generated reactions in their environment that describe the two dropouts in a similar way: Although they aroused awe at times, they also received respect and acceptance - especially in the school environment. With increasing self-esteem, Dominic became more and more involved in dawa work and Maximilian distributed leaflets, stuck flyers in the neighborhood and took part in demonstrations until both of them developed from beginners to recruits. Both Dominic and Maximilian describe how much they valued the group membership and the common activities within the group, so that their willingness to become active for the group and to fight for the convictions became greater and greater.

The beginning of deradicalization is also very similar in both dropouts. In both cases, a relevant conversation marked the beginning of their reflection process. In these conversations they were given the feeling that their personalities were not in line with the image of their propagated ideology, which in turn encouraged both young men to reconsider their beliefs. The similarities in the radicalization process of the ex-Salafists and ex-neo-Nazis make it clear that different forms of extremism or radicalism often follow similar patterns, no matter how much they are subject to different - or even contradicting - ideologies. This pattern is often characterized by key events / encounters that mark the beginning of the process, an ever stronger connection to the scene and the resulting increase in self-esteem, the transition from follower to active member (recruiter) and ultimately a key event / encounter that triggers the first doubts and thus a process of reflection.

However, it is not only events, actions and activities that show similarities in the various forms of extremism, but also beliefs and ideas. Both extremist Salafists and neo-Nazis often think and argue in black and white patterns and are characterized by a greatly simplified view of the world (for Salafism see El-Mafaalani 2014: 356). Complex political contexts are not taken into account, individual cases are generalized and images of the enemy are constructed, who are to blame for all evils and whose existence justifies their own political - sometimes even violent - actions. [1]

Similar patterns and dynamics have led, among other things, to the fact that in recent years there has been an increased social and scientific interest in similarities and differences in the causes and courses of different forms of extremism. This is why research on extremism and radicalization, but also prevention actors, are increasingly concerned with so-called "cross-phenomenon approaches" (Gruber et al. 2016: 5). For cross-phenomenon narratives, Meiering et al. (2018: 10) the term "bridge narratives" and denote as such "ideological elements of discourse (ideologemes) or narratives that are shared by different groups". For example, attitudes such as anti-Semitism, anti-imperialism, anti-modernism, anti-universalism or anti-feminism across "different radicalized groups" can be found (Meiering et al. 2018: 26). Even if such bridging narratives "are tailored differently in the respective areas, [they] belong to the same narrative bundles and fulfill similar functions. They structure patterns of perception, attributions of belonging and options for action and thus act as a transmission belt for radicalization processes "(Meiering et al. 2018: 10). In order to illustrate the cross-phenomenon function of such narratives, the authors use concrete examples to show that "there are always courses of radicalization in which there is a switch between different groups and affiliations" (Meiering et al. 2018: 10).

However, comparisons between different forms of extremism are often criticized; they equate the different forms of extremism (Pfahl-Traughber 2018: 12), since the different phenomena are lumped together (Mannewitz et al. 2018: 49). However, it is a matter of "similarities, not equations" (Mannewitz et al. 2018: 20) and cross-phenomenon approaches can help to better understand extremism - regardless of its various manifestations. Therefore, such approaches should not be abandoned without a doubt, but rather viewed as a broader interest in knowledge rather than an attempt at equal treatment.

Causes of extremism

In addition to extremism research, research into the causes of extremism also deals with other research strands such as radicalization research, social movement research, terrorism research or research on political violence. These pursue different theoretical approaches. It is therefore not surprising that psychological, socio-psychological, political and ideological approaches can be found to explain various forms of extremism (cf. Miliopoulos 2018: 210-235). These operate on different analysis units such as the individual level, group level and social level.

Frequently mentioned causes in the area of ​​right-wing extremism are, for example, personality traits such as narcissism (Nölke 1998: 259-268), familial factors such as authoritarian parenting style (Noack 2001), "extreme emotions" in childhood (Wahl 2006: 159), anomie (Fuchs 2003: 41), economic and deprivation and low education (Baier et al. 2016: 303f.) Or group sociological factors that are experienced through connection to a group or "clique" (Lützinger 2010 : 70).

Similar factors such as broken family socialization (Schäuble 2012), authoritarian-patriarchal parental homes (Meng 2004: 279), socio-demographic and economic factors (El-Mafaalani 2014: 357), virtual contact with extremist groups / People (for Islamist extremism and right-wing extremism, see Dienstbühl / Weber 2014) or contact with radical milieus (Malthaner / Waldmann 2012). In contrast to right-wing extremism, other factors such as experiences of discrimination (Victoroff et al. 2012: 791) or economic and social marginalization (Abbas 2007: 10) are often cited for Islamist extremism in non-Muslim majority societies.

The list of possible causes of extremism is long. It can be stated, however, that there is no typical profile of radical or extremist people, but that there are different "types of extremists" (Miliopoulos 2018: 209). Therefore, even monocausal explanations are not very insightful; rather, the interaction of various conditional factors must be examined and the connection between different approaches must be promoted.


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