IfI Press Release on the Radicalization Among Isolated Migrants

Institut für Islamfragen

Islam Scholar: High Potential for Radicalization Among Socially Isolated Migrants

Bonn (February 22, 2010) The number of German jihadists (“holy warriors”) in Afghan, Pakistani, and Yemenite training camps is rising. According to a 2007 study by the German Federal Ministry of the Interior titled “Muslims in Germany”, ten to twelve percent of Muslims shows the potential for a politically and religiously motivated radicalization. The Islam scholar Christine Schirrmacher warns: The danger of a “home-grown terrorism” is increasing in Germany, too.

The Typical Jihadist

The typical jihadist comes from the aspiring middle class, in most cases does not have any special religious past, but definitely has long-term prospects for professional and social success. How does it happen that Muslims with such a biography are responsive to suggestions of political-religious violence, that they believe that Muhammad’s military campaigns from the seventh century ought be conducted today against the “infidel and godless West”, and that they often separate themselves from their previous environment through a particularly strict explanation and implementation of the body of Islamic regulations

Half Feel Themselves to be Rejected

About one half of the Muslim population in Germany feels rejected by the German people. According to the public opinion survey institute DIMAP, only fifty-one percent of Muslims with a German passport feels itself to be more strongly beholden to Germany than to the respective countries of origin, in which, in most cases, these people have not grown up at all. Their social isolation leads the migrants into an inner emigration. At the same time, their identification with religion grows. According to the study “Muslim Life in Germany (2009) conducted by the Federal Office for Migration, thirty-six percent of the Muslims in Germany considers itself as “very religious” and fifty percent as “rather religious”. Such people become more and more open for friendship and acceptance on the fringe of society. Especially at danger, according to the study “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat” by the New York Police Department in 2007, is the lonely immigrant student below the age of thirty-five who sees himself frequently as an unwelcome foreign body in the society and is overtaxed with the unfamiliar diversity of Western freedoms and opportunities. The sons and, increasingly, also the daughters, of middle-class families of the second or third migrant generation form a second especially endangered group. They frequently bear a deep frustration because they increasingly have the feeling that they never will be accepted as one of the natives.

A Secure Position in the Society

It is here that jihadist groups and their charismatic leadership find their starting point. To the uprooted and excluded, they offer clear rules and simple images of the adversary, a secure position in the new society of the like-minded, and the restoration of violated honor through the commitment to a supposedly just cause. By means of a frequently radical change in lifestyle, they protest against a society marked by pluralism and moral relativism.

Four Phases of Radicalization

The New York study speaks of four phases in the process of radicalization. In the first phase, the person concerned already has run afoul of a vicious circle of rejection and withdrawal. In the second phase, the identification with the radical teachings of the group increases. The person affected gives up relationships and day-to-day habits and tries to bring his life more and more into agreement with the life of the early Islamic community. In the third phase occurs the complete acceptance of the radical answers that also include the use of violence as a legitimate means of a presumed self-defense against the “infidel West”. Jihad becomes an individual duty, a necessary act, in bringing about the speedy dawning of a time of salvation and the erection of a truly just society under Sharia. In the fourth phase, the “point of no return” is reached, at which, because of the dynamics in the group, there is no way back. Whether the execution of a terrorist attack then ensues depends upon the resolution of the spiritual mentor of the group.

Informal Meeting Points

According to Schirrmacher, it is less the mosques than rather informal meeting places such as bookstores, call shops and Internet cafes, schools, universities, and increasingly prisons, too, that serve as the breeding ground for these radical teachings. The contacts that are made or deepened at these places have a key function in the radicalization process. In the examination of numerous jihadist biographies, the Internet proves to an accelerator of radicalization and a forum for friendship and information, but the Internet alone does not seem to set the radicalization process in motion.

Effective Approaches


“In order to combat the increasing danger of the radicalization of Muslims, we must develop effective approaches – for example, in kindergartens, schools, and sports clubs –, in order to strengthen sensibility for migrants. Many of them often seek long and in vain for their place in society and for their social acceptance in the midst of the society. Appeals alone will not lead to the desired goal.”

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