“Not just preventing the next bomb”

For years, the Islamism expert Ahmad Mansour has been dealing with radicalization: as a psychologist, author ("GenerationAllah") and employee of the Hayat counseling center. He criticizes the prevention work in Germany as too little structured.

CBA: Mr. Mansour, Islamic radicalization is a major ie. Is enough being done about it?

Mansour: A lot is being done, but it's not enough. Radicalization of youth is not just about preventing the next bomb. That's important, of course, but first and foremost we need to tackle the root cause – through prevention work. But in this area there is chaos: there is no national strategy, no clarity about what we want to fight, who could be partners in this and who is part of the problem. I miss this clarity as well as comprehensive offers and projects for long-term prevention work.

CBA: Could a federal prevention agency help, as called for by the Federal Government Commissioner for Integration, Aydan ozuguz??
Mansour: Yes – but not with her. I do not think Ms. ozuguz's attitudes on deradicalization are helpful. A central office should not trivialize or relativize the problem. Prevention work should be treated as a task of the century, requiring new pedagogy, new ways of teaching values and integration.
CBA: What actually happens when, for example, concerned parents turn to a counseling center??

Mansour: First, teachers and parents need to learn that there are places to turn to in the first place. Many parents don't know about help structures – and if they do, they are often reluctant to confide their worries to anyone. Those who call our counseling center Hayat are unsettled. The first thing then is to find out whether a young person is actually becoming radicalized, whether they perhaps just want to change their faith, to what extent they are using radical rhetoric. Most of our work consists of building up an individual network for each person affected – depending on what positive influences and ties could be, what reasons lie behind the radicalization, what family structures are present.

CBA: This certainly requires expertise from different directions?

Mansour: Correct. What good is a psychologist, for example, who knows nothing about the terrorist militia IS, if it is precisely its propaganda that has appealed to the young person? That's why there needs to be a team of social workers, psychologists, Islamism researchers. But that is only part of the deradicalization work. In addition, there is a need for counseling in prisons or exit work with young people who want to leave this path behind them.

CBA: Another facet is so-called returnees who were active as terror fighters in Iraq or Syria. Some experts always see a risk of recidivism in them. How do you assess it??

Mansour: Returnees are very different. Some return because they have finished with ideology. Others are traumatized and unstable, still others remain followers of IS ideology. First, it is up to the judiciary to find out what returnees might have to be prosecuted for and punish them for it. And, of course, the security services must do everything to avert possible dangers. At the same time, it is again crucial to offer returnees individually appropriate accompaniment to give these people emotional access to their attitudes. Only those who reflect on what they have experienced and build up a distance from it can leave the scene. But there is no guarantee of success.

CBA: What role does religion play?

Mansour: Understanding religion is crucial in prevention work. Psychological and sociological factors cannot explain why Jewish or Christian youth do not join IS. Muslims with a certain understanding of Islam do – whether that is theologically sound is another question. It's about a fatal, false understanding of religion that disenfranchises people, spreads fear and conspiracy theories and makes sexuality taboo, that creates images of victims and enemies and advocates a claim to exclusivity. All this contributes to radicalization, and this factor must be named in prevention work.

CBA: What do you expect from the Muslim associations in this respect??
Mansour: In recent years, the Muslim associations have had the opportunity to face difficult questions and to present an understanding of Islam that stands behind democracy and human rights without any ifs or buts. Ditib or even the Central Council of Muslims launch PR campaigns under the slogan "Terror has nothing to do with Islam," but they do nothing. They should be perceived as religious associations, but in view of this development, they are not suitable partners for prevention work.

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Christina Cherry
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