Religiously motivated extremism

Where faith is used as a tool

Religiously motivated extremism is characterised by instrumentalising faith for the enforcement and legitimation of a claim to power. In doing so, a minority who considers their interpretation of faith as a counter model to Western, democratic forms of state and society relies on the necessary restoration of a supposedly lost order. In order to justify the violence and terror needed to enforce this order, religiously motivated extremists argue that the written interpretation of their beliefs and the alleged demands contained therein are justified. According to their interpretation, the use of terrorism is not only legitimate against infidels, but also against members of their own religious community who do not share their extremist view of the world.

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“Brides of Allah”, jihadists, IS fanatics, prospective emigrants

In recent years, the number of often very young people undergoing religiously motivated radicalisation has risen sharply. Regardless of whether they are radicalised returnees or emanate from German soil through “home-grown” radicalisation, there is a certain correlation between the risk of radicalisation and specific biographical factors. For example, unemployment, divorce, crime, as well as feelings of discrimination, alienation, and marginalisation, add an increased susceptibility to engage in patterns of explanation that religiously motivated extremism offers for perceived victimisation experienced in Western societies.

Liberation theology for victims of the system?

People who see themselves as victims of the system become more susceptible to ideological narratives that provide simple explanations and provide the marginalised individual a new home in the collective “We”. Especially second- and third-generation adolescents, who are caught up in the balancing act between the home environment and the immigration society, often experience the latter as cold, unfair and merciless, and so they discover religiously motivated extremism as a kind of “liberation theology”. The risk of “radicalising residual identities” is thus less based on the actual identification with religious content than on the instrumentalisation of a longing for affiliation by extremists.

Recruitment via social media and relationship offers

An overall social climate that is increasingly shaped by thinking focused on the concept of an enemy is already apt to play into the hands of extremism. However, to an unknown extent, another factor contributes to the massive increase in the risk of radicalisation for young people: With online media that lower the threshold of access to ideological content, radicalised groups and scenes, Extremism 2.0 has an extremely efficient recruitment arsenal. However, the network serves only to initiate contacts and spark initial conversations. The trick is to establish real contact as quickly as possible and to embrace the young people in social contexts. Conventional preventive measures limited to education and argumentation often underestimate the range of relationships that extremists establish with young people in need of direction and belonging. Those who recruit for extremism make targeted use of this need and try to establish a bond to the radicalised group on an interpersonal level.

What unites extremist waves of different backgrounds

Despite everything that distinguishes right-wing extremist movements from religiously motivated extremism, the spread of both phenomena bears a significant dynamic that feeds on mutual instrumentalisation as an enemy and increases the mobilisation potential on both sides. Every terrorist attack attributed to “jihadists” gives new impetus to right-wing extremism. Every attack on a mosque bearing the hallmarks of a right-wing hate crime strengthens the mobilisation potential of Islamist groups. Both sides try to split and polarise society to attract people from the middle to their side.

The road to extremism is not unavoidable

Often the question of solidifying extremist positions are dependent on the scene to which people at risk of radicalisation belong. People who do not yet have a solidified ideological view of the world are accessible – for both sides. Whom they encounter in their search for direction is of existential importance: those who give them exactly one answer, one truth, one world-view – or people who inspire them to question alleged truths and who show them the possibility and justification of other views. Anyone who is ready to acknowledge the diversity of possible world-views, creeds and attitudes will, in their own right, distance themselves from a world-view focused on the concept of a common enemy or someone to blame. Initiating this type of dissociation process and to showing people the way out of the danger zone requires qualified support.