Can we accept cultural "sensitivities" as an excuse for undemocratic behavior? Can we accept a Muslim father not shaking the hand of his child's teacher because she is a woman? Yes, it's all connected to recent terror attacks in
MUNICH — It was only a few days ago that I was in Bonn, where I had been invited to take part in a discussion with the Great Mufti of Egypt. The topics of said discussion were tolerance and freedom and it was an intercultural exchange that responded to our most basic democratic aspirations.
The Great Mufti spoke of the great measure of tolerance that Islam promotes and how people live together in peace. He lauded the acceptance of others and the amity of the pious.
At the end of the discussion panel I wanted to get my picture taken with the Great Mufti but he, as well as his advisers, refused my request. Their reasoning was that he did not want to be in the same picture as me because I am a citizen of Israel, an Arab Israeli.
This is one of those situations that leaves me speechless and incredibly sad in light of the double standards my fellow brothers in faith apply. We both speak Arabic, we both are members of the same religion, we were both willing to debate, to utter words of good and reconciliation while at the podium, words that the audience wanted to hear. And then this.
The great scholar dropped his mask after the official part of the day's proceedings were over and showed his true face, which, by the by, gave lie to everything he said while speaking to the audience.
Others said that it was only a small thing to refuse. It is like refusing to shake someone's hand when meeting them.
It is just like saying that it's only a headscarf that women are forced to wear, that it is only an expression of particular piety. That only particularly pious parents won't let their daughter go on a class trip or have her join swimming classes out of fear. These are all just benign, cultural differences.
But these differences or rather symptoms are, unfortunately, becoming more and more frequent — and they are not harmless. The "normal" or "traditional" side and understanding of Islam which we in Europe have encountered a thousand times over does have ties to the extreme version that fundamentalists, extremists such as Salafists, Wahhabis or the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), claim as their own.
The daily, traditional form of Islam has many little seeds that, given certain conditions, could grow into plants of extreme interpretations.
The general German public has been shocked by the adolescent, who took an axe to the passengers on a train in Würzburg, as well as by the man who blew himself up at a music festival in Ansbach. Many are afraid that religious extremists entered the country alongside thousands of refugees. They are afraid that the "foreign terror" came to us from outside the state. Only time will show if this is really true.
But what most certainly is true is the fact that nearly all Islamic terrorists who have traveled to Syria or have committed attacks in Europe are, in fact, young Europeans. They were born and raised here.
They are adolescents who went to school here, who speak our language and are a part of our society. When we speak of Islamism, we also have to speak of German, of European conditions.
One thing is completely out of the question for me, however. Namely that the "nice, unobtrusive guy next door" was turbo-radicalized, more or less became a terrorist overnight, such as some people in security circles presume to have happened.
No one decides from one day to the next that he will kill "infidels." It is the final stage of an insidious process, a warped growth of that aforementioned seed and plant under those certain circumstances.
If someone finds themselves in crisis — may it be due to school, a girlfriend, parents, prison, debt, drugs or falling in with the wrong crowd — a Salafist can become the figure that will provide structure and meaning to their lives. He will give them rules to live by. Halal and haram, clean and unclean.
The world is suddenly divided into the pious and infidels. You will have to obey food laws, speak a certain way, pray a certain way, work and act a certain way. Only that certain way of life is pleasing to Allah and your brothers will love you for living it. Those who do not live by these rules are evil, they are the devil, the enemy. But we, we are the elite. We are the good ones.
Such ideologically charged hatred is not acquired overnight. Radicalization is often an invisible process. The face they show the world is that of a polite albeit rather pious, young adolescent.
Their path to radicalization is often littered with things they have encountered in their daily lives, such as a Mufti or Imam, who is angry with Israel and "the Jews," angry with the West and America. He does not like to shake a woman's hand. They are fathers who punish their daughters for being "unchaste" and sons for being "disobedient," essentially for having dared to use their own minds and act accordingly.
Throughout their social education, they were taught a world view, that their parents instilled in them and that religious teachings taught them were right. This may have been done overtly or much more subtly. But, often enough, pragmatic compromises between an ideal and reality have to be found for everyday life. Not every rule has to be followed and obeyed, you are allowed to have fun.
But these rules can morph into a narrow-minded, closed off world view when they are set in stone. Only good and evil, halal and haram, black and white. Seeing as it is a dichotomous world view to begin with, it is not surprising that to turn Islam into Islamism can be achieved without too much difficulty.
Victimhood, literal faith, a cultivation of fear, sexual oppression and an aversion to life in general. These are all aspects that will lead you to, on the one hand, accept authorities blindly and, on the other hand, will make you fear, even loathe, your responsibility, your individuality. It is these aspects and their attributes that make young people so prone to becoming radicalized.
The Koran is viewed as dictated "by Allah" rather than a historically evolved document. Not a word may be questioned, doubted or should be linked to current events. In order for all of this to not materialize, the clergy instill fear in the youth's hearts, fear of hell and its tortures. Self-determined sexuality especially is abhorrent.
Loving your own body, loving to fall in love and loving love itself are taboo. The dogma reigns which says that your very own and intimate vivacity does not belong to you but to the family, the clan, the group at large, that it belongs to religion.
School officials have told me of parents enraged by a teacher suggesting that exhausted students should have a sip of water during the burning summer heat of Ramadan. The parents even went as far as complaining to the education authorities because that particular teacher, at least to their minds, did not respect their religion. The education authority did actually ask the teacher in this case to show more respect.
But this is just one of the many examples of the perceived victimhood of Muslims, an "us-against-them" way of thinking. The train of thought being "we are being oppressed; you, the West, Europe, the Jews, Israel and the media are our enemies because you reject us and Islam in general. We have to defend ourselves."
This authority-dependent stance is supported by patriarchal social structures. How can we expect love for democracy, equality and critical thinking, rule of law and state secularism to flourish under these circumstances?
A division of church and state are not part of this world view. And the democratic state is worth nothing at all to those who have been radicalized. Thus, you will find thousands of people who live among us who do not care for basic democratic rights.
Radical ideologies grow where democracy is being actively rejected. And we should not just mention ISIS, our current enemy-of-choice, but also the Palestinian group Hamas and the ruling AKP party in Turkey.
Integration is more than just learning a language, education and being a part of the job market. Those factors alone would have meant Mohamed Atta — the Egyptian-born resident of Germany who was ringleader for the Sep. 11 attacks — was perfectly integrated. He and his cohorts were hard-working engineering students after all.
Integration also means to have arrived socially as well as mentally, to not feel alienated within society but to feel like a part of it, to be a part of "us." This will possibly require you to become independent of the world views and perceptions of one or more parent, grandparent, uncle or aunt — to claim freedom into your own hands and be brave enough to find out what it is that you want in life.
Why do we hear third-generation Germans of Turkish descent calling Erdogan "our president"? Integration courses should not be about knowing the name of Germany's highest mountain, placing more emphasis on dialogue and discussion, with the goal to foster curiosity. This holds especially true for all those refugees who only got here recently.
Try to imagine a Syrian family of two parents and two small children, who has been living in Germany for a year. How will they communicate at the dinner table in 10 years' time, when the children have become teenagers? What should we hope for in this case? These parents are currently afraid of Western freedom but we have to be able to reach out to them while they are still shaping their children's world.
Society will have to once and for all decide upon what is acceptable and what is not. Are we going to tolerate elementary school children wearing a headscarf? Will parents be allowed to keep their children from participating in school activities because they think these activities are haram?
Should we tolerate the rampant anti-Semitism of children of Arabic and Turkish descent because they feel sorry for the Palestinians?
Can our society really afford to accept cultural "sensitivities" as an excuse for gender-based Apartheid? Can we really afford to accept a Muslim father not shaking the hand of his child's teacher because she is a woman?
To tolerate these things would most certainly send the wrong signals. Naive signals, helpless signals. And we cannot afford to do so. We need to be able to utilize every road imaginable to prevent further radicalization, looking hard at what is contained in integration courses, schools and on the Internet.
If the Muslim umbrella organizations and associations are to truly fight Islamism they will have to change their position in word and deed and, in a credible way, say goodbye to the stereotypes of victimhood, literal faith, cultivated fear, sexual oppression and an aversion to life in general.
But, unfortunately, nothing at the moment suggests that this change is about to happen. And the increasing radicalization of Turkey, which exerts a direct influence on many an association in Germany, does not give cause for hope.
But we, as a society, as individuals, will have to first and foremost be sure of our values and will have to demand that society adheres to them, regardless of any person's faith, descent or skin color. We will have to fight for these values to be upheld on a daily basis at work and at school, on the street and on the bus, and in our spare time at home.
*Ahmad Mansour holds a postgraduate degree in psychology and is program director of the European Foundation for Democracy.