“Pocket Islamism”: Through Tiktok to the extremist worldview

“Pocket Islamism”: Through Tiktok to the extremist worldview

Many young people get their information almost exclusively via social media. Extremist influencers from all directions use this – including from the Islamist scene. Loneliness plays a big role.

Can you brush your teeth during the fasting month of Ramadan? Or, as a devout Muslim, cut your hair shorter on the sides? Imam Ender Cetin hears questions like these every day when he seeks to meet young people in schools with his “Meet2Respect” project.

“The students then tell me: Someone said that on Tiktok.” The social media platform is now almost the only way for young Muslims to obtain information: in mosques, only the Koran is often recited, parents often only have half-knowledge, and there is no adequate religious instruction for Muslims in schools. And that brings problems.

Like the buddy next door

Because the videos on social platforms are not just about harmless questions about haircuts. There are also Salafists there who claim the only correct interpretation of Islam and explain who is a good Muslim and who is not, or also: What is good and what is bad, i.e. “halal” or “haram”. For example, “extramarital relationships with other people or – it has to be mentioned now – especially with your own gender, keyword LGBTQ,” says a video from the organization Generation Islam on Instagram. The presenters in the colorful, quickly edited videos look like the buddy next door. Short and sweet, homophobia can be spread within 30 seconds.

“The question that I found most intense was: Am I even allowed to be friends with a non-Muslim? An imam on Tiktok probably claimed that that wasn’t possible,” remembers Cetin. “That bothered me for a long time. This shows that the young people lack theological foundations, because there are enough counter-arguments,” says the imam. And this question shows how extremist Islamists consciously try to divide.

Conscious manipulation through emotions

“It’s about capturing real experiences, artificially exaggerating them and then transporting them into extremist positions,” says Özgur Özvatan, extremism researcher at the Humboldt University in Berlin. For example, experiences of racism that many of these young people had and with which they often felt alone. The extremists took advantage of this by giving the impression: You will never belong to the majority society anyway, come directly to us.

According to the expert, the Gaza war is also being exploited. Many videos show horrific images of suffering children in the Gaza Strip. Not only is there an emotional trigger, but it also gives the impression that there is a place on the internet where someone understands their own and entirely justified emotional pain. But that is being exploited: “What distinguishes Islamist extremists in Germany is that they only talk about global Muslim suffering. That is their topic,” says Özvatan.

Young men as targets of extremists

“In rare cases, the individual videos are actually Islamist extremist,” he says. “The programmatic offer takes place in the sum of the individual videos.” And that is problematic because clubs and sites like Generation Islam or Reality Islam are assigned to Hizb ut-Tahrir by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. This is an extremist group that is banned in Germany. The associations that are ideologically close to it are calling, among other things, for a caliphate, i.e. a theocracy based on the early Islamic model. The supposed advantages of this form of government are also repeatedly discussed in the Tiktok videos and reels.

But who are the young people who allow themselves to be lured by this “pocket extremism” – the cell phone always in their pocket, always accessible, always available? Cetin places many of them in an uneducated environment. “This often means that the parents are unemployed and there is little awareness of strengthening the children,” reports the imam about the work in his projects. “It’s mostly about finding your identity. You want to stand out, and then you’re more conservative than others.” Extremism researcher Özvatan believes that right-wing extremists use the same principle to attract votes. “They primarily appeal to lonely men because social isolation is a driving factor for radicalization.”

“It is precisely the potential of the Muslim communities that needs to be strengthened. Islamist extremists describe them as traitors and the other side portrays them as potential Islamists themselves,” says Özvatan. In these mosques and communities in particular, there is often still the chance of an encounter when young people are in danger of slipping away. Imam Cetin believes that encounter projects for young people need to be supported. He says: “The mosques also do this on a voluntary basis, they often don’t have any professionalism. We also need other network partners where the young people also notice: Wow, the police or the street workers are together with Muslims.”

Source: Stern

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