IN MY recent trip in Germany last October 15 to 21, I was invited by the German Federal Foreign Office to join a group of government officials, members of the academe, and CSO leaders from the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia who work in the fields of religious tolerance and deradicalization. One of the objectives of the trip was to provide first-hand experience on Germany´s experience in topic as well as the German's approach to violence prevention, interfaith dialogue, and human rights. The program included meetings with experts in Berlin and Munich as well as visits to a number of different institutions and organizations who have worked on the said topics.
My experience in this trip opened my eyes on the current conditions of the Muslims in Germany, particularly in Berlin and Munich. Muslims in Germany are a minority and mostly they are Turkish immigrants and refugees from Syria. In this trip, I had a glimpse of the challenges that their country are facing with regard to religious violent extremism and radicalization of young men and women who were inclined to join Daesh.
I also got acquainted with the German socio-cultural and political system in preventing and countering religious violent extremism (P/CVE). Together with the other participants, we visited government offices, faith based organizations, and non-governmental organizations who are working on P/CVE through socio civic and youth engagement, interfaith and inter cultural dialogue, community policing, and trainings.
Moreover, the highlights of the trip includes the following: visits to the government offices particularly the Joint Centre for Countering Extremism and Terrorism under the Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz (BfV) of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution; Die Beauftragte der Bundesregierung fur Migration, Fluchtlinge and Integration; Landeskriminalamt, BLKA, State Office of Criminal Investigation, Competence Centre for Deradicalisation. The CSO/NGO we visited that inspired me in my work includes Die WillegGmbH (non profit social organization Evangelisches Johannesstift); Hayat - Deutschland; BAHIRA Beratungstelle; Munich Forum for Islam; and, Ufuq.de.
As a Muslim, a Director of the Al Qalam Institute of the Ateneo de Davao University, and Member of the Expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission, my academic and professional experiences taught me three main drivers of radicalization. These are: crisis on identity; lack of sense of belongingness; and lack of sense of purpose in life. These three drivers are also present in the context within Germany.
Crisis on identity affects the Muslims in Germany. The identity refers to the religion, nationality, and ethnicity of the person. From this identity, it defines their sense of belongingness and community. Failure to address these two concerns, violent extremists takes advantage of these gaps. The "sense of purpose in life" is a complex social and psychological concern. This is the reason why addressing violent extremism requires an holistic approach for intervention. The discussion pertaining to the youth was highlighted in our visit at the office of Ufuq.de. According to one of their team member, counter narrative in addressing violent extremism may sometimes be counter-productive. Our youth needs a better alternative narrative to address legitimate grievances, social injustice, and human rights concerns of the Muslims. In line with this, the program we have with the ForumZFD (a German NGO working for peace and dialogue in Mindanao) to conduct series of Bitiala (conversation) among the youth helps to document narratives and stories of the Bangsamoro youth today. The Bitiala is a "safe space" mechanism for ideas, opinions, and issues are raised without fear for being discriminated by anyone.
The cultural experience in Munich, Augsburg, and Penzberg was remarkable. It showed the beauty of the old civilization in Germany. The political system within Germany which is rooted on democracy, rule of law, and respect to human dignity, helps Muslims in this country practice and express their faith. There are many challenges Muslims are facing now. But as long as they engage their government, remain transparent in their community and religious activities, then Islam can prosper in their country.
Over all, the itinerary and program schedules were overwhelming. The hosting institution was GeotheInstitut provided a comprehensive and well-managed activities and competent translators and guides.
I do hope that this program could continue and invite more Filipino youth, activists, educators, and government officials in order to understand further the challenges that we are facing with regard to religious violent extremism. This is a global problem that requires a global collective approach of addressing the problem.