Tagging Islamists and protecting Western values [p. 13]

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January 4, 2006 07:06
3 minute read.

 
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The interior ministers of two German states have recently advanced important measures for containing radical Islam. They bear close attention across the West. In Baden-Wurtenberg, Heribert Rech (of the ruling Christian Democratic Union party) has overseen the administering of a 30-topic loyalty test for applicants to become naturalized citizens. Following an intensive and sophisticated study by the Baden-Wurtenberg government of Muslim life, it developed a manual for the naturalization authorities explaining that applicants for citizenship must concur with the "free, democratic, constitutional structure" of Germany. Because survey research finds that 21 percent of Muslims living in Germany believe the German constitution irreconcilable with the Koran, the written yes-no questions of yesteryear are history for Muslim applicants for citizenship. As of January 1, 2006, immigration officers who suspect Islamist leanings are instructed to probe further. Personal interviews will now last an hour or two and will be given to an estimated half of naturalization applicants. The questions amount to a summary of Western values. What do you think of democracy, political parties, religious freedom? What would you do if you learned about a terrorist operation under way? Views of 9/11 are a "key issue," says Dieter Biller, director of the alien registration office in Stuttgart: Were Jews responsible for it? Were the 19 hijackers terrorists or freedom fighters? Finally, nearly two-thirds of the questions concern gender issues such as women's rights, husbands beating wives, "honor killings," female attire, arranged marriages, polygyny, and homosexuality. Responding to critics, the interior ministry denies discrimination against Muslims, insisting on the need to find out whether the applicants' expressed views on the German constitution correspond to their real views. Applicants who pass the test and are granted citizenship could later lose that citizenship if they act inconsistently with their "correct" answers. Adding extra requirements of Muslim applicants for citizenship is not unique to Germany; in Ireland, for example, male candidates are made to swear that they will not marry more than one wife. THE SECOND initiative originates in Lower Saxony, where the interior minister, Uwe Sch nemann (also a CDU member), has stated he would consider making radical Islamists wear electronic foot tags. Doing so, he says, would allow the authorities "to monitor the approximately 3,000 violenceprone Islamists in Germany, the hate preachers [i.e., Islamist imams], and the fighters trained in foreign terrorist camps." Electronic tags, he suggested, are practical "for violence-prone Islamists who can't be expelled to their home countries because of the threat of torture" there. The electronic tagging of terror suspects is also not unprecedented. In the United Kingdom the method has been used since March 2005 and, other than a glitch-plagued start, it has been applied to 10 suspects with reasuccess. In Australia counterterro r i s m measures implemented last month permit tagging for up to a year. But Sch nemann's proposal goes well beyond these applications, tagging not just potential terrorists but also "hate preachers" who break the law, not by personally engaging in violence but by articulating beliefs that encourage others to engage in terrorism. Tagging them breaks new conceptual ground by aggressively going to the ideological source of violence. It has potentially large implications. If hate preachers are tagged, why not the many other non-violent Islamists who also help create an environment promoting terrorism? Their ranks would include activists, artists, computer gamers, couriers, funders, intellectuals, journalists, lawyers, lobbyists, organizers, researchers, shopkeepers, and teachers. In short, Sch nemann's initiative could lead ultimately to the electronic tagging of all Islamists. But electronic tags reveal only a person's geographic location, not his words or actions, which matter more when dealing with imams and other non-violent cadres. With due allowances for personal privacy, their speech could be recorded, their actions videoed, their mail and electronic communications monitored. Such controls could be done discreetly or overtly. If overt, the tagging would serve as a modern scarlet letter, shaming the wearer and alerting potential dupes. The Sch nemann proposal points to the urgent need to develop a working definition of Islamism and Islamists, plus the imperative for the authorities to explain how even non-violent Islamists are the enemy. Rech and Sch nemann have presented two bold tactics for the defense of the West, premised in each case on an understanding that culture and ideas are the real battleground. I salute their creativity and courage. Who will next adapt and adopt these initiatives? The writer, based in Philadelphia, is director of the Middle East Forum.

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