Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Preventing Violent Extremism in Germany

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By Duke Michael of Mecklenburg.

Having focussed on local resistance against military missions such as in Afghanistan, recent changes in domestic European affairs have caught my interest.

Sadly enough, in most communities around the globe, certain “arguments” are a way to disable a person politically and socially. The most common one in Germany is to call someone a Nazi, while most people have not seen the terrors of the Second World War first hand and are downplaying what the Fascist ideology during WWII entailed in its detail. The same counts for other extreme forms of ideologies from the right against the left and among beliefs from believer to atheist and vice versa. That which sticks out and is not liked by a group, which then aims to eliminate that voice from a debate.

While this is often the easiest and most effective way to “win” a debate. This kind of “argumentation” should be banned from all serious debates whatever the topic is because there is no progress in the debate. In order for solutions to come forth, a debate must be continuous and open to all sides of the table without deciding upfront what ideas sit there and which do not. In fact, there is no debate at all. Freedom of speech is cut off before all sides are fully heard and this cannot be a democratic understanding and debating culture.

Excluding one from the debate is an extreme means and will lead to counter-reactions of the same kind. Not letting someone speak his or her thoughts will even possibly lead to further integration into the ideology and belief of the person, where he or she is heard. We put up walls and disconnect from the other. In Germany, we had Fascism and an Anti-Fascist Protection Wall (Antifaschistischer Schutzwall), a wall that divided families, friends, and a people just because another side was not supposed to be heard. 

The result of both ideologies was the snowball effect, where both sides see the necessity to reach for more extreme means step by step. 

Similarly, the great powers of the post-WWII-period, the Soviet Union and the United States of America were so certain to exclude one another from regions and tables that the Cold War happened and lead to the fact that only nuclear deterrence and human morals could stop ideologies from escalation. Diplomacy was running hot 24/7 and the will to debate was the distinguishing factor among human morals that decided for a de-escalation.

However currently, we are running backwards, where all too familiar processes can be seen throughout the world again with the aid of media platforms. In the USA and Europe, a living debating culture has shaped our landscapes for centuries, which is why large fractions of the population are taking part in our democracies. Therefore, so many of us are aware of politics and see issues arising – through debate. Only a few times debate has debate stopped and war has started. It is our moral obligation to balance this vulnerable democracy which our ancestors have earned and built across the centuries.

Having looked at different forms of extremism, whether religious or political. In the end, a true democracy has to be able to cope with ideas that are not nice and do not include everyone. As long as no violence has been enforced on another person, we all have to accept that opinion. If we start to denounce certain opinions, where will we draw the line?

I argue that the self-jurisdiction of violence and its will to force something onto another one is the boundary between good and bad. For some believing in God is already too much. For some, it is too much if one does not. Who are we to judge others, but oneself? Humankind is beautiful in its diversity and it would be a shame if all were the same, if there is no difference between countries, regions, cities and villages and the life there and here. For that diversity to continue, we also need peripheral opinions and an independent judicial branch that will put justice above personal preferences and interests.

My ancestors have survived the Russian Revolution and WWI, statelessness, Nazi-Germany, concentration camp and WWII. Having heard about this side of the last hundred years, social cohesion, identity, belonging, ideologies, religion with all kinds of extremism always concern me. Of course, to all problems, we must find a solution: Society must reflect on itself, must not stay silent – disintegrate – and engage in a debate where everyone is heard on all levels and between them.

Hence, here is my contribution to the debate. The topic is a sadly very current one – Preventing Violent Extremism in Germany:

This is not just a German issue but one of our time, as we are again at a crossroad between moral values and egocentric interests and ideas. Facts and detail become less important than selling stories and giving opinions that are not researched and are subjective to such an extent that the piece tells what one group wants to hear. Due to information density, we are more occupied with its consumption and keeping up with the news than with critical thinking and taking time with understanding the issue at hand. We make an expensive trade-off for our future generations – education, listening, understanding one another and critical thinking for a fast and full life. The result is that dialogue is becoming increasingly biased.


About the author:

Thanks to SIPRI and the Director of the European Security Programme, Dr Ian Anthony for his support and supervision. I am so extremely excited and grateful to have finally published my first academic publication at SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) after studying at Leiden University in The Hague – the City of Peace and Justice – and having worked at some of Europe’s most important organisations within their fields.

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