By Özlem Gezer SPIEGEL.DE
Young Muslim men in Germany are systematically trying to recruit their peers for jihad using sophisticated rhetoric and psychology and by targeting vulnerable youths who are searching for direction in life. Two men who have quit the scene tell their story to SPIEGEL, providing a rare look into a dangerous underground.
He worked at his uncle’s falafel stand and read Immanuel Kant, and later Plato and Nietzsche. In the end, he became a radical Islamist, recruiting new talent for a Muslim holy war in the middle of the German city of Hamburg. Djamal was the hunter.
Djamal is sitting on a cushion in the dim light of a basement bar in Hamburg. He sucks on a plastic tube, causing the water to bubble in his hookah, a water pipe made of delicate glass decorated with gold paint. His head is shaved, he has the broad back of someone who lifts weights, and he keeps his beard neatly trimmed. He blows the smoke from the orange-mint tobacco into the air above his head and passes the tube to Bora, a quiet young man sitting next to him.
Bora, 23, grew up on the Reeperbahn, a street in Hamburg’s entertainment and red-light district. His parents are from Turkey. His mother sells Tupperware and his father has a store. For a long time, Bora didn’t know what to do with himself. He wanted to have fun, but he was always searching for something meaningful. Then he met radical Islamists. Bora was the prey.
The basement bar where they are now sitting was their common territory for about a year. It was a place where hunters could find their prey.
The bar used to be a hangout for radical leftists called “Hinkelstein.” First-year students would go there to listen to radical leaders, and it was a gateway of sorts on the path to the left-wing extremist milieu.
By the time Djamal had hit upon this basement bar as a place where he could do his work — namely separating his prey from German society — the leftists were long gone. The bar’s new clientele were also looking for answers, but in the Koran instead of in the writings of Marx and Lenin.
‘The Perfect Moment’
The dartboard was replaced with Arabic calligraphy. There are Persian rugs on the floor. The old “Hinkelstein” is now a hookah café, only a few meters away from the Hamburg State Library.
“It’s the perfect place to chill with friends,” says Bora.
“When they’re chilling, it’s the perfect moment to catch them,” says Djamal.
When asked how he did it, Djamal responds: “First you have to catch them. But then they’re like rechargeable batteries: Charge, discharge and recharge.”
Djamal and Bora left the scene 20 months ago. They often ran into each other in this basement bar, even though they never actually met. Although Djamal was a hunter, Bora was never his prey. But the stories the two men relate from that part of their lives, each from his own perspective, offer very precise insights into a world in which German law doesn’t apply. In this world, life on earth is a punishment, a test for the afterlife. Those who move around in it are yearning for the afterlife, not an apprenticeship in an engineering company. This world divides society into the Ummah, or Islamic religious community, and the Kuffar, or infidels. Its denizens don’t even use toothbrushes to brush their teeth, just tooth-cleaning twigs known as miswak.
Reading Kant and Nietzsche
Those who enter this world are continually charged until their batteries are full enough for holy war. The German soldiers of jihad are the most radical members of a youth movement that has German domestic intelligence experts worried.
Djamal arrived in this world three years ago, when he was 19. He was reading Kant and Nietzsche at the time, but he felt frustrated, because they hadn’t written anything that could guide him in a society in which he often felt confused. He had studied their works for months, writing down sentences that appealed to him, hoping that they would help him overcome a difficult time. His father had left his mother and he wasn’t doing well in school, but the philosophers’ clever words were useless.