Selected Examples

  • “Kurzinformation Religion: Salafismus”, in: Religionswissenschaftlicher Medien- und Informationsdienst e.V. (REMID), März 20, 2017.
  • Special Correspondence: De-Radicalising Militant Salafists, in: Perspectives on Terrorism (ed.), Vol. 11, No 1 (02/2017).

March 2019

The Question of Repatriation: One German View

Many of the foreign fighters who joined the Islamic State (IS) were captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and imprisoned close to the Iraqi border. The Kurdish forces appeal to European countries to take back their citizens who were engaged as foreign fighters, supported by US President Donald Trump, who mentioned that there would be no second Guantanamo led by the US-Army in Iraq or Syria. Looking at Guantanamo Bay and its special outcome and challenges that have to be faced by the US government today and whose future-risks are incalculable for the American Civil Society, Trump´s call for a European responsibility with regard to their own citizens is absolutely correct.

Until now, this process is slowly proceeding within Europe and the prospect of potential threats that might come along with returning foreign fighters, also dominates the current debate in Germany. It is widely discussed whether the returning foreign fighters have themselves been involved in terror or have simply been followers of the IS ideology and how they will react towards the German society after their return. Many people fear attacks from this group within Germany, because they assume that the disavowal of the jihadist fascination might not be complemented yet.

Beside the security issues, the following text attempts to visualize other facets of the phenomenon that might be important to consider within the debate.

The case of Leonora and Martin Lemke

A famous example of Germans who joined the ‘caliphate’ is that of Martin Lemke and one of his wives, Leonora.

Lemke, a 28-year-old man from Saxony-Anhalt is accused of joining the IS in 2014 and being part of its intelligence service where he may have been involved in the abrogation and torture of prisoners as well as beheadings under his kunya name, Abu Yasir al-Almani. Refusing this accusation, Lemke himself pretends to have been responsible only for the technical support and encryption of the websites within the IS-intelligence service.

At the beginning of 2019, the SDF captured him and his wives near the Iraqi border where he now stays.

The federal prosecutor leads preliminary proceedings towards Lemke because of the suspicion that he might have been a member of a terrorist organisation of a foreign country.

According to an interview with a German TV-station, Lemke wants to return to Germany. He pretends to regret his decision to join the ‘caliphate’ and offers his insider-expertise as a support for the German security authorities in terms of working towards de-radicalisation. From his point of view, former foreign fighters could be very helpful to the government in this area.

One of his wives, Leonora, now 19 years old, joined IS when she was 15. She said that the reality in Syria was different from what she had imagined. She simply wanted to wear a niqab, live in a ‘pure’ Islamic environment and receive the permission to marry and have children. The terror against others was not her intention for joining the ‘caliphate’ and she had never supported it personally. Leonora also wanted to return back to Germany together with her children.

The withdrawal of German citizenship

Due to the information of the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, nearly 1050 persons from Germany travelled abroad to join IS. Around one third of them have already returned to Germany, while about 270 women and their children remained in Iraq and Syria.

Currently more than 70 German adults, who have been captured by the Kurdish forces, are imprisoned in Iraq and Syria and are looking to return to Germany.

The debate about the handling of German returnees that might have been involved in acts of war led to a common approach  from the German Federal Minister for the Interior, Horst Seehofer, and the German Federal Minister of Justice, Katarina Barley, with regard to expatriation of German foreign fighters. This rule of law shall meet the following three requirements: The foreign fighter must:

· (1) possess two nationalities,

· (2) be of adult age and

· (3) join a terrorist organisation in the future, due to the non-retroactivity.

This idea is controversial because of moral and legal issues within society and political parties.

According to article 28 (1) GG (Grundgesetz ~ basic law), Germany is a republic, democratic, as well as a social state: the ‘constitutional state.’ A constitutional state protects the rights of every single individual and assures its citizens that the governmental exercise of power follows the basic law. This means that everybody can make use of judicial protection, even towards the state itself, because the constitutional state is oriented at the idea of justice and scheduled procedural practice. The fundamental rights must be guaranteed for every citizen and governmental decisions shall be audited by independent courts. That might include the Lemke´s case as well.

Astrid Wallrabenstein, professor for public law at the Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe University in Frankfurt/Main, reminds within this debate the fact that terrorists, who have to be sentenced by criminal court, still remain human beings. There has to be an equal treatment of any criminal, regardless of the delinquency.

Germany´s specific responsibility towards the citizenship

A view to Germany´s history might therefore sharpen the eyesight of the specific German obligation to act honestly within the debate of ‘repatriation of foreign fighters’. During the Nazi-Regime, Jews and political dissidents, such as Albert Einstein, Willy Brandt, Hannah Arendt, Kurt Tucholsky and the Thomas and Heinrich Mann brothers were expatriated because it was said that they were not ‘real’ Germans.

There is no doubt that these persons were victims, while it is assumed that (at least) some German foreign fighters could be seen as perpetrators. That is an important difference in the comparison of the possibility of withdrawing citizenship within past and present Germany with its new challenges relating to German returnees who joined the ‘Islamic State’.

As a consequence of the Nazi-Regime, the expatriation was forbidden by Art. 16 Abs. 1, S. 1 GG. However, the loss of the German citizenship is still possible under certain circumstances.

Furthermore, a discussion started about ‘displaced persons’ as a result of World War I and II. In 1958, the US Supreme Court called expatriation the “total destruction of the status of an individual in an organized society and a “form of punishment that is more primitive than torture”. From an international law perspective it was quite clear, that expatriation was no longer an option for a democratic state.


According to article 16 (1) GG, the withdrawal of the German Citizenship is prohibited, although article 16 (2) GG contains an exception: If there is a contravention towards the German constitution, e.g. joining a terrorist organization, a withdrawal can be realized if the affected person owns two citizenships at the same time. It is forbidden to declare a person stateless if that person owns just one nationality. Furthermore, this law cannot be applied to persons who already joined the ‘caliphate’ in the past due to the legal provision of the prohibition of retroactivity.

In addition, § 28 nationality law (StAG) prohibits the participation of a German citizen in a foreign army where he is also a citizen. This legal provision is not transferable or applicable to German foreign fighters of the ‘caliphate’, because the Islamic State is not defined as a ‘real’ state.

Beyond that, it is prohibited to subordinate German citizens under a foreign jurisdiction that would practice death penalty as a punishment, which is practiced in several districts in Iraq where German foreign fighters are imprisoned.

The new racism?

According to Amarnath Amarasingam and Leah West, cutting off ties with their former citizens is the ‘easiest’ way to get rid of a ‘problem’ for several European countries. From their point of view the debate surrounding the return of foreign fighters contains a racist element, because it “would only affect second generation immigrants. White converts to Islam who joined ISIS, for instance, would get to keep their citizenship and be treated like any other criminal. Children of immigrants, even if they were born in the UK and have never visited their home countries, would be treated differently.”

If this assumption is true, we should ask ourselves whether Europe could have been jointly responsible for the increasing interest in religious-related terrorism because of its treatment of second generation immigrants?

In addition, within the debate the word ‚redemption‘ is used towards human beings, which is usually limited to describing goods with an expiry date. This political rhetoric demonstrates that the discussion about the withdrawal of citizenship shows links to dehumanization.

One could wonder whether this ‘strategy’ within the debate might help the so-called ‚decision-makers‘, as well as the public, to develop fewer scruples regarding a notion of ‚hard edge‘-politics towards the foreign fighters that shows no mercy.

Furthermore, we should ask ourselves: if we would be so strict in terms of both left or right-wing-extremists or other forms of extremism within Germany? Would we take care of the withdrawal of their citizenships as well?

The moral dimension

Beside the security-related and legal dimensions, there is another dimension that should also be taken into account within the debate: the moral dimension.

According to Hanif Qadir, the founder of the Active Change Foundation, girls like Shamima Begum have not been radicalised in Iraq or Syria, but in a European country. From his point of view, her statements with regard to the acceptance of IS have to be seen in the context of her environment: being located close to IS territory and potential sympathizers, it would be dangerous for her to turn against IS in public.

But what would have happened to the foreign fighters if there had been no defeat of IS? Would the individuals that now want to return to their countries of origin then also have left the ‘caliphate’ behind and averted of its ideology? Or is the repentance of their departure of the ‚caliphate‘ solely a result of the decline of IS and their own dreadful situation?

We may never know. But what we do know is that there exists a differentiation between the meaning of ‚rehabilitation‘ in tyrannies and in democracies. If we don´t underline this difference with government action, how could we expect others to rely on a constitutional state?

Moreover, it is questionable where the dividing line between a tyranny state and a democracy is if we don´t give criminals the perspective of serving their debt and reintegration within a constitutional state.

Qadir underlines a fact that is ignored widely in the current debate, but might be worth a second look: can a foreign fighter themselves be a victim? Or can they only be seen as perpetrators?

If we deport our own citizens, who did something wrong, would they still have emotional bonds towards their country of origin or would this approach facilitate their radical departure from their countries of origin, including potential terrorist attacks towards it?

Regardless of the fact of how different the positions within this debate are, we should be aware that the parents of the foreign fighters have to suffer in this discussion as well, because these struggles towards the returnees are regarding the lives of their own children. Maybe we could keep this fact in mind when the debate flares up again and try to focus on the facts in order to show our compassion for the parents who are indeed still our fellow citizens.

(European) Value mapping for a long-term solution

A civilised mutual togetherness with regard to the question of handling the return of foreign fighters would require a value mapping within Germany. Premise for this ‘common ground’ could be an interdisciplinary approach by different stakeholders such as cities, social and religious communities, courts, and security authorities to compromise in a viable and long-term solution on how to handle the approaching side effects of reintegrating and repatriating these German citizens. This policy could give Germany an extended handling security towards virulently macrosocial, safety-related and legal challenges that will arise in this process.

Furthermore, this approach could also be an answer to the increasing call for safety that is ascertainable within various European countries. In reality, it is a call for perceived safety because no one knows whether their fears about potential terrorist attacks by returning foreign fighters will take place in reality: the fear of the uncertainty is the real fear.

To bring the current discussion about potential threats, risks and challenges back to reality means to carry out a benefit-risk assessment in this context without professional limitation to securities trade, consultancy or intelligence services, but based on valid estimates, data (insofar currently available), methods and relevancy instead of scaremongering and politics.

This approach could be a guideline for the fellow European countries associated with this precise questioning.

Individual understanding of liability and morality can differ, but the legal position of a democracy is binding. Therefore, maximum demands from political populists seem to lead the debate away from (legal) reality. A search for a useful and viable approach to this current challenge, depending on existing legal possibilities, seems to be the most appropriate solution, at least for Germany.

The rule of law as well as the claim to be a civilized society should be an obligation for all Germans to take care of their (fellow) citizens finding themselves in emergencies, even if they have temporarily chosen the wrong decision, and to offer them a chance to rehabilitate themselves.

 About the author:

Dr. Nina Käsehage is a research assistant at the University of Rostock. She graduated with a field-study on current German Salafism and is currently working on returnees. Her main areas of interests are religious (re-)orientation and radicalisation, qualitative social research, Salafism, Jihadism, Takfirism, (Female) Foreign Fighters, Returnees and the prevention of terrorism-related radicalisation.

December 2018

Weimar Republic 2.0? – A plea for a more differentiated handling of terms in the age of ‚post-factually’

The current social climate exhibits several parallels to the Weimar Republic[1]: A broken party landscape that seems to be suggestive for many civilians that politicians mainly care for their own power and interests instead of the civilian ones and an increasing strength of nationalistic aspirations whose proponents demand a ‚hard edge‘-politics towards the ones who seem to be ‚foreign‘ to them and therefore are perceived as a potential ‘threat’ in terms of their own identity.[2]

From a religious studies scientist perspective, the most obvious point of comparison to those times is the ‘reactivated’ distinction between religious affiliation and nationality that is postulated again in many places. The argument, an individual could only possess ‘one’ of it, the religious belonging or the citizenship if this individual wants to be German, already became visible in the days of the Weimar Republic.[3]

We should be aware of this development when we have a look at the current situation in Germany in terms of our fellow Muslim.

The same argument is used in these so called ‘reinvigorated conservative’ ranks in the right-wing populist area (‘Neo-conservatives’, in German called: ‘Neo-Konservatismus’). This time it is not used in terms of the Judaism but towards the Islam. Due to the ‘unanimous’ opinion there is only one choice: To be a Muslim or a German.[4]

The representatives of this argument of the so called ‚incompatibility‘ of individual religious affiliation and a specific citizenship have been and still are not – as assumed – experts in terms of those religions that they judge to be not ‘German’. Conversely, they mostly don´t have any professional qualifications concerning the obtained religious disciplines.[5] On the contrary the volume of those speakers seems to be reciprocal to their content-related qualifications, but this fact does not interrupt the ‘successes’ of their theses.[6]

Surprisingly, this nationalistic ‚condition‘ is never demanded in terms of the religious status of a Christ, notwithstanding the above how ‘radical’ their religious interpretation or belief may be.[7] With regard to the Christianity seems to exist a (religious-related) exception. Furthermore the representatives of this argumentation refer to the Judaeo-Christian tradition, that is considered as the fundament of the so called occident (Western World ~ German: Abendland) and the civilization. Ironically this heritage is highlighted in this discriminating context that meant nothing at all during the Weimar Republic with regard to the Jews.

It might be wise to wonder in public, if these ‘fighters for the occident’ would have fought for their fellow Jews during the Weimar Republic as well or if this might have been their worst enemies under the cloak of patriotism?

History repeats itself very often and because of this the so called ‘new conservatism’ makes their examples ‘appropriate’ to their argumentation. An approximation of opinions in this field spreads to scientific terms and their careless and unilateral use, that is misleading and supports (unconscious) the strategy of generalization of the so called ‘New Right-Wing’ movement (German: ‘Neue Rechte’).

An example for the careless reuse of scientific terms is the term ‘Islamism’.[8] This term is mainly used in the public debate with its ideological meaning by many different actors and groups in Germany.

In principle, the Suffix ‘ismus’ can be used to illustrate four different dimensions like the Abstraktum, a belief system, an intellectual current in History, Art and Science as well as for an Ideology.[9] The selective use of the subject areas of the term ‚Islamism‘ constitutes therefore not a differentiated handling of this specific term.[10] In addition, Mohagheghi considers the use of the term ‚Islamism‘ to be suitable for a negative influence of the public perception of Islam and its believer.[11]

What are the reasons for this misuse of a scientific term?

The possibly answers are diverse and can extend from explicit rejection of a specific religion, a negligence towards a term and the consequences resulting of this unilateral use for the ones who were labelled by this term in a certain way to an aimed strategy of exclusion of a whole group – in the sense of group-focused misanthropy.[12]

The following incident illustrates the gradual uncertainty that the misleading and unilateral use of the term ‘Islamism’ can involve as a result of insufficient differentiation[13]:

One day I got a call from a chairman of an Islamic association X who was very indignant.

Recently he wanted to open an account with a big German bank in terms of the association to deposit the donations of the association-members in order to make the administration of the donations more visible for all of the members.

Initially, everything seems to be ok, until he mentioned the little word ‘Islamic’ in the field: account holder. After reading this word, the bank employee became more and more reserved, but the chairman didn´t reflect too much about it, because everybody can have a bad day.

A few days later the chairman received a very unsettling call. An employee of the State Security informed him very friendly that he could open the account at the bank where the chairman has been some days before. This would be no problem.

The chairman of the Islamic association X was shocked. Since decades he paid his tax on time, didn´t receive any parking tickets and owns the German citizenship since years. What could be the reason for a call from such an official ‘authority’?

After asking him, the friendly employee of the State Security explained the reason for his call in detail: Alarmed by the term ‘Islamic’ in the subject line for the account holder, the bank employee immediately called the State Security to ask, if the religious association might be observed. He wanted to play it safe, if he would open an account for an ‘Islamistic’ association that might possibly be led by and supportive for terrorists (another scientific term that is also used quiet inflationary and not in a reflected way).

Terms can create truthfulness.

Therefore we need to use them carefully and we always need to have a look about their possibly ambiguity, their frame of reference and about the transmitter and the recipient of a specific term. Only if we inform ourselves properly about the individual intentions of transmitter and recipient firstly, we are able to classify or to reclassify their specific intentions.

Interestingly, the example of the Islamic association X illustrates clearly that very often the circle of recipients is put on the test bunch, but only occasionally the transmitter of a specific term and its intentions are audited. Here in particular, a scrutiny should be recommended in terms of the transmitter in order to see his real intensions.

Does the transmitter act due to individual or professional intentions, e.g. the imperative consolidation of its own power of interpretation in terms of the use of a specific term or phenomenon? Does he in fact care for a common good? And furthermore: Is the transmitter interested in a general scientific discourse?

If the transmitter really would be interested in a heterogeneous scientific discourse that includes the existence of more than one definition of a term, he probably wouldn´t persist on having ‘the only true interpretation’ of a (scientific) term.

Inversely, would the dominant use of only one ‘valid’ meaning of a scientific term correspond to the democratic claim of plurality, freedom of opinion and freedom of speech?

If we want to use terms in a responsible way that could mean that we should use them in a scientific manner in order to ensure a reasonable and plural intercourse with it.

Because of this we should reconsider terms and examine, if some terms are still appropriate or might lead to discrimination.

In the case of the term ‚Islamism‘ the usage of the term ‚radical Islam‘ would be more consistent, because this term wouldn´t demonise a whole religion, but only consider its radical manifestations in detail.[14] The term ‘radical Islam’ is not perfect by oneself, but it is an attempt to come closer to a more precise and less discriminatory definition.

Another challenge is the fact that there exist those radical interpretations of Islam in reality and because of this a scientific discourse about those phenomena is needed. But at the same time it is getting harder and harder to enumerate these radical interpretations in public without only being supported by representatives of the right-wing populist or Islamophobic milieu who are trying to misuse some critical points of specific Islamic groups to condemn the whole religion Islam and place its believers under general suspicion.

Due to this situation it seems to be a balancing act for a scientist to deal out criticism in terms of some religion like the Islam while it seems to be more ‘easy’ to do it in terms of other religions that aren´t politicized in the same way.

This ‘fact’ shouldn´t stop the scientists to demand a differentiated use of (scientific) terms, esp. with regard to Islam.

In the sense of the freedom of opinion and the diversity of opinion, we should rise towards unilateral usage of terms and make them binding for every serious analysis in public.

The strategy of marginalization that is intended by those who utilize only one usage of a term in order to exclude others and to dominate the discourse, should be clearly rejected, independently who is using it.

December 19th, 2018[15]

Nina Käsehage



Citations: Nina Käsehage, Art.: Weimar Republic 2.0? – A plea for a more differentiated handling of terms in the age of ‚post-factually’, in: [], 19.12.2018.

[1] This approach can only be roughly outlined in this framework.

[2] Quote: „Tillschneider [delegate of the state parliament for the right-wing populist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)] is a habilitated Islam scientist. He´d rather defines himself as an Orientalist because, like he said in Hannover: „The Orientalist is an expert for the foreigner that requires that the foreigner stays what it is: foreign.“, in: [], 24.05.2018.

[3] Shooman points out similarities and opposites between historic and current Antisemitism and Islamophobia. Cf. Yasemin Shooman, Art.: Islamfeindlichkeit und Antisemitismus, Diskursive Analogien und Unterschiede, in: Jüdisches Museum Berlin (JMB) Journal 2012, Nr. 7, pp. 18f.

[4] Cf.: [ 02.10.2017.

[5] Cf.: [], 02.10.2017.

[6] Quote: „These authors distinguish not between religion and its political misuse. In doing so they have success. With their so called Islam critique they won a business area and belong to the mostly cited ‘Islam-expert’ of Germany, although they don´t deal with Islam theologically, but sweepingly condemn it.”, in: [], 01.11.2017.; cf.: [], 01.11.2017.

[7] Cf.: [ 02.10.2017.; Cf. Thorsten Gerald Schneiders, Thorsten Gerald Schneiders , Art.: Islamkritik – Deckmantel für feindliche Bestrebungen und notwendiges Korrektiv, Tagungsband Muslimfeindlichkeit – Phänomen und Gegenstrategien, Beiträge der Fachtagung der Deutschen Islam Konferenz am 4. und 5. Dezember 2012 in Berlin, p. 111.

[8] The different possibilities of definitions for this term are explained in-depth in: Nina Käsehage, Die gegenwärtige salafistische Szene in Deutschland – Prediger und Anhänger, Diss., 2. Aufl., Berlin 2018, pp. 60-63.

[9] Cf. Anne Wildfang, Terrorismus, Definitionen, Struktur, Dynamik, Diss., Berlin 2009, pp. 20f.

[10] Cf. Bettina Birk, Konnotation im Deutschen, Eine Untersuchung aus morphologischer, lexikologischer und lexikographischer Perspektive, Dissertation, München 2012, p. 220.

[11] Cf. Hamideh Mohagheghi, Frauen für den Dschihad, Das Manifest der IS-Kämpferinnen, Freiburg im Breisgau 2015, p. 8.

[12] Cf.: [ 02.10.2017.

[13] Quote: „That Islam shall be no religion, but an ideology and because of this Muslim cannot invoke on religious freedom. Some people would agree with this sentence. No wonder: The Germans haven´t heart it differently in the last years.“, in: [], 01.11.2017.

[14] Quotes: Nina Käsehage, Die gegenwärtige salafistische Szene in Deutschland – Prediger und Anhänger, p. 63.

[15] Originally this article was provided for the homepage of the association ‘Gegen Vergessen-Für Demokratie’. With reference to the aims of its cooperative partner the ‘Präventionsnetzwerk’ it was refused to be publish due to reputed different approaches. This is in so far surprising, because most of the Islamic partner organisation that are part of the ‘Präventionsnetzwerk’ lamented exactly the necessity of a differentiated use of the term ‘Islamism’ (due to my empiric evaluation in and my contacts with these Islamic associations). In contrast, the association ‚Gersthofen ist bunt‘ is still interested in publishing it on their homepage.