On the difference between Analysis and Facts

March 13, 2013 - Germany's growing Salafi scene is all the rage right now in the media here. Two events came together today: First, police apparently foiled a possible plot to kill an activist of an islamophobic party in Western Germany; the arrests apparently took place last night. Second, police raided a number of places this morning to collect evidence after the ministry of the interior banned a number of Salafi organizations.

The problem that I see in a lot of the media reporting at the moment is that facts are being mixed with analysis - and domestic affairs with international ones. I believe it is important to make differentiations not necessarily wherever possible - but, please, at least wherever they are necessary!

Here is an example: A number of media in Germany have reported recently (and today, again) that Syria was a hot spot right now and that radical Islamists from Europe, including Germany, have travelled there. They also reported that German fighters had been located in Mali and Libya.

I am very sceptical of this. I KNOW of course that Syria is a hot spot, and I KNOW of several European Jihadists there right now. But I do NOT KNOW a single confirmed case of a German fighter there at this moment with a Jihadist group. Does that mean it is not happening? No. Quite the opposite. As any good analyst would say, and I agree, it is rather likely that there are Germans fighting alongside Jihadists in Syria right now. But if I don't KNOW for sure, I shouldn't make people believe I do. I think the reporters here are mixing analysis ("very likely", "to be expected", etc.) with fact (Abd al-XYZ from ABC is now confirmed in DEF). ((And I say that as a journalist who speaks to sources in the security institutions quite regularly, so I believe I would pick that sort of information up at some point, like, let us say, not months after my colleagues elsewhere would.))

Now the second issue at stake here is the sometimes missing distinction between militant Salafism or even Jihadism on the one side - and terrorism on the other. Of course the two CAN be the same and in fact in many cases are. But, alas, not in ALL CASES. It is conceivable, and we know examples of that from Afghanistan in the 80s to the Balkans in the 90s, that Islamists feel they need to spend time fighting the invaders/crusaders/oppressors -- but come back to where they live in Western Europe and feel NO urge to start plotting terror attacks here to kill Kuffar.

What does that means? It means that Salafists going to Syria to fight can be very different from Salafis trying to kill somebody in Germany. They shouldn't be treated as the same phenomenon. Of course they may have a lot in common. But there may be important aspects that distinguish them from one another. For example as regards the question of who they accept as an authority.

So what we are really talking about may be as many as 4 different phenomena:

1.- Jihadists associated with terrorist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, who, upon their return to Germany, would need to be considered a real threat.

2.- Islamists who have joined Islamist/Jihadist groups in Syria because they feel they ought to be part of that struggle, but who may come back and not be a threat to the public here.

3.- Salafis in Germany with no foreign experience or allegiance who are radicalized over grievances here and react to them in a sometimes violent way and may well be a threat to the public or to individuals.

4.- Salafis who are maybe radical but not militant - and who may be members of or acitivts in just the organizations banned here today. Are they a threat? Rather not.

Again: I am not trying to talk the problems down here; I just believe we can not confront any threat if we are not diligent. And some reporters are not diligent.

Sorry for the rant.

Cheers, Y.

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