De-radicalization of inmates by artist and imam

Under Pressure is a short, realistic, not-idealized documentary about de-radicalization of ISIS fighters returning from Syria. In the juvenile prison of Wiesbaden (Germany) there are over 300 inmates. The majority of them are Muslims, whose parents and/or grandparents migrated to Germany.

In a famous and controversial statement Angela Merkel, the German Bundeskanzlerin, declared in 2015 that Germany could deal with the influx of migrants: Wir schaffen das. We will make it. Her asylum policy has been critized severely ever since that time as ‘naive’ and ‘unrealistic’. Acts of terrorism against German citizens in Ansbach and Würtzburg, last summer, heated the debate in Germany and other European countries. Merkel is under pressure.

Debates about refugees and terroristic attacks are intertwined

The debates about ‘refugees’ and ‘terrorist attacks’ are intertwined and take place against a sombre background. Drawing parallels between immigrants, young people, delinquents and terrorists has become commonplace.
Social workers are confronted with this situation. Some of them are the aid workers, helping people to integrate in the German society. Others support people to get into the right kind of education or to find a job. And there are social workers basically trying to prevent alienation from society and radicalization of young people. Wir schaffen das is under pressure in all these practices.
Two documentary producers from Berlin, Tania Masi en Stefano Obini, have made a short documentary of 13.30 minutes. They follow two distinct social workers who go to the same workplace: the juvenile prison of Wiesbaden. Both of these workers are involved with the young delinquents. They are dedicated to these men and their future after their release from prison. The first of them is theatre maker Arne Dechow and the second imam Hussamuddin Meyer.

Wir schaffen das by means of theater?

Dechow is the director of the first and only theater company in Germany that works with the imprisoned. The company is called ‘Die Werft’, which means ‘shipyard’. About nine years ago he started to work with this prison population and he was shocked by the amount of suffering the inmates were carrying with them. Their biographies have a lot in common. A short period of education and a string of delinquencies (like vandalism) followed up by other more severe sorts of crime. Their capability of empathy is barely developed and they have a lot of problems with expressing emotions. According to the view of Dechow, practicing the art of theater could finally enable them to participate in a society that is hostile to them and that they hate. Anger and the opposite of anger belong to the wide scale of emotional colours that the skilled actor is able to perform. Dechow emphasizes that it is necessary for the young men to take a radical stand for inclusion in a hostile experienced society. The best way to do so is by demasking ISIS. ISIS recruiters take advantage of the shame and anger of not-belonging of these men. As privileged spectators we view some tough scenes. Dechow shares with us how theater can change the perspective of these young men on themselves and on the world. In order to demask ISIS misleading propaganda it is also necessary to gain proper knowledge of Islam.

Wir schaffen das by celebrating liturgy?

Imam Meyer mentions the split identities of the second and third generation of immigrants in Germany. They are born in Germany but integration is a huge problem because they are not attached to German society. Their assumed identity (by others and themselves) is ‘Islamic’ but most of them know only a little bit of the Koran, Islam and what it means to be a Muslim.
They cherish hatred against society and are vulnerable for ISIS propaganda and recruitment promise respect and status. Recruiters emphasize that hell will be the destiny of the young men because of their unforgivable sins. The only way to forgiveness is by committing to terrorism. A gruesome vision that Meyer criticizes as absolutely the opposite of what Islam involves. He stresses the importance of repeating the celebration of the liturgy. The lesson of the Koran, says Meyer, is: do everything with compassion and thankfulness. That will bring peace and rest in your lives. We, the spectators, see them gathered; celebrating the liturgy and praying for peace and hope.

Rethinking guilt and forgiveness

Meyer explains: a great deal of my work exists in clarifying what forgiveness is about. He aims at demasking and undermining ISIS imaginations of guilt and forgiveness and at rethinking it in a proper context. Those who are seeking wholeheartedly for forgiveness will find it. Islam means peace and people find peace by ‘Hingabe’; dedication. Salam Eleikum, peace be with you, is the largest duty for Muslims to practice, he emphasizes. Terrorism is the opposite of that in all aspects.
The theater maker and the imam both embody and address their being concerned with these young men in their daily practices. They work on and hope for a de-radicalized future for these men in a de-radicalized societal context.

The documentary is in German; Dutch subtitles are available.

About the author: Jeannet van de Kamp

Jeannet van de Kamp

Jeannet van de Kamp (1957) has master’s degrees in both Theology and Ethics of Care and is currently a PhD-candidate at the VU-University of Amsterdam. In her thesis she examines, from a care-ethical perspective, how citizen-patients are seen in the context of the upcoming experience economy. More specifically, she examines how ‘patient-experience-central’ market models deal with the concepts of vulnerability and suffering. She works as a freelance pastor and as a consultant at the Dutch Center for Consultation and Expertise (CCE), where she advises in complex care practices.