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Fighting Jihad with Comics: Germany Battles Terror in the Classrooms

By Yassin Musharbash

The Interior Ministry of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia is taking a new tack in the fight against homegrown terrorism. It's using a comic book -- complete with colorful images and "youthful" language -- to battle nasty jihadism.

Creativity is often found in the most unlikely places. Take, for example, a couple of German state domestic intelligence offices charged with tasks such as tracking far-right extremism and terrorist cells. In Baden-Württemberg, they recently constructed a mock Pakistani terror camp for a touring exhibition about Islamism. And their colleagues in North Rhine-Westphalia are no slouches either: They've commissioned a comic book, in which kids talk about Islam, the ideology of Islamism and terrorism. Its hero is a young German named Andi.

When the authorities try to sound hip it's hard not to feel a bit embarrassed. Take the case of Ingo Wolf, the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, who appears as a character on the second page of the comic book, saying: "Already in Andi's first adventure, extremists try to seduce kids like you with their propaganda." But to be fair, the story is not half-bad, and it's pretty well put together.

Andi has all the accoutrements needed to mark him as your run-o-the-mill hipster kid -- baseball cap, hoodie and messy hair -- and he has a Turkish girlfriend, Ayshe. Her brother -- and Andi's buddy -- Murat, is going through a bit of a crisis because he can't find a position as an apprentice, and he blames his rejection letters on xenophobia. That makes Murat the perfect prey for the strange new kid on the playground, Harun, with his serious demeanor and steadfast belief in what he's been fed from Islamists. Harun, in turn, beats it into Murat's head that he will be discriminated against because of his religion.

My New Homie, the Jihadist

Huran takes Murat under his wing, and it's not long before he makes some progress by convincing him that he shouldn't have any infidel friends because Islam forbids it. Basketball is taboo, too. And he also needs to make sure that his sister doesn't go to the movies with Andi.

After a while, Harun even takes Murat to meet his favorite sheik, whose sermons are filled with hatred. His preaching goes along these lines: "God has ordered the Muslim to neither associate with nor befriend the infidel!" Huran also shows Murat radical Web sites showing videos of attacks on coalition forces in Iraq. "But a lot of Muslims get killed in those attacks, too," Murat ventures to comment. "They are all hypocrites and liars!" comes the response of the Jihadist sheik. And even if a Muslim were among the dead, he would have died a martyr. What more could a man want?

Of course, after 38 pages, there is the inevitable happy ending: Murat transforms himself from a potential public enemy number one back into a cheerful chap. And, joy upon joy, an apprenticeship position appears out of nowhere, just to hammer home the moral of the story.

Realism and Reality

It's hard to say whether school kids are going to laugh themselves silly while reading this stuff or if their slippery attention can be held. There will be 170,000 copies of Andi's first adventure and Hamburg is also planning to use them. The second issue in the Andi series is set to hit schools soon.

One thing is for sure: the officials have given it a good shot. The story is a bit too short and sweet but, at the same time, it's half-way believable because you can see that a lot of the details are a fairly faithful reflection of reality.

That said, the character of the headscarf–wearing Ayshe is a bit exaggerated and too good to believe: She's friendly, smart, versed in the Koran, pious ... and on top of that she's a rock-solid believer in the tenets of liberal democracy.

Every couple of pages there is an explanatory sidebar on themes like "The Separation of Church and State" and "The Image of the West as Enemy." And while the content is fairly sensible, the lanuguage is clunky and awkward.

The same holds true for the afterward entitled "Everything You Ever Wanted to Learn about Islamism," with preachy sentences like: "Any attempt to replace Germany's constitutional order with an order based on religious rule is unconstitutional." You can already hear the spit-balls whizzing through the air in the classrooms.

It would be interesting, though, to see what would happen if this book were handed out in, say, the 10th grade of a high school with a high proportion of students from immigrant families. It would most likely spark a lively debate -- though probably less about jihadism à la Harun than about Muslims living in Germany, their religion and their authority figures. After all, these issues also play a big role in the comic book.

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