‘What are you posting?’ Online civic education with young Muslims

‘What are you posting? Civic education with young Muslims online’ is a pilot project sponsored by the Robert Bosch Foundation. As part of this project, we take advantage of the experiences gained in the team workshops and transfer them to social networks. In this project, we develop content and civic education strategies in Web 2.0 and draw on the current issues that young Muslim-socialized individuals grapple with in their everyday lives. This project promotes and initiates reflection processes and indicates possibilities for participating in and shaping society. The project thus does its part in preempting radicalization processes, which are largely characterized by alienation and experiences of powerlessness.

Bildschirmfoto 2015-07-03 um 10.52.13Online Outreach Work

Our project seeks to counteract polarizing – and often anti-democratic – attitudes espoused by Muslim youths in online discussions. We do so by introducing alternative points of view and interpretive patterns. Our online outreach work, conducted by Muslim teamers who have been trained both in terms of the methods they use and the content they disseminate, promotes the competence of targeted youths to judge and act.

An example: The murder of Marwa El-Sherbini in July 2009 in a Dresden court was a far-reaching event for many young Muslims in Germany. It took several days before national TV broadcasters and print media began to cover this murder case extensively. Young Muslims, on the other hand, discussed it hotly within hours after it happened and also debated what this event entailed in terms of potential consequences for the day-to-day life of Muslims in Germany. The perceptions that racism is not on the public radar in Germany reinforces the sense among many youths that society is becoming increasingly Islamophobic. This in turn prompts some of them to withdraw into their Muslim identity. Salafist preachers are known to instrumentalize such experiences to recruit youths for their way of thinking.

Social networks as a field for opinion formation and communication

This dynamic illustrates the growing importance of online media as a field for civic education. Indeed, online media can hook into the Lebenswelten of young Muslims by directly addressing current topics and conflicts. This makes it all the more important to point out alternatives interpretations which enable youths to constructively deal with problematic experiences. The emergence of a ‘victim ideology’ is thus counteracted.

Against this background, the pilot project draws on the importance of social networks, web forums and content-sharing platforms relevant for opinion formation and transfers this experience to civic education with young Muslims. The pedagogical work is conducted by young Muslim teams using a peer education approach. Via personal project profiles, especially on Facebook, young Muslim teams get involved as discussion partners for young Muslims/migrants in these forums. Here they have an opportunity to voice thought-provoking impulses and offer information or even refer young people to places where they can find help with what troubles them.

Teamers as interlocutors

Online interventions by project teamers stress the normality of being Muslim in Germany; they facilitate a non-prejudiced discussion about religious values and traditions and prevent young people from viewing themselves as victims of circumstances. This also makes young people immune to simplistic world views that are propagated on a large scale in the net by radical elements.

The comments by our teamers are personal statements but they are made easily recognizable as being affiliated with our project. Our teamers thus expressly don’t try to anonymously take influence on discussions among youths. Instead, they are a transparent civic education offering. This warrants discussion contributions that are competent in terms of content and effectiveness. Our teamers are comprehensively prepared to participate in such debates.

To supplement the outreach work, this project offers an open Facebook group in which discussions can be initiated and pursued more in-depth in a protected environment – both on our part and by the youths.

Documentations and dossiers

We continually evaluate and reflect upon experiences made in the course of online discussions and other projects. Extensive documentation of our online discussions, for example, enables us to do this. This method of operating also allows us to tweak our approach wherever this is deemed necessary. Project results are documented in a first dossier on the topic of: ‘Am I allowed to vote as a Muslim? Islam and democracy in pedagogical work’ (not just online). Other dossiers on the topics of racism, Islamophobia, the Near East Conflict and gender roles are in the works.

Project duration: 4/2014-3/2016

Points of contact:
Dr. Götz Nordbruch
Sindyan Qasem