KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
And now to Germany, where Lamya Kaddor teaches Islamic studies. She's Syrian-German, and her mission is to help integrate Muslim students into German society. We reached Lamya Kaddor by phone.
LAMYA KADDOR: (Speaking German through interpreter) In Germany, denominational religion class is part of the curriculum, and so it was time that Muslim students were given that opportunity as well, not just Christian and Jewish students who are receiving these lessons.
MCEVERS: In 2013, Kaddor got the news that five of her former students had left Germany to go and fight in Syria. I asked Kaddor if any of those students talked about extremist ideas when they were in her class.
KADDOR: (Speaking German through interpreter) Not at that time. Not when they were my students, they didn't express any religious extremism. But what was maybe extreme was that they felt extremely lost. And it became a question about their identity. If you'd ask them if they felt German, they would say no, if they were Turkish, they would say no. So Muslim became their identity even though they didn't really know that much about Islam. It became somewhat almost as an alibi identity, something to cling to.
MCEVERS: And so in 2013, you got the news that five of your students had actually left for Syria. How did you hear about that?
KADDOR: (Speaking German through interpreter) I got a simple Facebook message from one of my former students who asked if I knew that these five people had gone to Syria. And I was of course completely shocked. You have these images running through your head of these people who I knew were open-minded, nice kids, and then all of a sudden, I had these images of them maybe killing people or getting killed. And it felt like a personal loss. It felt like a personal defeat.
MCEVERS: Do you have any specific information about how that radicalization happened for them after they left your class?
KADDOR: (Speaking German through interpreter) It takes a very charismatic person who comes up and who offers to be someone to talk to, someone to do homework together, someone to play soccer with. And the topic of Islam doesn't come up until much, much later.
MCEVERS: After about a week, I think, four of the five students came back. Is that right?
KADDOR: (Speaking German through interpreter) Yes, after seven to 10 days, they came back. They wanted to come back. It was very difficult to get them back. They were extremely embarrassed. They could barely look me in the eye. They told me that in the beginning, they weren't even sure if they were still in Turkey or already in Syria. They weren't aware of the border crossing. Some said they were even blindfolded. As soon as they got there, they realized that that's something they can't do, they don't want to do and that it was not at all what they had been told beforehand.
MCEVERS: And what about the fifth student who didn't come back?
KADDOR: (Speaking German through interpreter) The one who stayed, he actually took his wife with him and his newborn daughter. One of the ones who returned was actually his brother, and he is in contact with him. And so he seems to be just staying there and living there.
MCEVERS: Is he fighting?
KADDOR: (Speaking German through interpreter) I believe so. I believe that he's fighting.
MCEVERS: You still teach this class, and I'm wondering if that's changed the way you teach the class now?
KADDOR: (Speaking German through interpreter) I have become more aware, more sensitive about if someone comes up and starts talking about good and evil, about what should be done with the unfaithful. I'm listening, and I'm paying a lot more attention when these kind of things come up.
MCEVERS: I think people have a hard time understanding why someone would leave a country like Germany, a developed country, and go and join a war that has nothing to do with them. What is your sense of why they did this?
KADDOR: (Speaking German through interpreter) There's a very simple reason. They were radicalized. They were ideologized. They were manipulated. The question behind it that I find way more important is why can these people, these young people, be manipulated this way?
MCEVERS: And so what do you think the answer to that is?
KADDOR: (Speaking German through interpreter) There are very difficult conditions in Germany, one being that Germany does not understand itself as an immigrant nation, even though it is at this point. But being German is still defined somewhat by descendants - how many generations do you go back as a German with a German lifestyle. Number two is the Islamophobia. It's gone so far that in Germany, every second German will say that he or she has an issue with Muslims. And those are scary figures. There is still a discrepancy between being German and Muslim. You can't be both. You're either German or you're Muslim. There's no concept of being German and Muslim, and not just for the majority of the Germans, but also for the Muslims themselves, that they don't think these are two concepts that can be reconciled.
MCEVERS: Well, Lamya Kaddor, thank you so much for taking the time with us today.
KADDOR: (Speaking German) Sehr, sehr gerne. Danke fuer das Gespraech. (Through interpreter) Thank you.
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