The German government set up a hotline today aimed at helping Islamist extremists looking for a way out of terrorism. The hotline service, dubbed “HATIF” after the Arabic word for telephone, stands for Out of Terrorism and Islamic Fanaticism in German. The HATIF hotline will provide callers with advice, as well as help with changing locations and taking “appropriate measures” if the individual has been threatened.
According to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the number of members and supporters of radical Islamist groups in Germany increased by around 5 percent in 2009. Germany now has 29 Islamist organizations with an estimated 36,000 members, the largest of which is the Turkish association Milli Görüs. Moreover, homegrown terrorism is of great concern to the government.
Participants in a terrorist rehab program are seen drawing in art therapy class.
Today, exit programs are the new trend in fighting Islamic extremism. Set-up in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Indonesia, Jordan, Singapore, Iraq, Malaysia and Egypt, the programs’ success rates fluctuate. Saudi Arabia, for example, with the best-funded program, has seen a 10 percent recidivism rate.
Germany’s program is undoubtedly different than the others, however. Unlike terrorist rehabilitation centers, which are typically offered to prisoners captured in action, the HATIF hotline seeks to help those interested in giving up terrorism on their own.
Nevertheless, the success of any exit program relies on each individual’s desire to leave extremism; no one can be forced to give up a terrorist group. Therefore, while such programs may support counterterrorism efforts, they are no substitute for them. Indeed, if Islamic extremism continues to increase in Germany and elsewhere, exit programs should not be the government’s sole counterterrorism measure.