Islamic State is also recruiting in Switzerland

The Swiss authorities have recorded around 70 people leaving to join the jihad, a proportionally lower figure than elsewhere in Europe. Miryam Eser Davolio believes social networks could be used to prevent people from joining up.

Miryam Eser Davolio

It is not widely known that Swiss people are also fighting with IS. Photo: Keystone

Since 2001, the Swiss intelligence services have identified 73 people who have left the country to join the jihad, 58 of whom have reached Syria and Iraq, the base of Islamic State. Who are these Swiss citizens and residents? What can be done to prevent such a break with their home country? And how should those who return be dealt with? The following interview is with Miryam Eser Davolio, a doctor of educational sciences, who led a multidisciplinary study in 2015 on the process of jihadist radicalisation in Switzerland. She is a professor in the School of Social Work at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences.

“Swiss Review”: Who are these Swiss people leaving to risk their lives for Islamic State?

Miryam Eser Davolio: Their profiles are extremely diverse. It is therefore impossible to generalise.

Are they very young?

In contrast to what is happening elsewhere in Europe, here they are aged between 25 and 35. They are not as young and include fewer females than elsewhere, even though there was a case of a 15-year-old girl leaving for Syria with her 16-year-old brother.

Is it true to say that most of those leaving are Muslims?

Yes, that’s right. Four-fifths of those going are Muslims. The rest are converts. That figure is disproportionately high in relation to the few Muslim converts in Switzerland. Another point is that those seeking to leave have often grown up in secularised families. Radicalised young people sometimes accuse their parents of not being good Muslims. The parents are powerless to respond to such arguments.

What are the motivations of the Swiss jihadists?

They vary but are often more ideological or political than religious. Religious factors are overestimated. Those being recruited have a dichotomous view of the world: on the one hand there is the Muslim world and on the other there is the West, whose values, which are deemed to be decadent, have to be fought. The jihadists see themselves as the victims of a system where hidden forces – the US, the Jews, the Europeans, etc. – are seeking to destroy all Muslims.

Would Islamic State be seen as a kind of ideal?

Yes, in the sense that it represents a more just and coherent state. The fight against Bashar al-Assad is also being idealised.

Some analysts believe the attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015 – where young Europeans were killed by other young Europeans – marked a decline in support for Islamic State. What is your view? Has there been an impact in Switzerland?

I completely agree. Whereas there were still voices legitimising the “Charlie Hebdo” attacks in January 2015, the recent acts of terrorism have seen an increase in cooperation between Muslims and the authorities. Muslims in Switzerland, young people included, are now showing greater willingness to report suspicious activities. They are paying greater attention to signs of radicalisation in people. I received a call recently from people telling me that their boss was sending money to IS via charitable foundations. We put them in touch with the police.

That Switzerland is a recruiting ground for terrorism comes as a shock, doesn’t it?

Yes, it does. Even though the phenomenon is not as noticeable here as elsewhere, it is still more common than it should be. I nevertheless believe it is hard to recruit jihadists in Switzerland. The integration of minorities is better here than elsewhere in Europe. Civil society has links enabling cooperation between its various bodies. Dialogue with most mosques is commonplace in the cantons – to ensure their security apart from anything else. Work is being carried out with young people in schools on tolerance, respect and so on. The prevention of violence is working thanks to cooperation between social workers and the police. That is vitally important. I was astonished that Abdeslam Salah, who took part in the Paris attacks in November 2015, could spend three months living in his neighbourhood of Moleenbek in Brussels. People recognised him but nobody did anything. That would have been impossible in Switzerland in my view.

What should be done about people returning to Switzerland after spending time with Islamic State?

There are always legal proceedings but I believe we also have to work on people’s attitudes and beliefs and focus on trauma. Those returning may have distanced themselves from their activities in Syria or Iraq but in an ambivalent way. We’ve visited the prisons. They carry out risk management and provide treatment. That is a good thing. Do specific programmes need to be developed? That is something currently being discussed.

What means can be deployed to discourage or prevent people from going?

The internet often plays a role in people leaving. There is also contact with religious “mentors” who are not necessarily encountered in mosques but in bars, apartments, gyms or wherever young people spend time. The online battle is complex because it’s impossible to control all sources of propaganda. One option is to present the other side of the argument, as the French government did with an anti-jihad advert. On the one hand, we need to focus on language as a means of communication. And on the other, non-governmental institutions deemed more “credible” have to be involved. This is why an appeal has been made by 120 Muslim clerics opposing jihad.

What arguments can be made to someone being radicalised?

One approach is to tackle issues relating to values, politics and conflicts. It might be an early sign if someone has a simplistic view of the world, dividing it into believers and unbelievers, for example. If they believe the use of violence against enemies is legitimate then radicalisation is taking place. Such cases require a lot of work. Experts, parents, a brother or an uncle have to be involved. It is a matter of showing potential jihadists that others accept them without agreeing with them. How can indoctrination be stopped? By making the person think. If someone believes all wars are anti-Muslim, they should be shown that this is not true by pointing to NATO’s intervention in Kosovo, for example.

Stéphane Herzog is en editor with the “Swiss Review”

“An attack on Swiss soil cannot be ruled out”

Frédéric Esposito, director of the University Observatory on Security in Geneva, believes Switzerland is not immune to the growing fascination with the Islamic State. While Switzerland has never been a terrorist attack, it no longer enjoys a special status. “Islamic State no longer differentiates between Switzerland and France because Switzerland has provided its good offices in the Syrian crisis,” according to the Geneva-based academic. An attack on Swiss soil cannot therefore be ruled out, but how great is the threat? “Geneva for example has a four-level terrorism alert scale. A national system is needed to be able to answer this question, but that would require joint decisions by the cantons,” he says.

“Background to jihadist radicalisation in Switzerland” Zurich University of Applied Sciences, September 2015.

Comments (36)
  1. Erica Knight Erica Knight at 31.05.2016
    Please send inn English or French.
    1. Juerg Schwendener Juerg Schwendener at 01.06.2016
      click the button "EN" on top of the page!
    2. Francesco Mazzara Francesco Mazzara at 14.06.2016
      Remove Passport
  2. Erica Knight Erica Knight at 31.05.2016
    Please send inn English or French.
  3. Erica Knight Erica Knight at 31.05.2016
    Please send inn English or French.
  4. Erica Knight Erica Knight at 31.05.2016
    Please send inn English or French.
  5. Oskar Oskar at 03.06.2016
    Thank you for this very interesting interview. I have a few questions about the following quote:

    "What are the motivations of the Swiss jihadists?

    They vary but are often more ideological or political than religious. Religious factors are overestimated. Those being recruited have a dichotomous view of the world: on the one hand there is the Muslim world and on the other there is the West, whose values, which are deemed to be decadent, have to be fought."

    Is not their ideology a system of beliefs or theories based, in this case on the religion of Islam?

    The prophet of Islam, historically speaking, was a religious leader but at the same time also a political and military leader. The Quran says repeatedly that he is the example every good Muslim must follow. In light of these facts, are you not separating aspects here that need to be together? Do they not feed on each other?

    Is not the dichotomous view of the world you mention as appealing to the jihadists, exactly based on the teaching of the Quran and the hadith?

    Lastly, moderate Muslims are rightly saying that the passages in the Quran taken by the jihadists to justify their behavior, need to be interpreted in their historical context. But are they not based on extreme principles they display which are applicable for all times?
  6. Wave Dancer Wave Dancer at 03.06.2016
    Nun - all die Islamversteher versuchen unser Land an die Wand fahren! wir werden das verhindern!
  7. Renato Mastel Renato Mastel at 04.06.2016
    Wie war das während den Globuskrawallen und danach?Immer dieselbe Mühle der "Experten und Gelehrten"!Wieviele von den(damals)Andersdenkenden sind heute noch derselben Einstellung,und leben in/mit diesem Gedankengut?Viele haben gelehrt,dass mit Gewalt und Geschrei nichts,aber auch gar nichts,zu verändern ist!Für mich ist der IS und das ewige Zuschieben der erforderlichen Existenz,dümmliches Gelaber.Eben,man bäumt sich gegen Alles und Jeden auf,bis man(n)/frau erwachsen und aus den Kinderschuhen gekommen ist.Man lernt,dass das Zusammenleben nicht mit Gewalt gelöst werden kann!Respekt gegenüber jedem Lebewesen(Mensch/Tier)ist erstrebenswerter wie Gewalt und grosse Sprüche,die die Lösungen im Alltag sein sollen!
    1. Max Max at 06.06.2016
      @Renato. Ja da gebe ich Ihnen recht. Nur dass die Teilnehmer an den Globuskrawallen keine Leute mit Benzin übergossen und verbrannt haben, Kinder mit Sprengstoffguertel in den Tod schickten oder Frauen als Sexsklaven hielten und anschließend umbrachten. Ich kann mich damit abfinden das mein Nachbar an den Globuskrawallen beteiligt war, Steine auf die Polizei warf und nie verurteilt wurde. Ideal ist es sicher nicht aber für die Gesellschaft als Ganzes wahrscheinlich tragbar. Aber einen Kämpfer des IS in meiner Mitte zu haben ist untragbar. Es sit sehr gefährlich an unseren Grundrechten zu rütteln. Aber wir sollen auch erkennen dass die Schweizer Verfassung aus einer ganz anderen Zeit stammt. Unsere Vorväter hätten sich nicht im Traum ausdenken können das Schweizer burger für eine mörderische faschistische Ideologie im nahen Osten in den Krieg ziehen. Hier muss man sich ernsthaft überlegen diesen Leuten die Staatsbürgerschaft zu entziehen und an der Einreise zu hindern. Oder alternativ bringt man sie für Staatsverrat vor Gericht, was de facto ja auch vorliegt. und dann muss die Strafe lebenslänglich sein.
    2. Arye Ophir Arye Ophir at 07.06.2016
      Ja, werter Max.menschen vetbrennt haben Jene dort nicht - aber nicht weil Sie es bei entsprechender Gelegenheit, zB:Syrische Zustaende, nicht taeten...
    3. Arye Ophir Arye Ophir at 10.06.2016
      ...im weitern, DAS Rekrutieren in den Praktizierenden Terror (IS und viele Andere zusaetzlich) ist so zu sagen der Hoehepunkt in dieser Karriere. Der Anfang beginnt genau dort, wo Sie, offenbar aus Bequemlichkeit, die Augen verschliessen und bagatellisieren.
  8. Fritz  Siegenthaler Fritz Siegenthaler at 04.06.2016
    Es sollte nicht erlaubt sein, dass diese verseuchte religioese Fanatiker wo fuer ein anderes Land kaempfen, wieder in die Schweiz zurueck kehren, Amen.
  9. Joe Meyer Joe Meyer at 07.06.2016
    Too many liberal politicians they don't want to rock the boat, don't want to offend Islam.
    The ones going to join ISIS are the Muslims following the Quran to the dot, and the prophet Muhammad who also was a Pedophile. Returning Muslims should never be a lout back.
    1. Bertiz Benhamid Bertiz Benhamid at 13.06.2016
      &Joe Meyer. ISIS "THE MOSSAD-ISRAELI SECRET INTELLIGENCE SERVICE" Look it up!
    2. Bertiz Benhamid Bertiz Benhamid at 13.06.2016
      &Joe Meyer. ISIS "THE MOSSAD-ISRAELI SECRET INTELLIGENCE SERVICE" Look it up!
    3. Arye Ophir Arye Ophir at 13.06.2016
      Lieber Beritz. Schwachsinn ist offenbar Ihre Visitenkarte. Das hier ist ein Forum fuer Denkende, und nicht eine Stammkneipe fur Absurde.
  10. Arye Ophir Arye Ophir at 07.06.2016
    Werte Frau Dr. Davolio!
    Interessant zu lesen, wie ein zweifellos Gelehrter Schweizer in Ihrer Position das obig angesprochene Problem beurteilt.
    Nehmen Sie es mir bitte nicht uebel, schon gar nicht persoenlich, wenn ich zu Ihrem weit gefaecherten Wissen nun noch etwas an Wissen hinzu fege weil beim Lesen Ihres Gesagten erwachte in mir der Eindruck, dass Sie Thema bezueglich so einiges zur Beurteilung Wissenswertes falsch verstanden haben. Naemlich: wenn jemand - und das ganz einerlei aus wrlchem Profilhintergrund, konvertiert oder ererbt - sich zur Rekrutierung in die Kampftruppe der IS (und Andere mehr) entscheidet, ist Jener chatakterlich Profilgleich mit all seinen Gleichgesinnten; das Einheitsprofil der reinen Mordlust im Namen der Religion. Jeder der Zurueckkehrenden hat sein persoenliches Ja zur Freude an der hemmungslosen Grausamkeit  praktischerweise unter Beweis gestellt. Nun schlagen Sie vor auf die Basiss des Gespraechs zurueck zu kehren, zum therapeutische Dialog, diesen armen Traumatisierten unter die Arme zu greifen? Ich will Ihnen was in Erinnerung rufen: Auch deren unschuldige hilflose Opfer suchten den Dialog und haben nicht nur geredet, sondern auch Steine zerbrechend Geschrieen und ihr Trauma mit in den fuerchterlichen Tod  genommen! Nun wollen Sie mit Ihrer gleichen Arbeitstheorie die sich gegenueber dem "Virus" des radikalen Islam als unfaehig bestaetigte noch mal eingreifen? Ich empfehehle Ihnen einen Besuch in Mekka, vielleicht hilft das Ihnen das nach westlicher Denknorm Unvetstarndliche in Sache Islam doch noch richtig zu profilieren. Hochachtungsvoll, Arye Ophir
    1. Arye Ophir Arye Ophir at 12.06.2016
      In Sache Erziehung: Der fanitische Kontexteinfluss in der Islamerziehung wird erst dann - meiner Meinungsmacher nach - sein Ende nehmen, wenn die islamischen FRAUEN offen dagegen revolutionieren, sich als Frauen und ERZIEHENDE MUETTER liberalisieren und emanzipieren. Hier sollte das allgemeine Erziehungsprojekt der Institutionen von Erziehung und Gesetz angesetzt werden. HIER ist eindringliches Reden angebracht!
    2. Arye Ophir Arye Ophir at 13.06.2016
      Im uebrigen am Rande vermerkt, Frau Dr. Davolio: Religion IST, wwenn sie geistig und praktisch unser Tun bestimmt IDEOLOGIE.
  11. M-Noelle Alyagout M-Noelle Alyagout at 08.06.2016
    In response to Joe's comment: it is interesting to see how people will make statements about subjects they have NEVER studied, not even for ONE MINUTE. This kind of unjust attitude serves but one purpose: that of venting hatred for hatred's sake. Surely today's world's resources are at our finger tips and it is easy not to give into any statement which is obviously hateful rather than based on KNOWLEDGE.
    This very way of accepting falsehood unconditionally is also what those who join ISIS are practicing ... with the DEVASTATING results we all know !
    So people let us BEWARE and use INTEGRITY before we adopt a view on these important subjects!
    1. Joe Meyer Joe Meyer at 09.06.2016
      M-Noelle Alyagout; I don't know what your talking about, but obviously you have never opened the Quran and read a few paragraphs. Perhaps you read it forward and backward and just ignorit (very peace loving cult) Take your own advise, it's at your finger tips, don't be so ignorant. Not even all Muslims deny the pedophilia acceptance of prophet Muhammad. Many western politicians just ignore and accept it, oh well it's there religion.
      From my own experience; One of my nieces got raped by a Muslim in Switzerland, and he got deported back to hes old country."No jail no nothing".
      Love ‘A’isha
    2. Arye Ophir Arye Ophir at 09.06.2016
      In Kuerze gefasst, ganz egal ob dafuer oder dagege: Der Islam ist (und das weiss jeder einigermassen Belesene!) die einzige Weltreligion in der der Gruender und Verfasser des Koran - Mohammed - weder Sittlich noch menschlich human ein Beispiel zum Guten ist und entsprechend seine Lehren und Taten. Der Eine begreift diese unbestrittene Tatsache als Positiv, der Andere als Negstiv - ganz entsprechend seinem persoenlichen Charakterprofil.
    3. Arye Ophir Arye Ophir at 09.06.2016
      ...aber die anstehende Frage ist nicht das Profil von Mohemmed, sonder jenes der schweizerischen IS-Rekrutierten und - sollten jene zum Schlechten an der human zivilisierten Gesellschaft am Leben geblieben sein - derer Rueckkehr in "Mutter's Arme". Frau Dr. Davolio bezeichnet Jene Moerder aus Religionslust "Traumatisierte" und sucht Wege zur Therapie im Gespraech. Aus dem Blickwinkel fachlich gradliniger Intelligenz, meine ich, sind jene Bestien nicht "Traumatisierte" sonder mit Freude und Genuss Trauma Verbreitende. Also, werte Mitschreiber, verliert doch bitte nicht das Tema und kommt zur Sache der Frage: WAS tun mit jenen Zurueckkehrenden??
  12. Arye Ophir Arye Ophir at 09.06.2016
    ...wohl verstanden: Rueckkehrende aus Angst dass IHNEN was passieren koennte und nicht aus Einsicht dass ihr Tun Unrecht sei.
  13. SL SL at 10.06.2016
    Those people who don't like life in Switzerland and the customs of Europe should be allowed to go to "fight" jihad... but also should understand that they are no longer welcome to come back to Europe. If they have a Swiss passport, it should be confiscated. If you go there ... stay there! It is too easy to come back after you have got hurt, to ask for medical treatment as was the case in France recently. Ask you fellow Muslims to take care of you after you get injured and take responsibility for your actions.
    PS: I agree with Joe Mayer's comments.
  14. SL SL at 10.06.2016
    Those people who don't like life in Switzerland and the customs of Europe should be allowed to go to "fight" jihad... but also should understand that they are no longer welcome to come back to Europe. If they have a Swiss passport, it should be confiscated. If you go there ... stay there! It is too easy to come back after you have got hurt, to ask for medical treatment as was the case in France recently. Ask you fellow Muslims to take care of you after you get injured and take responsibility for your actions.
    PS: I agree with Joe Mayer's comments.
    1. Andrea Rapolthy Andrea Rapolthy at 14.07.2016
      Ich werde nie verstehen warum man mit diesen Menschen überhaupt "reden" muss - sie reisen aus um sich dem IS anzuschliessen - sollen dann doch bitte auch dort bleiben. Man kann nicht jeden "retten" - der der geht soll es sich gut überlegen - oder sich anpassen. Gefállt es ihm nicht in der Schweiz? Na bitte - keiner hált ihn zurück - ! Aber hier noch viel blabla wie man diese mit Programmen umstimmen könnte - na hallo!!! Lieber dieses Geld investieren wo es sich wirklich lohnt. Es ist immer noch unsere Schweiz!!
  15. KR KR at 10.06.2016
    "Oui, c’est vrai: quatre cinquièmes des partants sont de confession musulmane. Le restant est composé de convertis."
    être de confession musulmmane inclut les convertits...! On parle de religion et non d'origine ethnique!!!!!!
  16. Arye Ophir Arye Ophir at 12.06.2016
    In Sache Erziehung: Der fanitische Kontexteinfluss in der Islamerziehung wird erst dann - meiner Meinung nach - sein Ende nehmen, wenn die islamischen FRAUEN offen dagegen revolutionieren, sich als Frauen und ERZIEHENDE MUETTER liberalisieren und emanzipieren. Hier sollte das allgemeine Erziehungsprojekt der Institutionen von Erziehung und Gesetz angesetzt werden. HIER ist eindringliches Reden angebracht!
    1. Arye Ophir Arye Ophir at 12.06.2016
      ...und ganz sicher sinnvoller und logischer, als Erziehungsexperte dahingehend zu "verschwenden" um aus einem Terrortaeter irgend welche Lippenbekenntnisse der Reue zu entloken.
  17. ulrich ulrich at 13.06.2016
    'The integration of minorities is better here than elsewhere in Europe': really??! In a land where you can still see the notice in adverts 'keine Auslaender'...? Where people use the word 'Yugos' to talk about migrants? Definitely still alot of room for improvement here...
  18. J Neustein J Neustein at 13.06.2016
    why is the article so nurturing and "understanding of the Jhadists and I assume that person would be dismissive of Zionists who do not make terror attacks
    Joshua
  19. Dominique Kibui Dominique Kibui at 13.06.2016
    Muslim children go daily to Madarasa, a religious class, after school and are taught that non muslims are kafirs, which isn't a nice name. Radicalisation is practiced where I live on a daily basis. Christians and others have to stop being nice and understanding and talk about trauma. The converts and muslims are mature enough to make their decision to join IS. IS is a criminal organisation like the Mafia just worse.We had many people being killed by bombs and other explosives. No one is save. The positive side is that we exist with understanding and are our brother's keeper. Many bombs have been detected and blown up in a safe place. We woke up and check plastic bags and other items which seem to have been forgotten.
  20. Juerg Demarmels Juerg Demarmels at 19.06.2016
    man soll die gerne alle nach Islamistan ausreisen lassen, aber NIE mehr zurück in die Schweiz!
  21. Philippe Moser Philippe Moser at 23.06.2016
    If a citizen leaves his country, undergoes Jihadist training and wishes to return, that country should have the right to revoke his / her right to citizenship as they may now be a threat. At the very least, that "citizen" should be carefully monitored for obvious reasons. Of course, this would require expertise and manpower, translating to costs which may then become high if many citizens need to be monitored. Which may then lead to a flat refusal to allow them to return to their country.

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