Why do young people become terrorists?

The history of the RAF

Prof. Herfried Münkler

To person

Herfried Münkler is Professor of Theory of Politics at the Humboldt University in Berlin. He published, inter alia. the books "The New Wars", "From War to Terror" and "The Change of War".

The terrorist ideology of the RAF offered a "total interpretation" of the world with a clear friend-foe scheme. Violence was propagated as an adequate means of overcoming the lack of political perspective.

The everyday lack of perspective

A wanted poster from 1997: Escape from the meaninglessness and lack of prospects of your previous life? (& copy AP)
After leaving the third or fourth legal left group behind after their breakup and feeling "the same shame every time afterwards", some people become more and more familiar with the idea of ​​trying violence and going underground walk. It is possible that Hans-Joachim Klein had his own biography in mind when describing his entry into terrorism, which led him from the Frankfurt "Red Aid" to the "Revolutionary Cells" and finally to the attack on the OPEC conference in Vienna.

In addition to frustration and resignation, according to Klein, there is "the tremendous fear of lack of perspective", the "fear of falling back into the old bourgeois quagmire or of not having or wanting to have no political opinion at all. The fear of returning to all of this, From which one damned laboriously emerged in a mass of years. "

Volker Speitel also describes almost identically how his political disorientation was overcome through his involvement in the Stuttgart "Rote Hilfe": "They [the group] developed a goal and a perspective in which I could finally recognize my individual trip as one thing: power broken what breaks you. " Horst Mahler also described terrorism in the retrospective as "the answer to an overwhelming environment that is hostile to us, that we no longer control, that we do not control and that destroys people".

If one follows these personal testimonies, the thesis that the entry into terrorism was a late consequence of the spread of certain political and philosophical theories or even the attempt to implement them consistently turns out to be at least questionable. On the contrary, it seems that - combined with the lack of meaning in everyday life and the described lack of prospects - it was rather a lack of well-formed political ideas that encouraged, or at least favored, the entry into terrorism.

On the other hand, it could be argued that both Klein and Speitel belonged to the third generation of RAF terrorists, had the status of "experts" rather than that of the political-ideological heads of the group, and that by the time they entered terrorism, its ideology was already largely was trained.

But even for Horst Mahler and Ulrike Meinhof, the theoretically most productive minds of the RAF, it can be shown that the beginning of violent acts of terrorism was not the result and the consequence of well-developed political-philosophical theories, but rather the almost desperate attempt, in the face of disintegration and the increasing fractionation of the Extra-Parliamentary Opposition (APO), whose political importance reached the end of the 1960s by "increasing the level of militancy" to save and possibly expand.

The danger of "sagging" should be averted by an increased dose of violence. After this "level of militancy" had been demonstrated by the release of Andreas Baader from prison, a dynamic of terrorist violence set in motion, against which the ideology of the group had more the function of a subsequent justification than that of a previous motivation and instructions for action. The RAF's sense of identity has developed more through the collective persecution of the group than through the common political-theoretical basic convictions of its members.

RAF terrorist Peter-Jürgen Boock: "Not dealt with enough important [..] political issues." (& copy AP)
Not only in the third generation, but already with the initiators of the RAF, political lack of perspective and the experience of powerlessness were decisive moments in the decision to go underground. The fact that this lack of perspective and powerlessness was believed to be able to be overcome with increased use of force points more to a socially widespread reaction pattern than to a high degree of political and strategic reflection.

This applies to a greater extent to the "generations" of terrorists who followed Mahler and Meinhof: For example, Volker Speitel states that, before he entered terrorism, he worked together with his wife Angelika and Willy Peter Stoll (like Speitel, they both joined the RAF) Having lived an "absolutely non-political" flat-sharing community, and Peter-Jürgen Boock also speaks of having "dealt too little with important political issues in terms of content, and not having dealt with contradictions at all" in the past.

This makes it understandable why, as a former RAF member reports, the theory of the RAF had aroused "awe" in him and appeared to him "superhuman"; while reading it, he got a "world feeling", goose bumps at the thought that the "real things in the world are happening at the RAF".

The bans issued by the Federal Prosecutor's Office against the distribution of RAF publications ultimately contributed to the fact that potential entrants into terrorism could solidify the impression that the "stone of the revolutionary wise men" had finally been found here, which the state apparatus must keep under lock and key.

At this point, the importance that the RAF's ideology - designed not as a preparatory reflection but as a subsequent justification of the actions - had for the recruitment of new members and the inner cohesion of the group becomes visible: it served to counteract the lack of prospects and experiences of powerlessness structure, provide catchy interpretations and provide the perspective of overcoming them completely.