What is KURI about?

October 2021


Film "The project KURI" | Duration 1"51' | Production Ute Seitz // Philipp Offermann | PRIF 2021


"Since 9/11, numerous security laws have been passed that were not only, but also, motivated by the handling of Islamist activities. So far, however, there have been no systematic, long-term studies in Germany analyzing these developments," says Dr. Julian Junk. He and Dr. Martin Kahl want to change that with their teams of researchers in Frankfurt and Hamburg working on the KURI project and provide initial insights into what countermeasures are being taken against radical Islam in politics and society. In the interview, both speak about discourse shifts in security policy, first insights, and the practice-oriented added value of their research.


What is KURI about?

In the KURI project, you are researching how measures against radical Islam are linked to certain demands from society. What does that mean?

Martin Kahl: At the core of the KURI project lies the question about the factors that have shaped societal and political handling of radical Islam over the past 20 years. We ask about social and political problems, perceptions, and concepts for solutions that have been sought by administrative and security authorities, politics, and civil society.

Julian Junk: Since 9/11, we have witnessed a trend toward expanding and intensifying security legislation. So far, however, there have been no studies in Germany analyzing this development of security measures and restriction of liberties. KURI aims to fill this research gap. The guiding question we are pursuing is: What form of countermeasure against Islamism and other extremisms is taken when - and how is it justified?

What specific security measures were taken in Germany after 9/11?

Martin Kahl: The measures taken after 9/11 particularly affect legislation. Ideas and debates have proven to be recurrent. For example, laws have sometimes been suspended but then reintroduced because after attacks, politicians have felt called upon to resort to old familiar ideas. One example of this is the expansion of the competencies of security authorities over the past 20 years. These include, for example, data retention, in addition to other forms of surveillance.

Julian Junk: Additionally, we observe waves of tightening of these measures. However, we also observe a steady growth in activism and the funding of civil society organizations, which are a large component of the preventive measures taken against radical Islam. For us, it is very important to show this diversity in the social and political approach to radical Islam in our research as well. That's why we strive to work closely with project sponsors in civil society, involve them in scenarios and workshops, and try to illustrate the configurations (german "Konfigurationen") - the K in the acronym KURI - of all these measures.

How do you approach this? Is it possible to formulate first hypotheses?

Martin Kahl: In the KURI project, we conduct long-term studies on Islamist activities. These will provide the background against which we look at the specific countermeasures. The main focus is on the modus operandi of the last 20 years and how politics and society have reacted. Were there instant direct reactions? Were there delays in the reactions? 

Julian Junk: To carry out our work program, we use open source data from media reporting, legislation, statements, and debates that can be traced publicly, but which also need to be exploited systematically. Our research project supplements these with primary data that we generate ourselves through interviews with decision-makers, scenario workshops to elicit patterns of response, and survey experiments.

KURI thus looks at internal factors as well as external and public components. So, we also ask: When is there actually a sense of pressure to act? How is decision-making prepared within a public authority? And what thought is given to them in advance?

Martin Kahl: We can already identify some trends. What is becoming particularly apparent is the precriminalization in the legislation. This describes the attempt to gather information as far in advance of a criminal act as possible and to make preparatory activities punishable. This is accompanied by an expansion of the competencies of security authorities with regard to the collection and analysis of data.

What cannot be established so far, however, is a direct link between action and reaction. Because laws take time to be enacted and modified - or even because they prove to be unconstitutional and have to be renegotiated - no direct link between attacks and new laws can be noted.

Your material is drawn primarily from dealings with radical Islam. At the same time, however, you are also looking for findings that can be generalized to right-wing extremist milieus or right-wing extremist violent events. Is there any evidence of a link yet?

Julian Junk: KURI's focus is primarily on radical Islam. Although we do not study right-wing extremism to the same extent, we do not exclude it. In principle, it is important to us in terms of research policy not to focus too much on one phenomenon because, on the one hand, there are interconnections and, on the other hand, right-wing extremism is clearly the larger sociopolitical problem in Germany.

To what extent can your research findings prove useful for policy makers and prevention practitioners? Do you expect to find new approaches?

Martin Kahl: It would be a nice aim of the KURI project if we were able to reflect on how to improve procedures by identifying certain trends or blind spots in decision-making and to convey this to the decision-makers.

Julian Junk: For prevention practitioners, KURI is perhaps relevant in two ways: First, we include their actions and activities in the analysis, giving a voice to the whole effort in this field. Second, understanding how funding structures are determined for the prevention landscape could also provide opportunities to help shape or have a stronger influence on these processes. I can imagine, for example, that in the dialogue about models of measures that are later to be transferred into regular structures, it can be reviewed to what extent these also have a real-life relevance to the pedagogical work in the professional field and how they could possibly improve their set-up.

More about the project KURI