Germany's Andi and Ayshe take on al-Qaeda

Hate preacher is a little overdone, Muslims say


German comic hero Andi has taken on a new mission in life – fighting the ideology of militant Islam along with his new Muslim girlfriend Ayshe.

Security officials in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) had run a well received comic strip campaign in 2004 starring Andi, a schoolboy hero, who stands up against xenophobia and racism.

Drawing on that experience, they launched Andi last October into a second adventure featuring Ayshe and her brother Murat, who comes under the influence of a radical friend and an Islamist "hate preacher".

The comic -- distributed to every secondary school in Germany's most populous state -- aims to show young people the difference between peaceful mainstream Islam and the violent, intolerant version peddled by militants.

"We were always careful not to hurt feelings and anger people by painting a caricature of Islam," said Hartwig Moeller, head of the NRW interior ministry's department for protection of the constitution, responsible for intelligence gathering.

"We had to make clear we weren't aiming against Muslims, but only those people who want to misuse Islam for political aims," added Moeller, who despite his intelligence role says 50 to 60 percent of his work is educating the public about threats.

Muslim reaction

Muslim reaction to Andi has been mostly positive, albeit with some reservations.

"We found the basic approach was right and good, we only regretted (the authorities) didn't tell us about this initiative in advance, then it could have been made much better," said Aiman Mazyek, general secretary of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany.

He said the portrayal of the Islamist hate preacher was "a bit overdone", but added: "There are people like that, I can't say there aren't." He said copies of the comic have been distributed in mosques.

The cartoon, featuring boldly drawn Manga-style figures, is designed to be used in citizenship and religion lessons for schoolchildren aged 12 to 16.

#"We have learned from our opponents. This is exactly the age at which the Islamists are trying, through Quranic schools and other means, to fill young people with other values," Moeller told Reuters.

To some youngsters, experts say, al-Qaeda offers a sense of identity, belonging and justice -- not to mention adventure and an aura of 'coolness'. The question is how to compete with that allure.

At a conference this month in Stockholm, Swedish terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp cited the example of Ahmad Dhani, an Indonesian rock star who challenged militant ideology in a massively popular album called "Warriors of Love".

Richard Barrett, a United Nations official who heads a task force studying counter-radicalization and rehabilitation initiatives around the world, said role models such as singers, actors or sport stars could play an important part.