In what is surely a first for any Western country, interior ministers from the sixteen German states (länder) have, Reuters reports, agreed to a plan proposed by Federal Minister of the Interior Otto Schily to establish a central database for Islamist terror suspects. This would take the place of three databases now in existence.
This proposal met with a reasonable reaction from Nadeem Elyas, chairman of the Zentralrats der Muslime in Deutschland (Central Council of Muslims in Germany). Reuters quotes him warning that innocent Muslims risked falling under suspicion unless the term Islamist was properly defined, an entirely valid point.
When you speak about Islamism, you have to clarify what you mean by it. We are concerned that every Muslim could fall under this catch-all term, which is unacceptable. We're worried that people may be caught up arbitrarily who have nothing to do with terrorism.
This German breakthrough results in part from the fact that for decades the Federal Republic has benefited from the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution), a unique bureau that keeps a close tab on extremist political movements of all colorations, including "Islamischer Extremismus und islamistischer Terrorismus." It publishes a major study each year, the Verfassungsschutzbericht, that surveys Germany's extremist movements in a frank and constructive way.
This is a unique institution that should serve as a model for other governments to emulate, as Guenter Lewy argued in "Does America Need a Verfassungsschutzbericht" in the fall 1987 issue of ORBIS: A Journal of World Opinion (which I then edited). Lewy replied to this question emphatically in the affirmative. What was true seventeen years ago, in the waning years of the cold war, is all the more true today, in the early part of the war on militant Islam. (July 8, 2004)
May 18, 2005 update: Another sign that the German government understands the problem: Not only did an administrative tribunal strip three men of their naturalized German nationality because they had hidden their membership in Milli Görüş Teşkilatı, an Islamist organization, but officials said, according to a Deutsche Presse Agentur paraphrase, that "the men should never have been granted German citizenship because Milli Görüş is hostile to democratic principles. Naturalization is only available to those who speak German and offer allegiance to the German constitution."