Is it possible to deradicalize terrorists and their potential recruits?
Terrorism spreads, in part, through bad ideas
The most dangerous and
seductive bad idea spreading around the globe today is a distorted
interpretation of Islam, which asserts that killing innocents is a way
to worship God. Part of the solution must come from within Islam and
from Islamic scholars, who can refute this interpretation with arguments
based in theology. The Saudi government and Saudi NGOs are also
beginning to play an important role in the effort to counter terrorist
ideology, but bad ideas only take root in fertile soil. Terrorists prey
on vulnerable populations. Failed states, such as
Any rehabilitation or terrorism prevention effort must be based on a clear understanding of what drives individuals to terrorism in the first place.
When scholars ask terrorists how they came into their line of work, their reasons are as varied as those for which others choose more traditional professions. Terrorist movements arise in reaction to an injustice, real or imagined, that they feel must be corrected. But ideology is not the only -- or even the central -- reason that individuals choose a career of terrorism. Market conditions, social networks, group dynamics, and individual preferences are equally as important. And a terrorist's motivations for remaining in, or leaving, his "job" change over time. Deradicalization programs need to take account -- and advantage -- of these variations and shifts in motivations.
Young people are sometimes attracted to terrorist movements through social connections, music, fashion, or lifestyle and only later come to understand the groups' violent ideologies and goals.
Then there is
economics. For some, jihad is just a job. Poorer people in countries
with high levels of unemployment are more vulnerable to recruitment. For
such individuals, job training and career counseling may be the best
deradicalization strategy -- or at least a strategy as important as
religious reeducation. For example, job training and education became an
important part of the effort to "rehabilitate" insurgents who were
picked up in the surge in
Psychology also matters
One element worth examining in particular is
the potential impact of sexual abuse on radicalization. Much has been
written about the role of radical madrasahs in creating terrorists.
Outside of the Pakistani press, however, little note is made of the
routine rape of boys at such schools. Also troubling is the rape of boys
by warlords, the Afghan National Army, or the police in
Some of the Saudi program's main features, and thus its results, may be difficult to replicate elsewhere
The project is extremely expensive; it is constantly being updated, based on input from the staff and participants. Its prevention program includes dialogue on the Internet with individuals known to visit terrorist websites. The rehabilitation program includes psychological counseling, vocational training, art therapy, sports, and religious reeducation. It also includes helping the "rehabilitated" terrorists find jobs and even wives. There is a post-release program as well, which holds family members responsible for the activities of the former terrorist, and involves intensive surveillance.
(C) 2009 Council On Foreign Relations, Publisher Of Foreign Affairs