The dangers of deradicalization

Southside Matt

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In the late 20th Century, as terrorism seemingly was on the increase around the world, various governments sought new ways to combat this growing problem. One of these methods was the creation of deradicalization programs.

According to Hamed El-Said, Chair and Professor of International Political Economy, and a Senior Advisor at Manchester Metropolitan University, this “emerged in Egypt and Algeria before later spreading to other countries and regions of the world.” By November 2009, fully one-sixth of United Nations (UN) member countries (34 of 192) had employed some sort of deradicalization and/or counter-radicalization policy. Almost a third of those, 10, were European countries. Since then, the number of countries boasting such measures “has evolved.”

Deradicalization programs started in the late 1990s when leaders of Egypt-based al-Gamma al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group, IG) denounced violence from prison and began publishing exhortations to their followers. Some 25 volumes were produced and distributed to IG members both inside and outside of the prison to convince followers to abandon violence in their efforts. As Egyptian authorities became convinced about the sincerity of the effort, they embraced the program by providing support and facilitating visits by the leaders to various prisons to spread the message.

Algeria’s program began in the midst of the 10-year “Dirty War.” At the time, the Islamic Salvation Army (ISA) was the largest and most organized fighting group in the region. Their ranks of 5,000 accepted reconciliation and, along with key civil society organizations and community members, convinced the nation’s government to do the same.

These programs led to the eventual release of members of IG and al-Jihad Islami (AJ) into Egyptian society. None of those released, nor any other members of these groups, have been involved in terroristic violence since 1997. Similarly, Algeria decommissioned the weapons of the 5,000 former ISA fighters and integrated the members into society. Since then, the group is no longer considered a major security threat to the government or people of Algeria.

After the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001, a handful of Middle Eastern and Western Asian countries began deradicalization programs. With efforts beginning in 2002 and some as late as post-2010, each of these programs revolved around religious rehabilitation as their key component.

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Europe jumped on board in 2005 with the United Kingdom, Denmark, and the Netherlands beginning the trend. Later, in 2011, the Hayat Program was developed and administered primarily in Germany. Along with the expansion of the Aarhus Program in 2012, the Hayat Program sought to attract Foreign Fighters from the Syrian conflict of the time. Boasting 30,000 Fighters, the program accommodated those returning from the conflict as well as those who would depart to participate in it.

Experts are split as to the effectiveness of these programs, though. Citing a 2016 report by the Institute for Economics and Peace, El-Said concluded that, “despite seemingly large efforts to counter radicalization and introduce deradicalization polices, ‘there has been only a ten per cent decline in terrorism since 2015.’” The report goes on to list the limited number of conflicts that have driven the decline. “[T]his decline was driven by reductions in Iraq and Nigeria,” citing the weakening of Boko Haram and ISIL in these countries. Despite the drop in terrorism in these countries, an increase in previously “moderately affected countries” such as France, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Germany, Sweden, and the UK offset the gains made. “If Iraq and Nigeria are excluded, terrorism in ’53 moderate countries has worsened.’” The countries where the attacks worsened include those who had developed deradicalization programs.

Deradicalization programs have traditionally been split into two theories: behavioral, based on converting the actions of the subjects; and cognitive, trying to convert the thoughts and ideologies of the terrorists. In both cases, various methods have been employed to redirect or remove the actions that are considered terroristic. These include psychological treatment, vocational training and education, physical and sports training, and post-release integration into society. Incentives are used in some programs, such as financial support, health insurance, and assistance in gaining employment.

Cognitive deradicalization, also known as Explicit Deradicalization, focuses on the ideology of its subjects. The theory is that changing the beliefs behind the actions will reduce the propensity to commit terrorist acts. This is also the most popular type of program being used, with only the Algerian and Danish programs being listed as behavioral (secular), or Illicit Deradicalization, focusing on changing the behaviors leading to terrorist acts.

As “[m]ost deradicalization policies in Europe and the Arab world start from the same premise: ideology is the culprit,” rehabilitating religious and ideological beliefs is considered the most important component of these programs. This equates to thought control.

Despite their honorable intentions, to prevent terroristic activity, a lack of restrictions on these programs could begin travel down a slippery slope. While considered an abuse of human rights, Chinese reeducation camps, officially labeled “vocational education and training centers” by the Chinese government, have exhibited what deradicalization programs could, theoretically, become.

Currently, the deradicalization programs focus on Islamic fighters. If spread, though, the focus could be expanded or changed to include specific political or social ideologies, as well. Governments would then be able to follow the Chinese model and develop “camps” for those with opposing views.

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Xinjiang Reeducation CampWikipedia

As has often been found in the western world, rehabilitation is dependent upon the subject and should not be used as a “cure-all.” Alongside that fact is the need for consequences for illegal and illicit actions, which can also serve as a deterrent. Even the best-trained professionals can be swindled by some into believing that they have been rehabilitated when, in fact, the subject is merely performing a charade to gain release.

Relying on deradicalization programs leads to the possibility of such charlatans finding their way through graduation from such a program, only to return to their previous activities. Similarly, giving the power of such programs to governments can, in the hands of a would-be tyrant or dictator or other authoritarian, become a danger to individual thought and belief.

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Hailing from the Great State of Texas, South Side Matt monitors government for compliance with the Constitutional values that founded the United States, and works to maintain liberty for all in that spirit. His articles focus on furthering this cause, but also occasionally go "off track" into lighter topics such as cooking, general life and others.

Fort Worth, TX
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