Let us face it: there are major issues with deradicalizing a person who has fallen prey to extremism. But we must differentiate between counter-radicalization, which works well in many trajectories, on the one hand, and the aforementioned concept of deradicalization. Why is this the case?
Besides attempting to just change someone’s ideas, as deradicalization would suggest, there is the path of disengagement from terrorist media, change of behavior, and which includes avoiding all extremist contacts. This must be accompanied by providing opportunities to lead a decent life, and by changing one’s way of thinking. There are many question marks concerning the latter.
We see disengagement, which seems to work when a person abides by it, as part of deradicalization efforts, not necessarily apart from deradicalization. In tracking deradicalization, we should consider extremism as a social phenomenon, not as one only related to individual psychology. There are grievances, economic and otherwise, and there are ideas. We should focus on all those aspects, providing incentives and communicating limits.
What can be tracked is whether a person carries out terrorist operations after deradicalization: with whom among his community, or adopted community, is he in contact and what exactly does he publicly utter? And, ultimately, is he prone to carrying out acts of violent extremism or other violations of the law?
Hence, non-recidivism as far as observable acts are concerned is a palpable indicator.
To add to the discussion: the different programs worldwide would likely be more successful if people affected by extremism would actually take part in rehabilitation. We should encourage vulnerable and radicalized people to embrace different established deradicalization schemes and to seek for help as soon as they need it. Go there!
The programs offered are positive. They are not like prisons where sometimes, the strong wreck the weak. On the contrary: a great many deradicalization schemes can render people more responsible and empower them to be valued members of the community, if the bad are kept from the good and if there is the true intention to keep away from evil.
There are different concepts of deradicalization in different countries. We should see what works in which context over a longer period of time. Not everything works everywhere.
When back from deradicalization, people should have points of contact, such as social workers, in their neighborhoods so not to fall back into old habits, and not to communicate with people leading scorned talk, as radicalism is bad for them and their families. Let us remember that from the view of the majority of Muslims, radicalism is contrary to the valid teachings that lay at the heart of of Islam.
Thorsten Koch, MA, PgDip