Can You Rehab The Beliefs of a Radical Terrorist?

Ideological Rehab Technique is used all over the world but has drawn criticism

One of the greatest weapons in the fight against extremists is ideology. Terrorist organizations need a constant stream of recruits willing to give their lives to their cause and therefore ideas might be more necessary than bullets. But once someone indoctrinated by extremists’ beliefs are captured what do we do with them? Many of the recruits captured are children or young adults, some having committed no act of violence, only plans. Some have lived their entire lives believing in religious intolerance or racial superiority. Locking them up forever seems to be a gross violation of human rights, but to some, it may seem like the only viable option.

However, some institutions have found an alternative approach. Called “ideological rehab” it is an umbrella term for institutions that are designed to help individuals who have been radicalized deprogram and reenter society. The term was first used in Europe in the early 1990s for white supremacists. Saudia Arabia has created institutes for radicalized Muslims. In war-torn regions like Syria or Cameroon, former Islamic soldiers from ISIS and Boko Harem ideological rehab is used. There is now a program in the United States that started with a young man that was trying to go to Syria to fight for ISIS.

The programs can differ but rest on a couple of general principles. The first step is to isolate the individuals. The initial stage needs to avoid anyone from hearing propaganda from previous sources. At that time they begin to introduce ideas that build a level of trust between the radicalized and counselors. The second step is to introduce the individual to different ideas and attempt to put a humanized story to groups or organizations that have been previously vilified. Then, a controlled introduction into the general population, focusing on community service.

There is a debate whether the programs are successful. Some argue that there is positive evidence from ideological rehab centers in Saudi Arabia and the Prevent strategy of Great Britain. Others argue that the numbers are misleading and there is scientifically verified evidence that the programs are effective. While the strategy has some empirical evidence from prison programs, no long-term study has been created yet.

Proponents of the program state that the United States is decades behind in attempting this strategy to combat radical Islam from influencing the 3.3 million Muslims that live in the United States. Given the aggressive stance of the Trump administration toward Muslim populations, it will probably not grow, unless it is at a local and state level.


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