Comparing deradicalisation programmes today

Perhaps best-known deradi­calisation initiative is one be­gun in 2004 by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Ab­dulaziz.

Men learn how to use computers in a classroom at the Mashal deradicalisation centre run by the army in Pakistan’s Swat valley, April 13th, 2012. (Reuters)


2016/12/11 Issue: 85 Page: 15


The Arab Weekly
Ibraheem Juburi



London - Since 9/11, increasingly so­phisticated counter-ex­tremism initiatives have spawned across the world to prevent and reverse Is­lamist indoctrination but have de­livered limited results.

Faced with copious evidence of radicalisation in prisons, a British government report from August recommended that particularly ex­tremist prisoners be “held in spe­cialist units and given effective de­radicalisation interventions”.

Asked whether deradicalisation initiatives are worth pursuing, Sir Ivor Roberts, a member of the Euro­pean Advisory Board of the Coun­ter Extremism Project, said: “Yes, deradicalisation is a vital element in a larger counter-radicalisation strategy.”

Schemes vary greatly in ap­proach. In Muslim countries, for example, the onus is on replacing violent Islamism with “correct” teachings of Islam, while in Den­mark candidates are treated as vic­tims of brainwashing rather than criminals and psychological wel­fare is prioritised.

All local councils in Britain are employing the voluntary Chan­nel process, launched in 2005 fol­lowing the London 7/7 bombings. About 4,000 people were referred to Channel last year; 70% of them were Muslims at risk of extremism.

It begins through a cooperative effort between police, local au­thorities (councils, schools) and community members identifying people at risk of indoctrination and then supplying them with tailored support. Of those deemed poten­tially dangerous, about one-fifth were deemed to require entering an intensive deradicalisation scheme.

“From 2007 to 2012, the UK claimed that 500 out of the 2,500 people referred to Channel had been successfully deradicalised, with many cases determined not to necessitate an intervention,” Rob­erts said.

France has taken a tougher ap­proach. Dozens of people have been imprisoned since the Charlie Hebdo and November 13th Paris at­tacks of 2015, despite several of the attackers learning their creed while in prison. After briefly adopting the Danish model, the initiative was scrapped and replaced with solitary confinement.

In Berlin, Palestinian-born Ah­mad Mansour, a psychologist, runs the Hayat programme. It works closely with Salafist families on reintegrating returnee fighters into German society.

Mansour has voiced concern over what he called “scaremongering” by Western politicians over return­ees, many of whom he said were disillusioned victims of post-trau­matic stress disorder (PTSD) rather than genuine threats.

Despite Hayat’s approach prov­ing successful with neo-Nazi ex­tremists, it is less clear how well it fares against Islamists in a country where Salafism is on the rise, and dangerously little attention is paid to prison radicalisation, a report by German broadcaster Deutsche Welle stated.

Perhaps the best-known deradi­calisation initiative is the one be­gun in 2004 by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Ab­dulaziz, which, similarly to recent Pakistani efforts, has a relatively good reputation. Saudi authorities said in 2007 that their success rate approached 90%, although this has since been questioned.

“Both countries use individu­ally tailored combinations of reli­gious engagement and instruction, psychological-emotional therapies and material incentives, aimed at judiciously reintegrating convicted jihadists back into society,” Roberts said.

“Islamic clerics focus particularly on changing ideas regarding tak­fir (apostasy), used by jihadists as justification for committing violent acts against anyone deemed kafir (unbeliever),” he said.

Post-release programmes, such as material incentives and employ­ment, appear to be generally effec­tive at changing behaviour. In Saudi Arabia, this involves supplying re­leased candidates with a car, house and, in some cases, a wife.

Despite reports of recidivism in Saudi Arabia being small, several that were made public were high-profile cases. Said al-Shihri passed the kingdom’s programme, yet be­came the leader of al-Qaeda in Yem­en and ringleader of the planned 2008 bombing of the US embassy in Sana’a. The programme will not be effective against participants such as Shihri, who view the kingdom’s clerics as West-aligned apostates.

Saudi Arabia is not the only ex­ample of a state bragging about its success, with Malaysia recently an­nouncing a 97.5% success rate and a willingness to share its deradi­calisation programme with Europe. Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Za­hid Hamidi said 240 Malaysian de­tainees had been deradicalised in the past decade.

German academic Peter Neu­mann, author of Radicalized: New Jihadists and the Treat to the West, said: “You can’t deradicalise eve­ryone.” The programmes, he said, “typically work when people al­ready have doubts, which you try to leverage and facilitate some type of exit”.

Deradicalisation expert Daniel Koehler said programmes need to tailor themselves to individual cas­es such as the Channel and Saudi processes aim to do, beginning with an assessment of driving factors.

Neumann concurred. Among foreign fighters, he said, “a lot of people are seekers. They are lost, looking for a strong identity… They come from marginalised back­grounds where they don’t see the opportunity to achieve this. The theology then provides them with an anchor, but that comes later. The fundamental drivers are other things: Personal, emotional needs.”

This implies that rehabilitation for an extremist militant fighting against Sunni oppression should differ from the approach towards someone who became a terrorist for lack of employment, for exam­ple.

However, despite what some countries say, deradicalisation has not proved successful on its own and any efficient counter-extremist programme must be multifaceted.

“The answer lies in finding the optimal mix of context-specific strategies, including deradicalisa­tion, in partnership with law en­forcement and community-based programmes, in order to provide a holistic approach to addressing the dangers of violent radicals,” Rob­erts said.


Ibraheem Juburi is a London-based correspondent of The Arab Weekly.


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