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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

De-radicalisation programmes: we got it all wrong

By: V4 Agency

Western de-radicalisation programmes are 95 per cent ineffective and only fuel more radicalisation, Melanie Garson, an expert at University College London, told V4NA in a recent interview. She pointed out that, besides these programmes’ fundamental shortcomings, social integration is also an issue, and if it’s left unresolved, even the host country’s citizens can become tools in the hands of terrorist organisations.

As Europe has been hit by a string of terrorist attacks, heads of state and government have made swift decisions on putting an end to an unresolved issue that had been around for years. Emmanuel Macron, for example, announced a charter of republican values, which all imams will have to accept if they want to keep their license. He also created a National Council of Imams, which will supervise the training of imams and issue official accreditations, which could be withdrawn.

Imámok tanácsa fogja felügyelni az iszlám prédikátorok k&eac...
National Council of Imams to oversee Islam preachers

The president has given a two-week deadline for the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) to work out the details of imam training….

After the Vienna terrorist attack, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz also announced that he expects tougher action from the EU against political Islam, because radical ideologies pose a threat to European values and lifestyle.

Although many Western European countries are trying to address the issue of Islam extremism, deradicalisation programmes have not been overwhelmingly successful. V4NA asked Dr Melanie Garson, a conflict resolution and international security expert at University College London, about the effectiveness of such re-education programmes and the presence of radicalisation in Europe.

“Prison programmes are very flawed in the UK and prove to be 95 per cent ineffective and sometimes fuel even more radicalisation,” Dr Garson said, adding that the British example is particularly worrying, because Home Office reports have revealed that extremists are bow distributing pamphlets on how to fake one’s way out of these programmes and return to terrorism. She also stressed that most of these programmes only deal with symptoms without addressing the psychological aspects of radical thinking. “It is not the question of taking away their weapons. They will go back to where they get status, direction and leadership. We can’t just lock up people then let them go and expect them to change,” Dr Garson points out.

The fact that few people can determine when a programme is truly effective poses the biggest problem in working with radicalised people, she said. “If they [participants in  programmes] say ‘I’m fine’, they are not de-radicalised,” she added. When a programme works well, convicts typically demonstrate signs of confusion and identity crisis, and success can only come if their radical worldview is shaken, she pointed out. “Then comes therapy and community-based approaches, where it can be useful to have state-trained imams, who will help them with integration,” she explained, adding that this approach has long been an established practice in Saudi Arabia with a success rate of 80 per cent. It must be made clear, however, that this does not imply that they can get away with the consequences of their actions without punishment.  “They should be punished, but they need to take part in rehabilitation, too,” Dr Garson said.

The expert underlined that external impacts can cause serious distortions in the fluid self-image of young people boasting an immigrant background. If we look at the issue historically, she said, we see that the first-generation immigrants are typically law-abiding citizens and it’s the second generation that is beginning to lose its identity and become confused between family traditions and social values. They can easily drift to society’s periphery where they become marginalised and where – in their search for a way out of uncertainty – they become more open and susceptible to a Muslim political ideology that offers them a goal and a direction. De-radicalisation programmes are instrumental because once someone has found their identity in such a context and lives in the belief that they are fighting for the greater good, they can easily go back. “When marginalised young people are between two worlds, external imams with external background do not necessarily help the situation,” Dr Garson explains, adding that Muslim communities also need moderate voices to offset the radicals.

She also pointed out that this driving force can also have an impact on people from non-immigrant backgrounds. “This can happen if a young person does not feel as part of a community and doesn’t have a developed group identity. The solution: education.”

Only education can help these people process their multi-layered identities and feel that they can control their lives and fill the void inside themselves, she stressed.

“The problem is if a community cannot create this identity,” she concluded.


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