Think Tank Nation — Can Violent Extremists Be Rehabilitated?

Think Tank Nation — Can Violent Extremists Be Rehabilitated?
About the Author

Dr. Alan Gropman is an adjunct professor at George Mason University's School-For Conflict Analysis and Resolution. He is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, a Life Member of MOAA, and the Distinguished Professor For National Security Policy Emeritus at National Defense University (NDU). He taught “Public Policy Formulation: Think Tanks” for 20 years at NDU.  

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) discusses how to keep former Islamist radicals from becoming suicide bombers or lethal insurgents in Deradicalizing, Rehabilitating, and Reintegrating Violent Extremists.

USIP is well known to military and other government officials because it educates them for work in dangerous areas overseas (Iraq, Afghanistan, etcetera). Although its roots go back centuries, when Congress considered creating a “Peace Academy” to match the yet to be born (but earnestly discussed) military academy, it was not until the late 20th century when President Ronald Reagan brought USIP into existence, in 1984. USIP has a bipartisan board of directors including the secretaries of state and defense. Both Jim Mattis and Rex Tillerson believe in USIP and insist it continue to exist and thrive.  

Authors of the brief, Raafia Raees Khan and Feriha Peracha, assert that “effective deradicalization programming focuses on psychosocial support, familial involvement, pro-social activities, reestablishing ties with local communities, and interacting with and monitoring reintegrated individuals by both community and law enforcement.” They also argue that despite increasing research, “questions remain about why individuals join such groups and why recidivism remains common among those who have undergone deradicalization and reintegration programs.” 

According to Khan's and Peracha's research, when someone joins a violent extremist organization, they are stripped of their previous identity and given a new persona to serve the group's agenda. Social Welfare, Academics and Training for Pakistan (SWAaT), a nonprofit organization that develops and implements programs to prevent and count violent extremism in northwestern Pakistan, refers to this as “metaphoric murder” - a person's traits and personality are shaped entirely against a backdrop of militancy. 

The brief's authors make recommendations based on the model from Pakistan's Sabawoon Center for Rehabilitation, which supports former violent extremists in rebuilding their identities and helping them replace the meaning and purpose they sought when joining violent extremist groups with more socially appropriate and acceptable goals. “A program needs to provide a 'safe space' for individuals to validate and express their motivations for joining a violent extremist group. … Ensuring basic dignity, safety, and humane treatment is critical to building a basic sense of trust and rapport with those entering the deradicalization process,” Khan and Peracha argue. 

They also recommend promoting skill-building before reintegration. “Throughout the rehabilitation process, focus should be on creating an individualized plan . . . promoting building skills for inductees to help individuals sustain themselves as they reintegrate. … Other skills such as basic literacy … as well as basic mathematics, history, and cultural-social studies should also be compulsory. In some instances, corrective religious instruction, including moderate religious understanding through verification of Quranic text and discussion on critical aspects of jihad, should be encouraged, as should instruction on citizenship values that emphasize tolerance. … Opportunities for continuing educational pursuits and skills acquisition should also be available.” The authors believe programs also should connect individual with guarantors in the community, such as neighbors, peer groups, or employers, who can help keep the individual on track after reintegration.




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