February 24, 2019


The wrong decision on Hoda Muthana (Daniel L. Byman, 2/24/19, Brookings)

A failure to take responsibility for one's own citizens is a disaster on multiple levels. First, it suggests that a country is unable to handle its own security--a remarkable admission for Trump to make given his supposed pride in U.S. strength. If America, with all its resources, cannot handle the risk posed by one young woman who has agreed to stand trial, then our security problems are indeed grave. Second, the administration's decision risks further dispersing the foreign fighters. If the United States and Europe do not take back their citizens, some will be killed (which is perhaps what their governments not-so-secretly desire) but others will hide or flee to areas where they are safer. This is a threat to their new host countries and a potential long-term terrorism risk. The band of terrorists who gathered in Afghanistan before 9/11 included many who could not return home.

A better U.S. approach would be to present itself as a model. The United States can showcase its commitment to the rule of law and show that law can help the fight against terrorism (and in fact plays a critical role) rather than undermine it. The Trump administration's failure to lead, instead, makes the terrorism problem worse.

Want to Deradicalize Terrorists? Treat Them Like Everyone Else.: Many counter-extremism efforts falter because ideological reform programs run by governments lack credibility. Appealing to the basic psychological needs of ex-radicals is more promising. (ELENA SOURIS, SPANDANA SINGH | NOVEMBER 23, 2018, Foreign Policy)

A more comprehensive psychology-based framework would make deradicalization programs more effective, offer a more appropriate role for the government, and protect former extremists' legal rights.

The first step is to see ex-jihadis as individuals with unique psychological traits. Daniel Koehler, director of the German Institute on Radicalization and De-radicalization Studies, argues that deradicalization can only happen when an individual has a "cognitive opening" and an environment that supports personal reflection. In this kind of environment, a program could then initiate deradicalization by applying and engaging what psychologists and researchers term the "significance quest theory" (SQT) as one component of the deradicalization process.

The SQT postulates that all individuals are motivated by a desire to have significance in their lives--essentially, to matter. When applied to violent extremism, the theory suggests there are three elements that can translate this basic human need into motivation for violence: a need for personal significance, an ideological narrative (often political or religious) that presents violence as an acceptable method, and a social network that supports this path. Some Islamic State recruits, for example, have cited political motivation or spiritual duty. Similarly, neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan propaganda often promises members a fulfilling role in protecting women, children, and country.

Psychologists including David Webber, of Virginia Commonwealth University, and Arie Kruglanski, of the University of Maryland, argue that successful deradicalization efforts might specifically address an individual's significant "deficits." That means analyzing their needs, narrative, and network, and redirecting those desires toward more positive goals such as meaningful jobs or community roles through therapy, education, and networking. When done well, this kind of approach sees former extremists as complex, multifaceted people.When done well, this kind of approach sees former extremists as complex, multifaceted people. [...]

To create successful programs and balance government involvement, governments should stick to their specialty: bureaucratic tasks like job identification to smooth the social transition and coordinating witness protection for former radicals who testified against other members. Then, community partners can take on their role as more credible--and legally appropriate--intermediaries to discuss ideology, religion, and extremism.

Posted by at February 24, 2019 8:18 AM