Opinion; De-radicalization is a true second chance at life, the only real alternative to a lifetime

Opinion; De-radicalization is a true second chance at life, the only real alternative to a lifetime

*By Mohamed iqbel Ben Rejeb
The first broadcast of this article was on the site "Tunisia Live" on November 27, 2015

Most of those fighting in Syria and Iraq now, will die fighting someone else’s battle. Some will survive,
and possibly become more dangerous. But there also those who — broken, disillusioned and
traumatized by what they have done or seen — will want to come home.
What is to be done with them?

I traveled to Syria in 2013, where I saw 16 cases of Tunisian prisoners being held by the Assad regime.
Since then, I’ve been working in partnership with the families of those who have left Tunisia for conflict zones elsewhere and talking with the young people who have returned from Syria.
After seeing that, and other programs in action, I have come to believe that de-radicalization can work.

It is not a silver-bullet for our problems, nor can it ensure 100% success, but there is no doubt that deradicalization programs can be tremendously effective in countering terrorism.
Although they are becoming more common around the world, such programs remain experiments in
progress. Indeed, some operate in secret, waiting to see whether they are successful before the outside
world learns of their existence. There may be as many as forty worldwide, the best known of which are in Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Indonesia, Germany and Denmark. Newer ones have sprung up in places such as Somalia and Pakistan.

These programs are diverse, but “de-radicalization” is a useful shorthand, because most seek to change how former terrorists think. Do that, the assumption goes, and the risk of reengagement with terrorist activities goes way down.

Yet there is some hope.
A few weeks ago in Minneapolis, 18-year-old Abdullahi Yusuf was charged with conspiracy to support a terrorist organization, which carries a sentence of as much as 15 years in prison. In May 2014, Yusuf had gotten a passport a few weeks before securing an airline ticket to Istanbul, allegedly intending to go to Syria.

But rather than put Yusuf in jail to awaits trial, a federal judge sent him to a halfway house to see
whether he could be integrated back into the community. It was the first clear example of trying
rehabilitation and re-integration as an alternative to detention. It is too early to tell whether Yusuf’s case will provide a precedent, but it represents a remarkable, if risky, first step.

No de-radicalization program should offer blanket amnesty, and we should put measures in place to
evaluate their effectiveness. But it is time to get creative. The U.S. Department of Justice has begun to recognize this and recently funded two academic research projects on de-radicalization. There are
enormous benefits to be gained. After all, it is only by understanding the motivations and experiences of those who have gone to fight abroad that we can prevent the recruitment of another generation of

In many countries, de-radicalization is a true second chance at life, the only real alternative to a lifetime in prison or a life on the run.

Mohamed Iqbel Ben Rejeb is the President of the Rescue Association for Tunisians Trapped Abroad,
(RATTA) which serves as an intermediary between the government and the families of those who have left Tunisia to fight in Iraq and Syria
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