by Anahad Kaur Khangura
The first part of this contribution to Joanna Lancashire’s Strife Series discussed new approaches towards deradicalisation and how they emerged in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In this second part, Anahad Khangura takes a critical look at the limitations of such programmes while also offering some brief conclusions on how to move forward.
Limitations of deradicalisation programmes
The critical limit of deradicalisation programmes is the inability to measure the scope and efficiency of such programmes. The lack of metrics of measurement makes it hard to assess the actual impact of the soft approach of counterterrorism on imprisoned terrorists. A variety of programmes, adopted in diverse political settings, have yielded distinct outcomes. The results of such programmes could manifest over an extended period, which limits the reliability of deradicalisation programmes. The success of deradicalisation policy depends upon the structuring of the agenda and objectives of the programme. Additionally, the socio-economic and political conditions of a state are directly proportional to the efficiency of the deradicalisation programme.
Normative and cultural factors, in the political setting, can determine the public response to risk reduction measures. Success also requires some degree of social cohesion and public mandate to support the programme. For instance, in Saudi Arabia, the societal unification and widespread public support to the programme contributed to the success of the programme. The effectiveness of a deradicalisation programme is context-specific and depends upon three factors: the nature and elements of radicalisation; the willingness and resources possessed by the political authority to counter the emerging threat; and the response of the public and the direct impact of the programme upon the society.
The success of deradicalisation programmes is heavily derived from low recidivism rates. It is hard to claim that deradicalisation programmes are the sole reason behind the alteration in the behaviour of a former terrorist. It could be that denouncement of violent techniques was not due to the success of the programme but due to personal circumstances. For instance, the outcome of the Saudi deradicalisation programme claimed to maintain a recidivism rate of merely two per cent. However, such rates could also be achieved due to the direct impact of changing the personal conditions of the detainees. The decision against re-offending could emerge from circumstances external to the scope of deradicalisation programmes. The claim that deradicalisation programmes are successful due to low recidivism rates is inadequate and misleading.
Another significant flaw in the structure of deradicalisation programmes is the clause concerning early release. Early release may provide an incentive to detainees to only appear deradicalised or to behave the way the state demands. In cases of deradicalisation programmes in Yemen and Saudi, the successful completion of the programmes could lead to the early release of the detainees. However, early termination is not applicable to hardcore prisoners such as detainees from Guantanamo Bay. Therefore, detainees may appear to be deradicalised or physically disengaged from terrorist ideology and methodology just to be granted early termination of their sentence. In such cases, it is hard to assess the actual extent of deradicalisation of the individual and the concomitant alteration of their ideology. In cases of deradicalisation programmes granting early release, it is difficult to identify whether the individual actually denounced their extremist perceptions or they chose to behave a certain way that would be acceptable to meet the criteria for early discharge.
The hard approach of counterterrorism has been hotly criticised as it undermines the significance of the involvement of civil society in eliminating terrorism. Outside the realm of security concerns, the state should aim to escalate the potency of deradicalisation programme by strengthening the socio-economic conditions of the society. The success of deradicalisation programmes demands the provision of necessary services, basic utilities and safeguarding the rights of the populace. There is therefore an urgent need to involve civil society in the process of deradicalisation. Adoption of such programmes at the national level may prove effective, but their legitimacy would likely improve if civil society agents and organisations are involved. It was partially due to sustainable political support to the scheme in Saudi Arabia, that the programme was capable of attaining its established objectives.
In the instances of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, issues regarding staffing of the programme also occurred. Both programmes demanded the credibility of religious interlocutors to ensure to the detainees that the clerics were not instruments of interrogation of the state. In the case of the Dialogue Committee in Yemen, the clerics were afraid to participate in the programme as it could undermine their reputation. The Yemen programme was heavily understaffed in comparison to the number of detainees. Deradicalisation programmes also appeared to be demanding heavy financial investments into the programme which limits their accessibility only to resource-rich states.
The adoption of the soft approach to radicalisation may seem like a more sustainable response to extremism. However, deradicalisation programmes pose major challenges in their conduction. Religious re-education and counselling may prove to be insufficient to mitigate the outcomes of radicalisation. A major drawback of adoption of deradicalisation programmes is that to yield positive outcomes, the need to changes one’s beliefs must be self-motivated and should not be fully state-driven.
The results derived from deradicalisation programmes in Saudi and Yemen depend upon the form of governance, objectives of the programme and the public response to it. It is important to note that positive results in Saudi’s programme are based on low recidivism rates. The actual modification of the mindsets of former detainees may become apparent over a long period and problems concerning their evaluation and quantification would occur. Questions regarding re-engagement remain unresolved through deradicalisation programmes. Deradicalisation programmes have been unable to address the issues regarding recidivism and reignited alliance with terrorist organisations. The scope of deradicalisation programmes, in both cases of Saudi and Yemen, is limited due to the restricted transferability of these programmes. Additionally, the success of the programme in Saudi is derived from its unique structuring which is in direct proportion to its political setting. Consequently, the Saudi programme has been specifically tailored to curb the terrorist threat and cannot be replicated in other countries which might be facing terrorism in a different form.
Considering the limitations of deradicalisation programmes, sole reliance on deradicalisation programmes might not effectively deter the threat of terrorism. The process of eliminating radicalisation demands an equilibrium between both hard and soft instruments of counterterrorism. A more holistic adoption of deradicalisation programmes demands that the structure of such programmes is customised to help restrain the nature of terrorist activity in a particular nation. Keeping in mind the programmes adopted in Saudi and Yemen, it is essential to address that programmes with highly similar structures have the capability to generate distinctive results. Therefore, deradicalisation programmes can rectify extremist behaviour only if the programme is adopted in consideration of the political setting and socio-cultural factors of the country. Additionally, deradicalisation programmes can contribute to risk reduction by altering extremist ideologies but such programmes can only be adopted considering their key limitations. Deradicalisation programmes are innovative and relatively newer components of counterterrorism strategies which are likely to evolve with time to yield more positive outcomes.
Anahad Khangura has recently received her Master’s degree in International Peace and Security from the War Studies Department at KCL. Her academic interests are inclined towards types of political violence and counterterrorism strategies. For her Master’s dissertation, Anahad evaluated the adaptability of terrorist organisations in light of a comparative analysis between Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hezbollah. You can follow her on Twitter @Anahad15.