By Jessica Canchola
Now that public mourning for the fatal attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices has begun to subside, policy makers in the United States and much of Western Europe are once again brainstorming strategies to address the possible security threats posed by returning radical jihadists. Months before the tragic attack on Charlie Hebdo, Europe had been grappling with how to deal with the growing faction of radicalized Muslims coming back from jihadist strongholds in Syria, Iraq, and countries in the Arabian Peninsula. Emboldened law enforcement and judicial tactics were heavily favored, but such strategies were not met without scrutiny. Social workers, psychiatrists, and even security experts worried that the blanket approach to detaining returning fighters regardless of their individual experiences and situation had the possibility of further inflaming the anti-Western sentiment that originally compelled fighters to pursue radicalism in the first place. Ahmad Mansour, a psychologist who works with families at risk of turning to radical Islam, believes that threat-focused and “scaremongering” tactics completely ignore the trauma fighters experience, which often lead them to abandon their jihadist sentiments on their own volition. .
Although countries like Britain, Germany, Belgium and France are holding fast to their policies of expanded authoritative power involving the questioning, detainment, and imprisonment of individuals returning from embattled areas in the Middle East with suspected militant ties, not everyone in Europe is investing in these threat-focused tactics. Because these types of tactics instantly vilify and marginalize Muslims returning from the Middle East and inflame their anti-Western beliefs, Denmark has opted to pursue a policy of rehabilitation for returning jihadist fighters with the goal of reintegration into Danish society.
Denmark’s rehabilitation policy addresses the security threats posed by returning radicalized foreign fighters while simultaneously avoiding the pitfalls of the punishment-oriented tactics that befall the rest of Western Europe. Instead of merely seeing radical Islamists as threats to national security, the Denmark approach starts with the acknowledgment that such individuals have “lost their moral compass” and maintains that these former jihadists can eventually become productive members of Danish society through counseling, education, and meaningful employment. By “shunning” the predominant ankle-bracelets-and-automatic-trial-approach in favor of rehabilitation, the Danish not only give the “wayward youths” of their country a “second chance”, but also create a culture of inclusion that makes radicalization and terrorism almost unnecessary – almost.
Like Europe’s heavy-handed approach, the Danish strategy is merely a reaction to growing radical Islamic sentiment. However, the Danish plan’s cultural and psychological considerations are the optimal basis for a more proactive strategy in addressing the roots of western born Muslim’s attraction to violent jihad. Europe and its allies need to use similar cultural and psychological approaches to confront the origins of radical jihad once and for all in order to permanently put an end to the homegrown terrorist threat.
Furthermore, although the Danish approach is an exemplar of the optimal way to address the returning jihadist threat, policy makers and state leaders also need to start developing strategies to combat the proliferation of radicalization in the first place. Many western-born Muslim radicals are initially drawn to jihadist militancy because of perceived ostracism and the need for acceptance, rather than the violent anti-Western sentiments they later purport and the western media tends to focus on. For Europe’s social pariahs, Islamic devoutness and violent jihadist fervor becomes the bonds of brotherhood and foundation of identity.
Although such outsider feelings in no way condone the acts of terrorism members of such groups later go on to commit, the West needs to stop treating European-born Muslims as outsiders and start embarking on integration and inclusion initiatives in order to deracinate the threat of homegrown terrorism once and for all.