At the end of every war, the victors have to decide exactly what to do with the vanquished. The decades of fighting in the Middle East have presented an even more complicated dilemma: what to do with Islamic extremists once they’re no longer fighting their so-called holy wars. Some in Syria are trying a new approach to the problem: educational rehab.
“The Syrian Center for Anti-Extremist Ideology, which opened on Oct. 28 and is housed inside an area contested by ISIS, aims to be a place where those who have been indoctrinated by the terrorists can be rehabilitated,” Fox writes.
There are 100 men in the program. The are former ISIS fighters, or those sympathetic with the cause, who have defected and joined the program voluntarily.
“Everyone has a point of weakness and thinking, from which, we can get into his ideas from a particular side and then remove this extremist and terrorist thought from his brain,” Hussien Nasser, the center’s director, told Fox.
The end-goal is de-radicalization. Classes focus on theology, but also on entertainment and pop culture. The curriculum is intended to dull the radical edge.
The alternative is to imprison the men. When this happens, they are incarcerated with many others who share their ideological beliefs, often strengthening their resolves.
The educational model is one that offers alternatives to the ISIS narrative. And ISIS isn’t pleased.
“The biggest obstacle is the senior members of ISIS, who planted negative ideas about the concept of moderate Islam and made them criminals under the name of Islam,” Nasser said.
So does it work? “A 2010 Rand Corporation study on the topic pointed out that recidivism rates may not be the best way to judge a program’s success,” Fox notes. “Another analysis said Saudi Arabia’s programs had only mixed success. The Saudis poured a lot of funds into their efforts, but saw subsequent suicide bombings perpetrated by graduates of the de-radicalization program.”
“[ISIS] have shown themselves to be failures in their grand aspiration,” William F. Wechsler, senior fellow on national security and counterterrorism at the Middle East Institute, explained to Fox. “Everything they said has so far turned out to be not true. That’s the greatest contribution that the U.S. has made to this effort. You’re de-radicalized because your side has lost.”
Is this the future of the conflict? As these governments regain control of their populations, will the current ISIS fighters simply be welcomed back into society?