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When Jihadists Return to Knock at your Door

REFORMED MAN: Morten Storm put his past as a motorcycle gang member and Islamist behind him in 2006 and became an agent for PET, the Danish equivalent of the FBI, to help fight extremism and terror KARE VIEMOSE/POLFOTO

The potential for terrorist attacks is rising in the Western world. In the United Kingdom, up to 5 plots have been successfully stopped this year. In August, the terror threat level was raised from ‘substantial’ to ‘severe,’ the second highest of five possible levels meaning an attack is ‘highly likely.’ With this alarming growth, the response of the British Government has evolved. According to the former foreign secretary of Britain, William Hague, authorities are prepared to assist those who return from fighting with extremist groups, such as ISIL, so long as they have “good intentions.” This approach differs greatly from Prime Minister Cameron’s initial stance, which was to strip citizenship from British nationals who joined extremist groups abroad. The initial proposal was eventually discarded, as according to international law, it is illegal to make people stateless.

While the Western world has adopted a strong stance against radicalized citizens, the British government has adopted a more sophisticated response, considering both the present and future implications of radicalization. Instead of incarcerating misguided individuals, this innovative approach addresses the issue of extremism and radicalization directly.

It is believed that around 500-600 Britons have left Europe to fight in Syria and Iraq. Approximately half are thought to have returned home. These individuals will most certainly require assistance in order to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into British society. Britain is not the only European country to adopt a holistic approach. Denmark, Germany and Sweden have all implemented variations of social programs with similar aims.

It is my opinion that a softer approach offers a better outcome to deterring people away from joining extremist groups than throwing every returning fighter into jail. While it might be true that many of these fighters are violent individuals, those who can be successfully rehabilitated could help assist the government in deterring others from taking the same path. Individuals who can speak from personal experience about the dangers of extremism and the allure of radicalization will have a greater impact on impressionable youths than government authorities, who are already poorly regarded by these individuals.

Governments who choose not to help returning jihadists run the risk of their radicalizing others while in jail. A prison cell will not help these misguided individuals. Jail will only solidify their notions. However, if they cannot be helped, they should be incarcerated, as they remain a threat to society.

While such programs do not offer a perfect solution to the problem of radicalization, they recognize that traditional tactics have been ineffective in combating homegrown terrorism, and offer innovative alternatives. Defeating homegrown extremism cannot be won by force alone, it must be beaten in the battlefield of the mind.

Malcolm McEachern
Malcolm McEachern recently completed his B.A. in Politics & International Relations at the Royal Holloway University of London. Malcolm studied a wide range of topics, from political theory to South Asian politics, and Post-Cold war defense. Malcolm’s main interests include security studies, refugees, human rights, and international relations theory. Malcolm is in the process of applying for a Masters in International Security. He aspires to work for an international organization that focuses on human rights.