I believe, from my own observations, that reforming terrorists is very much like reforming violent felons. A small percentage are reformable, though they must first thoroughly and completely repent their initial desires and motivations to murder and to engage in other ac ts of terrorism.
Most are not reformable and will to some degree or another remain covertly motivated towards their original aims and attempts to naively accept the idea of their “reform” only reintegrates them into society as secret infiltrators awaiting a new opportunity to act.
The trick then to me should be to learn to distinguish between that small percentage that shows an actual desire and tendency to reform and concentrate upon their actual reform and kill the others before they can either infiltrate society or strike again.
Sarah Marsden is a Lecturer in Terrorism Studies at the Handa Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, University of St Andrews.
Recently, there has been much debate about the best approach to take with those returning from the conflict in Syria and Iraq. Various proposals have been mooted, from forcing them to attend ‘deradicalisation programmes’ to banning them from returning to the UK. Relatively few of these ideas are rooted in a strong evidence base. That is in part because we still have much to learn about what might motivate someone to permanently reject violent extremism.
Although knowledge about what might inform the movement away from terrorism has developed in recent years, we have only a limited understanding of the aims of this work. Questions remain over what it is that interventions with those who have been involved in terrorism should seek to achieve.
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