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Terrorism

Defensive or Offensive Jihad: Classical Islamic Exegetes vs. Contemporary Islamists’ Propagation

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The main objective of Islam is to implement Allah’s divinely ordained religion on Universe in its entirety. It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated; to impose its belief system on all the nations, not to be imposed upon religiously; and to extend its power to the entire planet, not to be governed by infidels.

To achieve its objectives, Islam justifies all means by the use of Jihad against the infidels. Claiming they do it for the defense of their religion, the Muslim lands, and the Muslims’ honor, Jihad is permitted and lawfully justified.

The issue at stake is the deep gap between the horrific acts of terrorism coming from the World Islamic Jihad groups, and at the same time the propagation coming from the Islamists, Muslims and Westerners. Firstly, they claim that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance, hijacked by extremists; secondly, that there is only one Jihad, the spiritual, that means to worship Allah; and thirdly that the Muslims are ordered to fight their enemies only defensively.

The stunned Free World witnesses the atrocious acts of terrorism, slaughtering and beheadings, and at the same time is being told that this is only retaliation to the Western colonialism and neo-imperialism, that these groups are only a small minority, weeds; that the threats of demolishing modernity and bringing it back to the 7th century are only because World Islamic Jihad wishes to defend its lands, its lives and honor against Western aggression. However, as Muslims see it, Islam is for everyone in the human race and should be expanded as a winning religion, until all human beings proclaim that “there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger.”

Jihad appears 41 times in 18 Sûwar in the Qur’ān, mostly coupled with fi-Sabīlillāh (in the way of Allah), which gives it a religious sanctioning. There are 527 verses in the Qur’an that show deep intolerance towards the infidels, and 109 verses straitfully call to fight the infidels, with all kinds of slaughtering. Contemporary world statistics is very clear and horrifying: over 90% of world terrorism and over 70% of world violence is perpetrated by Muslims. As for 2015, the statistics is stunning and dramatic: 451 of 452 suicide terror attacks in 2015 were perpetrated by Muslims. The remaining one in Turkey was perpetrated by a Russian woman. It is now investigated that she was radicalized by Wahhabi ideology.

Jihad is universally understood as war on behalf of Islam, and its merits are described plentifully in the most-respected religious works. It is sometimes called “the neglected duty” or “the forgotten obligation,” and regard as the sixth pillar of Islam. Lewis finds that “overwhelming majority of classical theologians, jurists and traditionalists… understood the obligation of Jihad in a military sense.” The elevation of Allah’s word cannot be achieved without Jihad (al-Baqarah, 2:251; al-Nisā’, 4:75; al-Anfâl, 8:39; al-Hadīd, 57:25).

All four Islamic Schools of Jurisprudence (Madhāhib al-Fiqh) and most of Islamic exegetes agree that the aims of Jihad are at removing the infidel’s oppression and injustice; eliminating the barriers to the spread of Allah’s truth; and establishing Islamic justice universally. There are four different ways in which the believer may fulfill his obligations: a) by his heart; b) by his tongue; c) by his hands; d) by the sword. They are aimed at establishing Allah’s rule on earth, until either the infidels embrace Islam; or submit to Islamic rule and agree to pay the tax poll, the Jizyah; or be killed in the battleground by Jihad war.

From the Islamic vantage point, all wars in Islam are religious; there is no concept of secular war” and Jihad is the only just war known. So, even according to Islamic Jurisdiction, one can wage the most aggressive war using atrocious evil deeds and still see it as a defensive war. Muslim legal theory states that Islam cannot exist together with idolatry. This is Shirk, meaning association of other gods and idols with Allah (al-Nisā’, 4:48, 166; al-Qasas, 28:17; al-Luqmān, 31:13; Yā Sīn, 36:74; al-Sāfāt, 37:158). According to a Hadīth related to Muhammad, he declared: “I am ordered to fight polytheists until they say there is no god but Allah.” Muslims are under the Qur’an Commandments’ obligation to slay the idolaters (al-Baqarah, 2:193; al-Taubah, 9:5; al-‘Imrān, 3:167-168; al-Nisā’, 4:84, 88-89). Terrorizing Islamic enemies is Allah’s commandment (Bukhāri, 1:24, 6:19).

There are four Qur’an “sword verses” relating to different types of people against whom Muslims are obliged to fight: a) Surah 9 verse 5: Fighting the Idolaters; b) Surah 9 verse 29: Fighting the People of the Book, Ahl al-Kitāb; c) Sûrah 9 verse 73: Fighting the Hypocrites and the infidels; and d) Surah 47 verse 4: Fighting the Enemies of Islam whoever they are and whenever they can be found. Most Islamic exegetes claim that Surah 9 verse 5 abrogates 114 or 124 other un-militant verses from Mecca.

The Shahīd is one who is killed and has achieved martyrdom in the battle of Jihad, and he is granted seven glorious gifts. Islamic exegetes take the Qur’an statements that the Shuhadā’ are alive living beside Allah and enjoying all his grace (al-Baqarah, 2:154; al-‘Imrān, 3:169).

Muslims view peace as a tactical means for achieving their strategic objective, by defeating the enemy. Peace constitutes a temporary break in the ongoing war against the enemy, until Islam controls the whole world. They might come to terms with the enemy, provided that they should resume the Jihad after the expiration of the treaty. By their very nature, treaties must be of temporary duration, for the normal relations between Muslim and the infidels are not peaceful, but warlike.

In spite of the extensive agreement among Islamic classical exegetes based on the Sharī’ah, Islamists in the West emphasize the milder verses from the Qur’an, actually showing the abrogated `Meccan Islam’ in order to camouflage the living `Medina Islam’. They state that Islam is defensive and the fighting injunctions in the Qur’an are only in self-defense. They carefully hid the unconscionable and intolerable verses that litter from all the Medinan Sûwar by saying that ‘those verses were taken out of context’ and that they were not applicable to the infidels. Ali Cheragh brings verses from the Qur’an which he claims are limited or conditional, and “only two verses in the Qur’an containing an absolute or non-conditional injunction for making war against the un-believers.” however, for Cheragh it is very simple: wherever you find verses contradictory to his opinion about the interpretation of the Qur’an, it is ruled out as non-operative. Therefore, if Muslims summon their enemies to embrace Islam and they refuse to accept it, then all the Islamic wars are defensive by definition. All those who disagree with him are “wrong in history, chronology, as well as in understanding the general scope of the Qur’an and the tenor of the Sûwar.”

Mahmoud Shaltut comments are also indicative: “People would do well to learn the Qur’an rules with regard to fighting, its causes and its ends, and recognize the wisdom of the Qur’an. The role of the Qur’an is to summon humanity to submit to Allah, as the natural process. As about war verses, they all deal with the defense of the Islamic community, and are fully legitimate.

Jamal Badawi, a member of the Fiqh Council of North America, claims that Jihad is a struggle against inner desires and a fight against social injustices. Combative jihad is not only restricted in terms of what may or may not justify it, and also strictly regulated. War should not be resorted against peaceful and just but to stop aggression or oppression. There must be a declaration of war by a legitimate authority after due consultation; noncombatants should not be hurt; and Prisoners of war and the injured must be treated humanely.

The main of the Muslim propagators is to clearly lie and mislead the ignorant infidels of the meaning of Jihad, claiming it means the spiritual struggle of the believer to Allah. This is untrue. j-h-d, on the first Arabic conjugation, means indeed to make efforts, to strive. However, Jihad and Mujāhadah are the noun of the third conjugation, Jā-h-d, which means to fight, to make war against. Muslim propagators know Arabic and they just evade the truth. They also ignore the physical military aspect of Qitāl, as fighting and slaughtering to make Islam prevail over all other religions and governmental systems.

Indeed, these statements are pure fraud propagation. Of all the Islamic duties (A’māl), Jihad is considered the noblest, next to belief (Imān) and prayer (Salāh). The one who died without waging Jihad against the infidels, nor intended to fight Jihad in the way of Allah in his heart, he died like a hypocrite (Munāfiq). From its beginning, the Islamic movement had struggled aggressively to subdue religiously, to conquer politically, and to expand territorially other peoples and to bring the Islamic mission to all mankind. This was an offensive Jihad proper, and nobody recognized any other kind of Jihad.

Stage one: defensive Jihad ordered

At Mecca, Muhammad kept moderation with regard to war, preaching to Arabs on the spiritual level. Being small in number the followers of Muhammad would have been wiped out if they had tried to retaliate. The Arabs of Mecca resisted Muhammad’s preaching, and treated him as if he was crazy or storyteller (Saba’, 34:45-46; al-Tûr, 52:33; al-Mudaththir, 74:24-25; al-Mutfiffīn, 83:13). They claimed that these were old stories which were written by others and read to him (al-Furqān, 25:4-5; al-Tûr, 52:30; al-Haqqāh, 69:41).

Muhammad tried hard to convince them that all his words were true and this can be testified and substantiated by the evidence of the People of the Book (al-Baqarah, 2:146; al-Mā’idah, 5:44, 48; Yûnus, 10:94; al-Shu`arā’, 26:196-197; al-Qasas, 28: 52-3; al-Ahqāf, 46:10; al-Takvīr, 81:19-23). He told the Arabs what happened to those who did not listen to the prophets: the deluge generation and Noah, the Sodom people and Lot, and Pharaoh destiny (al-Shu’arā’, 26:10-12; al-Qamar, 54:17-19, 32-34). Yet, the people of Mecca asked him to show them the Book from which he told these stories (Bani Isrāīl, 17:93). He responded that it is the same as the Book of Moses, kept beneath the Tablets of Testimony (al-An‘ām, 6:7; al-R`ad, 13:43; al-Nahl, 16:101-103; Bani Isrāīl, 17: 88-90; al-Mu’minûn, 23:96; Hā Mīn al-Sajdah, 41:42; al-Zukhruf, 43:1-4; al-Ahqf, 46:12; al-Waqi`ah, 56:78-79.

The tiny Muslim community in Mecca was an object of oppression by the Quraysh, continuously subjected to torture, repression and persecution. They were ridiculed and assaulted, they were mocked and beaten. Others were boycotted and even denied access to the Ka`bah to fulfill their religious obligations. Muhammad’s message to the believers was clear: to be patient and bear with those who deny the truth; wait patiently in the knowledge that they are constantly under Allah’s eyes, care and protection.

When Muhammad found it critically dangerous to his community to continue staying in Mecca, and his life was threatened, he fled with his followers to Yathrib (later called Medina), where he hoped to find a much more open and tolerant approach to his religion, since there were Jewish tribes there. The Hijrah marked a turning point in the career of Muhammad and a revolution in Islam.

Stage Two: Defensive Jihad requested

the idea of Jihad as the legitimate just war against the infidels was raised, between March 623 and August 623: Permission is granted to those who fight because they were oppressed (al-Hajj, 22:39). The expedition to Nakhlah, on December 623 has become the general Jihad declaration against the infidels (al-Baqarah, 2:216-217). In late January 624, in a Friday sermon, Muhammad made the Islamic congregation pray facing Mecca, as the new direction (Qiblah). War became a religious obligation, permissible in self-defense.

The first battle was in Badr, in March 624, signified the new era of fi-sabīlillāh. Everything can be done for the sake of Allah: “They ask you of war in the holy month. Tell them to fight in that month is a sin. But a greater sin in the eye of Allah is to hinder people from the way of Allah…” (al-Baqarah, 2:217). Muhammad ordered to instill terror into the hearts of the infidels. The victory of Badr was labeled by Muslim exegetes as the day of deliverance (Furqān). Jihad became the most important slogan, and the Jews were the first victim: the deportation of Banu Qaynuqa’ tribe.

From that event on, Muhammad put strong emphasis on ideological commitment to fighting Jihad wars in the way of Allah by repeated promises of rewards in glorious paradise and living with Allah. Now there was a definite list of the enemies of Islam: first, the idolaters, the Kuffār; second, the hypocrites (Munāfiqûn); and in the third place, the Jews, by refusing to accept Muhammad as the seal of all prophets. As a symbol, Muhammad deported the Jews of Banu al-Nadir tribe.

Stage Three: Offensive Jihad Commanded

The most important outcome from the Trench War, in year 627, was that from a defensive situation Muhammad had moved to an offensive Jihad. From that time on until the year 743, the offensive holy war, Jihād fi-sabīlillāh, was the customary, characterizing phenomenon of Islam. Jihad as a holy war against the infidels, became the only accepted instrument of the Muslim’s policy, the only means for the spread of Islam as a grand strategy. The spirit of Jihad was to reorder matters according to their religious values. This was marked by Muhammad’s declaration: from now on, we will attack them and they will not attack us (Bukhāri, 3:33).

The orders were clear-cut: Strike terror in the hearts of the infidels; attack them and never turn back; keep on fighting until the persecution vanishes and Islam is established worldwide; Kill anyone who opposes Muhammad; continue killing and do not take prisoners until the land is subdued; and enjoy the war booty, mainly women. Those who retreat from the battleground, Allsh will punish them and send you to Hell-fire. Those who are killed in the way of Allah are in fact not dead, but alive, enjoying Paradise and the virgins there. Those who win in the battleground enjoy great rewards of booty and take women captives as concubines.

The war against the Jews of Khaybar, the richest fertile oasis in Hijāz, marked the first aggressive-offensive Jihad war. The climax of Muhammad’s achievements was the conquest of Mecca on January 11, 630, almost without resistance from the Meccan army. The Khudaybiyah affair and the conquest of Mecca were a crucial turning point in the history of Islam, according to all Islamic exegetes, and they identify it with the term Fath, opening, and hence conquest. Mecca came under Islamic rule, and Muhammad established his control over most of the area of Arabia as a head of a religious community and a military leader. The army became the melting pot of the new community, and the Jihad war was the chief means to the Islamic ends.

It is no longer just defensive fighting, but aggressive Jihad against the infidels, which serves as the arbitrator line between Dār al-Islām and Dār al-Harb. Indeed, what we find in the Qur’an is a gradual, developmental and staged strategy, according to Muhammad’s situation and achievements: in the first period he ordered withdrawal, forgiveness and summoning; in the second period, he ordered to fight Jihad in self-defense; and in the third period, he ordered to fight Jihad war aggressively for territorial and religious expansionism.

Stage Four: Total Offensive Jihad under the Khulafā’

After Muhammad’s death, on June 8, 632, at the age of 62, his four successors, al-Khulafā’ al-Rāshīdûn, started with a long period of Islamic Jihād wars that extended much of Western Asia, North Africa and parts of Europe. The official purpose of the polity of Islam was to expand the ideology of Jihad as the main instruments of foreign policy. The Arab empire under the Khulafā’ carried on the doctrine of Jihad, the struggle to establish Allah’s rule on earth, through continuous military wars against the infidels. Almost to the end of the Umayyad caliphate, the policy of Jihad was applied all the way, as the main underpinnings of the Islamic state.

The emphasis put on Jihad from its earliest times is one of the best attested facts of Muslim history. He who wishes to comprehend the Arab spirit of violence, that the sword has never stopped being employed in Arab-Muslim politics, the rebellious character of the Arabs, will find the fact that three out of the first four Khulafā’ al-Rāshīdûn were murdered; that between 632, after Muhammad’s death, and 690, there were three large revolts, as national domestic wars, and one huge schism: the division of the Shi’ite from the Sunnah. We can examine this from another angle: the expansion of the Arab empire had stopped in 743, after Jihad, as the spirit of the Arab conquerors’ foreign policy, had disappeared.

Khalid Blankinship puts it very clearly: in view of its ideology, the simplicity of its functions, and the actual course of its history, the Islamic state through Umayyad times is the Jihad state par excellence. From 632 to 740, the Muslim state was engaged in hostilities against all those who were defined as infidels.

The conclusion for our contemporary situation is clear. Jihad is the Islamic war against all the infidels wherever and whenever they are, and it is offensive with the means of controlling the entire world: humanity must come under Islamic rule and the Shari`ah must be the only constitution and law for all humanity. Those who reject this clear will of Allah must put to death in Jihad. The Judeo-Christian Golden Rule and moral values do not exist in Islam, as it is atomistic approach: anything that Allah commands is perfect and moral and must be followed without questioning. This also applies to Jihad. Never in Islamic history has Jihad been defensive, but always a religious command to fight the other, to conquer territories and to subdue humanity.

Islam is a violent, expansionary ideology that seeks the subjugation of other faiths and cultures. It is political even more then it is a religion, and it seeks to impose its Sharī’ah over the entire world and humanity. The only peace that Islam seeks is a world united by the Islamic faith in which all other faiths and political regimes have been suppressed or eliminated.

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Terrorism

Can an ISIS Terrorist be Rehabilitated and Reintegrated into Society?

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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Authors: Anne Speckhard and Molly Ellenberg

Debates across the world are raging, discussing the issues pertaining to the repatriation of foreign terrorist fighters [FTFs] who left their home countries to fight with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS] or live under their so-called Caliphate. Some died in Syria and some have made their way back home, but nearly 10,000 male FTFs, approximately 2,000 of them from Europe, are currently being held by the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF] in prisons and camps in Northeast Syria. Likewise, thousands of women who brought or bore children into ISIS are now locked with their children in detention camps as well. It is unlikely that the SDF will be able to hold the FTFs forever, especially with frequent attacks by Turkey that pull guards away from their posts to assist in the fighting or with bombs that even hit the prisons and camps themselves, allowing the detainees to escape. Likewise given international challenges to holding trials in SDF territory these prisoners currently are being held without charges, except for those who were charged or tried in absentia at home. Ergo, it is crucial to determine if the FTFs will make it home, whether by entering stealthily, being extradited after crossing the border into Turkey, or being properly repatriated by their home countries, and then to decide what will happen with them. If they are successfully prosecuted – which is a challenge given that evidence from the battlefields so far away is hard to procure, as are legally acceptable statements from witnesses – they will likely be imprisoned and may take part in some sort of treatment program, begging the question: Can an ISIS terrorist be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society?

After a well-attended ICSVE Zoom panel featuring journalist Anthony Loyd and lawyer Tasnime Akunjee discussing the thorny issues concerning rights concerning citizenship and repatriation, particularly that of British-born Shamima Begum, the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism [ICSVE] hosted another panel moderated by director Dr. Anne Speckhard to discuss and debate the merits of terrorist rehabilitation and reintegration, specifically in Europe.[1] Throughout the discussion, two schools of thought emerged, each linked to the concept of disengagement versus deradicalization, which arose numerous times throughout the comments posted by audience members as well as issues of treatment and evaluation. This paper is an attempt to capture the main points of the discussion hosted by ICSVE of four experts, all of which have been intimately involved with terrorist rehabilitation programs in the UK, Belgium, Austria and Iraq.

In regard to the theme of disengagement versus deradicalization as an end goal of a rehabilitation program it’s important to define the concepts. Terrorist disengagement refers to simply changing one’s behavior, refraining from violence, and removing the terrorist from the community or social network in which they were radicalized, while deradicalization refers to a change in attitude and ideology and a disavowal of one’s previously held beliefs endorsing violent extremism and terrorism and rejecting democratic societal values. All of the panelists held that listening to their clients and taking a holistic approach to treatment is necessary and that disengagement can happen far more quickly than deradicalization, and generally does, simply by virtue of being imprisoned. Some of the panelists argued that successful rehabilitation programs require a theological repudiation of ISIS’s ideology to ensure the individual does not return to terrorist actions upon release, and that deradicalization should be evaluated based on the person’s beliefs about militant jihad and Islamism in general, regardless of whether that person is still willing to act violently based on those beliefs. While they caution that holding extremist beliefs is not a crime in and of itself, those who have disengaged but not been deradicalized are more likely to return to violence given that their extremist beliefs support such behavior. Thus, the panelists aim for their clients to change their extremist beliefs and express acceptance and appreciation of democratic values and tolerance of other religions and behaviors decried as heretical by extremist groups.

Others see ideology as a secondary aspect of radicalization, with many terrorists not having been attracted into the group by its ideology nor being particularly ideologically committed at the point of imprisonment. These panelists therefore viewed addressing ideology as a secondary aspect of rehabilitation. Those in this camp see addressing grievances related to identity, belonging, and significance as paramount and place emphasis on a systems approach which treats the individual, but also takes into account the need to address the individual’s response to a rejecting society. Likewise, this systems approach also locates the problem both within the individual and society and thus calls for broader societal change to also occur to address the racism and discrimination that made these individuals feel marginalized and alienated and thus more vulnerable to radicalization and terrorist recruitment in the first place.

While criminologists like Andrew Silke have argued that ideological deradicalization is not a necessary component of rehabilitation and that many terrorists have been released and successfully reintegrated into society, his research refers to terrorist groups that are not following a militant jihadist ideology.[2]  Likewise, those experts that argue that ideology is not the driving force for joining a terrorist group and that view significance, purpose, belonging, friendship, and material rewards as the far more important reasons for joining also do not place significant value on addressing ideology in rehabilitation. While these are important points, it behooves one to consider how ISIS themselves viewed ideological indoctrination.  After declaring their Caliphate, ISIS required every new male member to attend a two-week shariah training program in which the underpinnings of the ISIS ideology were taught, with no dissent allowed.  ISIS men were then expected to teach their wives and children these lessons at home. All ISIS men were taught that only ISIS were the true believers, that even other Muslims could be takfired – that is, condemned to death for failing to pledge their allegiance to ISIS; that jihad is a mandatory obligation of all Muslims; that suicide terrorism is a honorable type of Islamic martyrdom with rewards for the “martyr” including instant access to Paradise; that punishments of beheading and other brutally gruesome practices carried out by ISIS are legitimate; and that all Muslims are obligated to move to and serve the Caliphate. They were taught that absolute obedience is necessary, and failure to follow ISIS rules would end in worldly punishments in addition to damnation to eternal hellfire. ISIS cadres that have been interviewed by ICSVE often describe the ISIS shariah trainers as extremely charismatic and that the indoctrination was strong and, in many cases long-lasting, taking over a year to shake after an ISIS member defected or left the group. Given this intense and effective indoctrination process, it is likely that ideological evaluation and treatment should at least be considered in the case of ISIS members who lived in Syria and Iraq.

Redouan Safdi, an imam who works in the main terrorism prison in Belgium with Belgians convicted of terrorism offenses, including FTFs who have traveled to Somalia, Libya, and Syria and have chosen to return to Belgium states that when he is designing an individualized rehabilitation program for an individual terrorist returnee, “The first question I always asked was, ‘Why did this person go?’” In this first statement at the outset of his presentation, Safdi invokes an important aspect of working with people who have been radicalized: Recognizing the push and pull factors, wherein the latter refers to the benefits, material, spiritual, psychosocial, or otherwise, that person was promised by the terrorist group while he or she was being recruited, and the former refers to the aspects of the person’s home society, in this case Belgium, that were painful or unacceptable to that person and contributed to his decision to leave. When Safdi asks the people with whom he works why they would leave the safety and security of Belgium to go to a country marked by chaos and death, he says they usually begin by talking about their love for Islam. But when the conversations become deeper and more meaningful, he explains, “I would hardly hear them talk about an Islamic State or the implementation of shariah. All I would hear is the injustices they have experienced in the past: Racism, discrimination, poverty, lack of opportunity.” Many of the people in the prison who left from Belgium to Syria, he says, are very young people who felt “frustrated and alienated by society […] and were searching for an identity […] young people who did not feel at home in the countries where they were born.” ISIS, reflects Safdi, was able to almost perfectly respond to these grievances through their propaganda, especially on social media, and cater to the needs of these “lonely, alienated, frustrated young people.” Spiritually, politically, and socially, ISIS gave them “hope, a new identity […] a sense of belonging. They showed them appreciation.”

Indeed, in an ICSVE study of 220 ISIS recruits in-depth interviewed in prison or after having defected or returned home,[3] we found that nearly a third of the interviewees from Europe were convinced to travel to ISIS by Internet-based propaganda and recruitment alone, without any face-to-face interactions.[4] ISIS’s online recruitment and propaganda alone gave them a sense of purpose, meaning, significance, dignity, identity and hope for their future in Syria. The other two-thirds of the sample were recruited by family members, friends and actual face-to-face recruiters, all promising a better and more Islamic future in Syria. By beginning with these issues, Safdi gets to the heart of the matter, that no one joins a terrorist group except that the group purports to meet some of their needs, materially, spiritually or psychosocially, and that when leaving the terrorist group these needs don’t simply evaporate. They likely still exist, and may be exacerbated upon return, and need to be addressed by redirecting the individual to healthier and more prosocial answers than joining or staying attached to a terrorist group and its virulent ideology. Other researchers have agreed that because many people join terrorist groups in an effort to find an identity, disengagement may cause one to feel a profound loss of identity, meaning, and purpose, all of which were previously provided by and centered around the terrorist group. Thus, replacing the social support once given by the terrorist group is a critical aspect of both deradicalization and disengagement.[5]

Despite the strong draw of groups like ISIS, however, Safdi nevertheless believes rehabilitation and reintegration is possible for most people, under one condition: “We have to be able and we have to be ready to listen to these people.” This is not an easy task, as listening to their grievances requires addressing racism and discrimination that contributed to them feeling alienated enough from Belgian society to go join ISIS in Syria, and which are issues that are ongoing today, despite a great deal of mainstream societal denial. All of the social alienation these convicted terrorists felt before joining ISIS is likely to exist once again when they are released. Issues of racism and discrimination are not easily addressed social problems, so Safdi states that it is important to work with the individual to find ways to live within society while giving them a “feeling that they are wanted […] that they are needed. We have to make sure that these people feel at home.” Unfortunately, Safdi admits that strong societal issues in regard to rejecting many Muslim minorities and converts as well as widespread denial about the reality of this issue still exists in Belgium, stating, “This is the one thing that no one is ready to do: To listen and deal with the needs of their own citizens.” This aspect of Safdi’s assessment is a clear rebuke of those who claim that violent behavior, extremist or otherwise, is a simple choice made by people who are claimed to be not held accountable for their actions. The truth is that the choice to join a terrorist group and believe in an Islamic utopia in Syria came about while living inside a social system that was actively rejecting the individual so the choice occurs within a societal context which also bears some responsibility. As one audience member comments, “Choice also needs to be contextualized. Choices aren’t always clear and opportunities to make choices aren’t always equal across the board.” Indeed, this is why we argue that one cannot see radicalization as a problem solely residing within an individual. It also involves systemic racism, discrimination, marginalization which are frustrating to the individual and which create many cognitive openings to respond to the claims of groups like ISIS.

Beyond listening to grievances, Safdi explains that Belgium’s approach to rehabilitation is holistic, covering not only the ideological symptoms of the person’s radicalization, but the multiple reasons behind radicalization. Indeed, radicalization into terrorism is never univariate. The first author, after studying hundreds of terrorists over many years, identified at least 50 motivations and vulnerabilities operating on the level of the individual that resonate to the terrorist group, its ideology and the level of social support present in society for joining the group.[6] There are always multiple reasons why an individual joins a terrorist group, requiring a holistic approach and often using multiple professionals, most often psychologists as well as religious scholars.

Safdi participates in a program that involves both imams and psychologists and notes that most Belgian FTFs are not knowledgeable enough about Islam to need only a purely theological deradicalization program. That said, even with those who lack strong ideological indoctrination and the ability to defend that indoctrination, he does offer Islamic guidance to address the poorly supported hadiths and cherry-picked Quranic verses that terrorists use to justify and promote terroristic violence. The holistic approach works, Safdi says, because everyone on the team “is there to help. They are not there to judge or punish him.” As for evaluating the success of the deradicalization program, Safdi does not use concrete evaluation tools, but continually watches to see if and how the individual undergoes a process of changing his core identity from rejecting Belgian society and endorsing terrorism to becoming one who embraces living in Belgian society. Safdi looks for how the prisoner slowly begins to disavow his former harsh, judgmental and violence-endorsing self and no longer “wants to be associated with the person he was in the past.” Also, Safdi looks for behaviors demonstrating an openness to new ideas, such as enrolling in courses at a university, which are also good indicators of a change in attitude and embracing finding his place in Belgian society according to Safdi. Moreover, he says, when his clients are released from prison, they are kept under surveillance. Only one person with whom he has worked has recidivated.

Moussa Al-Hassan Diaw, who runs DERAD, a prison deradicalization organization in Austria, also spoke in the panel about rehabilitating and reintegrating militant jihadist terrorists who have been convicted on terrorism charges. His organization also works with far-right and far-left terrorists. Diaw’s program, like Safdi’s, is holistic, focusing on “culture, religion, democracy, pluralism, civic education, and history.” His stated goal, however, is for the person being treated to come to an “acceptance of a pluralistic, democratic society and to avoid polarization.” In contrast with Safdi’s methods of addressing the reasons behind one’s radicalization and helping in the formation of a new identity, Diaw addresses the ideological beliefs that support endorsing violence and as a religious scholar he is well equipped to guide a person out of the ISIS ideology. In keeping with this goal, while Safdi measures success through behavioral change demonstrating a newfound positive identity, Diaw requires a rejection of the extremist ideology and acceptance of democratic values as evidence of deradicalization. Diaw points out that much of his work takes place outside of the prison system. As such he is free to address radicalized belief systems, which are legal to hold as long as the individual does not engage in criminal behavior. He believes that those underlying beliefs that support violent behaviors need to be addressed in order to have confidence that the individual will not return to violence. Of course, the determination of at what point one can be considered “moderate” as opposed to “extreme,” is subject to debate. For example, Moskalenko and McCauley (2009) hold that non-violent, legal political activism should not be a target of deradicalization, even if one’s beliefs are extreme or fundamentalist.[7] Diaw obviously disagrees when it comes to ISIS and we would also point to ICSVE reports on cases of ISIS defectors returning to a commitment to the group when there has been no treatment and also the ideology has not been successfully addressed. Therefore it appears that this is a thorny judgment issue but that addressing ideology within a holistic approach likely makes recidivism less likely.

At the outset of his program, Diaw aims to establish himself to his clients in a positive way and to prove that rather than being “part of a power structure,” he is a sympathetic, understanding community member. After addressing the aspects of rehabilitation, many of which are similar to those discussed by Safdi, though he emphasizes a heavier focus on disputing the ideology of ISIS and other similar groups, Diaw moves on to the challenges of reintegration. First, he says, the people need to find a job, but their reputations are often beyond repair, so they have to change their names or somehow overcome the social barriers to finding employment. It should be noted that in Europe it is normal for employers to require potential hires to show a police certificate demonstrating that one has not been in trouble with the law, an impossibility for former terrorist convicts. Others worry they will not be accepted back into their communities from which they left or that they will not be able to rebuild relationships with their families and regain custody of children who may have been put into the welfare system. Some audience members commented that mainstream Muslim communities may be wary to welcome these people back for fear of being surveilled themselves once the former terrorist lives among them, or even be harassed by law enforcement due to their association with someone convicted on terrorism charges. All of these roadblocks to reintegration can drive the person back to their old radical community, even if they no longer hold radical beliefs, and once finding comfort and belonging with their former community they are at risk for re-radicalizing. Relocation may address many of these concerns in removing the stigma people may feel in the job market after release from prison and also physically distancing them from their old negative influences. However, having to show a clean police record is a significant barrier for many to gain employment. An example of failed reintegration is seen in the case of Younes Delefortrie, an ISIS returnee in Belgium. Younes returned to Antwerp after being convicted on terrorism charges but freed on a stay of sentence to open a bakery and try to reinvent himself. Far-right politician Geert Wilders publicly denounced him, telling the public that his baked goods had blood on them due to his terrorist past. The bakery failed as a result and Younes, who did not receive good treatment and support, never found his way and was later returned to prison.[8]

Omar Shariff, a therapist and former extremist now working in the United Kingdom comments on how powerful ISIS’s brand is; that its marketing strategy seduced so many young people all over the world. For this reason, Shariff states that he regularly uses videos produced through ICSVE’s Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project in his work, using insiders from ISIS to denounce the group on video with those with whom he is working. In his view, people countering ISIS are fighting “a giant,” and therefore young people need far more than just “youth work.” He echoes the previous two speakers in emphasizing a holistic approach that addresses all aspects of radicalization, including but not limited to the theological aspects. For Shariff, evaluation of a deradicalization process should be individualistic and tailor-made and should focus on the individual’s acceptance of Islam as a religion that values life above all else, as well as moderation, as evidenced in the Islamic concept of “the balanced nation.” He actively confronts those who do not hold such views from a scholarly Islamic perspective and also examines the person’s mental health.

All of the speakers emphasized the voluntary aspects of prison-based terrorist rehabilitation and reintegration treatment programs, stating that no one is forced to take part. Each one noted that active listening, visiting, repeatedly inviting and caring for those who refuse to take part often wins them over.  In describing his evaluation process, Omar Shariff emphasizes evaluating his own efficacy to create a strong enough rapport with the client to succeed in beginning and continuing to move them along a deradicalization process. Safdi concurs, explaining that people in Belgium convicted on terrorism charges are not required to undergo treatment, but he nevertheless continues to visit them in prison, allowing them time to think and decide on their own to talk with him. We would also note that prison is a very lonely and can be a harsh place where kindnesses can go a long way in reaching a person who might otherwise be unreachable and that by extending simple acts of care, a prisoner may make a change of heart. The first author recalls a high-value terrorist ideologue in Camp Cropper in Iraq who he refused to confess or talk with any prison interrogator, always pointing out that he had been injured during his capture and needed a doctor. The first series of interrogators ignored his request for a doctor, but a particularly caring one dropped his demands for answers and took the prisoner for medical treatment, an act which completely turned the prisoner to not only cooperating with his interrogator but ultimately becoming an ideologue fighting militant jihadi terrorism in the prisons in Iraq.[9]

While the time to go deep into how treatment of prisoners convicted on terrorism charges actually takes place was limited and not all audience questions could be fielded, the written comments from audience members, many of whom are also experienced in this type of work, made throughout the event were numerous and insightful, many related to the different paths toward rehabilitation and reintegration, focusing on either psychosocial problems or on religious arguments. Many asked for common Islamic arguments against ISIS’s ideology and were pointed to the Quilliam guide entitled, “Tackling Terror: A Response to Takfiri Terrorist Theology.” Others asked whether there were empirically based assessments for deradicalization. Many programs utilize the Violent Extremist Risk Assessment [VERA], which is informed by the operator, although there are many other assessment and evaluation checklists other than the VERA and some prison programs make their own. No matter what assessment measures are used, it is important to assess repeatedly throughout a rehabilitation program, observing both positive changes and falling back into old behaviors and ideological points of view. Likewise, it is important to have a global assessment, from both psychological and religious points of view, and when possible to have feedback from other prisoners and guards as well. All of the panelists stressed the importance of tailoring their assessments to the individual, based on his or her specific risk factors and reasons for having joined a terrorist group initially. They also emphasized the difficulty in ensuring that individuals have truly deradicalized, not simply learned how to say the right things in order to be released.

The diversity of viewpoints among the panelists as well as the comments demonstrate the beginning of an answer to whether an ISIS terrorist can be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society. Yes, rehabilitation is possible, the panelists agree, but programs must be holistic, individually tailored, culturally sensitive, trauma informed and continuously evaluated for positive growth as well as setbacks over time. The consensus appears to be that reintegration is as difficult as rehabilitation with its own challenges and that the difficulties of remaining deradicalized and disengaged after release from prison are many. Reintegration is likely supported by the individual’s acceptance of the benefits of a democratic and pluralistic society in which he or she lives and determination to live as a productive, law-abiding citizen within that society and a reciprocal expectation of societal acceptance of the individual once he or she has served their time. Acceptance of societal benefits is difficult to achieve if the person did not formerly and does not expect to experience these benefits upon release. Thus, broader societal reform surrounding racism and discrimination is also critical in order to work toward truly ensuring that militant jihadi prisoners released after serving under terrorism charges do not revert to their old ways upon finding that the same grievances that drove them to violent extremism initially are still present, alongside the terrorist groups that promised them an alternative form of governance, albeit one that is achieved via terrorist actions.

[1] The ICSVE Zoom Panels are sponsored by grants from the Embassy of Qatar in Washington, D.C., and from the European Commission’s Civil Society Empowerment Programme.

[2] Silke, A. (2011). Disengagement or deradicalization: A look at prison programs for jailed terrorists. CTC Sentinel, 4(1), 18-21.

[3] Speckhard, A., & Ellenberg, M. D. (2020). ISIS in Their Own Words: Recruitment History, Motivations for Joining, Travel, Experiences in ISIS, and Disillusionment over Time–Analysis of 220 In-depth Interviews of ISIS Returnees, Defectors and Prisoners. Journal of Strategic Security, 13(1), 5.

[4] Speckhard, A., & Ellenberg, M. (April 15, 2020). Is Internet Recruitment Enough to Seduce a Vulnerable Individual Into Terrorism?. Homeland Security Today.

[5] Feddes, A. R. (2015). Socio-psychological factors involved in measures of disengagement and deradicalization and evaluation challenges in Western Europe. Электронный ресурс]. Режим доступа: URL: http://www. mei. edu/content/article/understanding-deradicalization-pathways-enhance-transatlantic-common-perceptions-and-practices (дата обращения: 05.09. 2018).

[6] Speckhard, A. (2016). The lethal cocktail of terrorism: the four necessary ingredients that go into making a terrorist & fifty individual vulnerabilities/motivations that may also play a role. International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism: Brief Report.

[7] Moskalenko, S., & McCauley, C. (2009). Measuring political mobilization: The distinction between activism and radicalism. Terrorism and political violence, 21(2), 239-260.

[8] Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (2016). ISIS defectors: Inside stories of the terrorist caliphate. Advances Press, LLC.

[9] Speckhard, A., & Paz, R. (2012). Talking to Terrorists: Understanding the Psycho-social Motivations of Militant Jihadi Terrorists, Mass Hostage Takers, Suicide Bombers &” martyrs”. McLean, VA: Advances Press.

Author’s note: first published in Homeland Security Today

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Firearms trafficking, ‘enabler and multiplier of violence’ worldwide

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The Global Study on Firearms Trafficking 2020 focuses on the serious and “too often hidden” problem of firearms trafficking that serves as “an enabler and multiplier of violence and crime in every part of the world”, said Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Making up some 39 per cent of the total number of firearms seized worldwide, pistols are the most seized type of firearm globally.

And almost all flows of arms trafficking between regions, can be traced back to points in Northern America, Europe and Western Asia. 

As they are often involved in violence, particularly homicides, they are also a major security concern.

Vital tool for governments

The report, which provides the most comprehensive data on firearms trafficking to date, said UNODC, is a vital source for law enforcement and policy makers to help reduce the damage and loss of life, stemming from illegal arms flows.

“By shedding light on challenges, and on the origin and trafficking routes of firearms, the study can support Governments in strengthening law enforcement and criminal justice responses to detect and disrupt illicit flows, dismantle the criminal organizations and networks responsible, and bring the perpetrators to justice”, maintained Ms. Waly.

In the shadows

Firearms trafficking remains a largely invisible phenomenon, which only emerges once trafficked weapons are used to commit other crime, according to the study. 

On average, two-thirds of seized firearms were impounded on the legal grounds of illegal possession. 

However, additional information related to the seizures and tracing results, suggest that a considerable portion of these firearms may have been illicitly trafficked into the country, prior to their being confiscated. 

And only around half of the arms suspected to have been trafficked, were taken on the basis of having been trafficked.

Regional breakdowns

Data from cities in 81 countries in the study, reveals that around 550,000 firearms were seized in 2016 and 2017, with pistols the most commonly trafficked. 

This may be explained by the high number of responses received from the Americas, where pistols made up, on average, more than half of all seizures.

Meanwhile, in Africa and Asia, at 38 and 37 per cent respectively, shotguns were the most prominent firearms seized and in Oceania, rifles were top, at 71 per cent. 

At the same time, Europe seems to be the most heterogenous in terms of seizures, with pistols accounting for 35 per cent, rifles 27 per cent, and shotguns, 22 per cent.

Weapon ownership

The study reveals that around the world, 54 per cent of homicides are carried out with a firearm. 

And while handguns play a significant role in gang or organized crime killings, they are far less prominent in murders involving partners or family members.

Countries with higher levels of violent death and homicide – particularly in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean – tend to seize a higher percentage of firearms connected to violent crime, while in Europe, drug trafficking is the most prominent among the other forms of crime linked to illicit weapons.

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Terrorism in the EU: Terror attacks, deaths and arrests in 2019

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The number of terrorist attacks and victims of terror in the EU continued to decrease in 2019. Check out the graph to see the evolution of jihadist terrorism since 2014.

There were 119 terrorist attempts in Europe in 2019 counting the ones that were successfully carried out and those that failed or were foiled. Of those, 21 are attributed to jihadist terrorism. Although they represent only a sixth of all attacks in the EU, jihadist terrorists were responsible for all 10 deaths and 26 out 27 people who got injured.

About half of terrorist attacks in the EU are ethno-nationalist and separatist (57 in 2019, all but one in Northern Ireland) with the other main categories of terrorists being far-right (6) and far-left (26).

The numbers of victims of jihadist terrorism has further decreased since its peak in 2015 and in 2019 the number of attacks foiled by member state authorities was double the number completed or failed. However, according to Manuel Navarrete, the head of Europol’s counter-terrorism centre, the threat level is still relatively high.

Navarete presented Europol’s annual report on terrorist trends to Parliament’s civil liberties committee on 23 June. He said that there is the same trend of online communities instigating violence in right wing and jihadist milieus: “For the jihadists, terrorists are holy war martyrs, for right wing extremists, they are the saints of a racial war.”

Fewer terrorist attacks and terrorism victims

Ten people lost their lives in three completed jihadist attacks in the EU last year in Utrecht, Paris and London, compared to 13 deaths in seven attacks in 2018.

Eight EU countries suffered terrorist attempts in 2019.

Twice as many foiled attacks as completed or failed ones

In 2019, four jihadist attacks failed while 14 incidents were foiled, compared to one failed atack and 16 foiled ones in 2018. In both years, the number of plots foiled by authorities is double the number of completed or failed attacks. Jihadist-inspired attacks mostly target public places and police or military officers.

The completed and failed jihadist attacks were mostly carried out using knives and firearms,. All plots involving the use of explosives were disrupted. The majority of the perpetrators were acting or were planning to act alone.

In 2019, 436 individuals were arrested on suspicion of offences related to jihadist terrorism. The arrests occurred in15 countries. By far the most in France (202), between 32 and 56 in Spain, Austria and Germany and between 18 and 27 arrests in Italy, Denmark and the Netherlands. This figure is also lower than the previous year when a total of 511 people were arrested.

The threat of radicalised prisoners

People in prison for terrorist offences and those radicalised in prison pose a threat. In many European countries, a number of radicalised prisoners will soon be released and this could increase the security threat, Navarrette warned. In 2019 one failed attack, one foiled and one successful one were carried out by radicalised prisoners.

EU cooperation

Reinforced cooperation between EU countries and information sharing have helped to prevent attacks or limit their impact, according to the head of Europol’s counter-terrorism centre. “Because of the information exchange, because of the connections that we have, member states manage to be early on the scene to identify the risks. For me it’s a good sign that two thirds of the attacks were identified and foiled thanks to the cooperation that is in place.”

No systematic use of migration routes by terrorists

Some have been concerned about the risk posed by migrants trying to enter Europe. Europol ’s report reiterates that as in previous years there are no signs of systematic use of irregular migration by terrorist organisations. In fact, in more than 70% of arrests related to jihadist terrorism, for which citizenship was reported to Europol, the individuals were nationals of the EU country in question.

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