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Deradicalising Islamist offenders: essay collection by former Islamist extremists and international experts seeks balanced approach – and a ‘grounded debate about the limits of effectiveness’ of interventions

Following the recent terror attacks on London Bridge and Streatham by Islamist terror offenders –  who had been released from prison half-way through their sentences via the automatic release scheme – there has been increasing concern amongst many people in Britain that the prison system is not working in this crucial area. Senior police testimony suggests we face a future jihadist threat in which more dangerous people will drift onto the streets from UK prisons with terrorist convictions than have been returning from Syria.

The current government intends to respond to this concern surrounding rehabilitation through the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill – to ‘ensure that sentences served by terrorists reflect the severity of offending.’ But critics have suggested there is little use in increasing sentences if we are to release them only a few years later still committed to hateful ideologies – being neither deradicalised nor deterred by their time inside the prison system.

This collection of essays attempts to forge a new narrative around the issue of rehabilitation.

Jesse Morton – a former jihadist who has worked with the US government on counter-extremism – argues in one essay: ‘As we are consumed with coverage of Covid-19, we would do well to continue advancing our ability to provide effective rehabilitation and reintegration for the terrorism-related offenders set to return to society. As we all should be able to see, the context, climate and culture are ripe.’

Ian Acheson – a regular advisor to governments on counter-extremism policy – argues in his essay ‘Why we should treat released terrorists like sex offenders’, that: ‘Bringing local communities into the equation as partners, separate from but complimentary to the control agencies security approach… could be a game changer.’

Julia Rushchenko – Associate Professor at the University of West London, where she teaches Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime – argues: ‘Although the body of academic literature on radicalisation is extensive, a comprehensive understanding of how people exit the extremist movements and how to measure efficacy of rehabilitation programmes is lacking.’

Liam Duffy – an advisor and researcher on extremism and counter-terrorism – argues: ‘Our hopes of successfully reintegrating these individuals will be drastically improved if we abandon the notion that they don’t know or believe what they are doing.’

James Treadwell – Professor of Criminology at Staffordshire University – argues: ‘Many extremists do have their ideology and beliefs well mastered, but they also know their opponents well. It would seem the same is not true in reverse.’

As Emma Webb, Director at Forum on Integration, Democracy and Extremism (FIDE) at Civitas and the editor of the anthology, argues, the seriousness of the threat asks that we are willing to set aside certain presumptions in service of a critical approach. If we are to effectively reduce risk, it is vital that programmes to deradicalise and rehabilitate offenders are effective in reducing reoffending – and that we have a grounded debate about the limits of effectiveness. A holistic view for the future must account for the likelihood of success or false compliance when prisoners are potentially established within a social environment stacked against them having a change of heart.

The editor adds, ‘It is for these reasons, and among others, that this anthology brings together critical perspectives from a range of former Islamist extremists and international experts on deradicalisation and reintegration, so that it may serve as a companion for those interested in a balanced approach to the ideas and assumptions that underly policy in this contentious area.’

‘The New Syria?’

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