|Monk by the Sea - Caspar David Friedrich|
Some scholars and public figures defend a more holistic approach to Counter-Terrorism (CT). They defend that military efforts (i.e. hard approaches) alone will not solve the problem and therefore soft measures should be applied to the fight against terrorism. There are three most common soft measures in CT: deradicalisation, counter-radicalisation and disengagement.
All of them will be discussed, however this week we'll address the latter - disengagement.
Disengagement is a process aiming at disrupting the mobilisation (towards violence) of a radicalised individual.
The basic idea behind disengagement (or demobilisation) is that the radical element having committed - or about to commit - terrorist acts will be led to change his behaviour even though he may keep his radical beliefs/ideology.
Before proceeding, we need to briefly look at the process of radicalisation itself.
According to Bill Braniff, the radicalisation process (based on Peter Neumann's model of radicalisation) has four components:
Grievances: the idea that there is lack of equity or justice.
Cognitive opening: the idea that an individual is vulnerable or open to suggestion and persuasion.
Ideology: an agenda inscribed in a set of beliefs that provide guidelines to action.
Mobilisation: the idea that one not only produces certain thoughts but also takes actions towards a specific violent outcome.
This process is not linear nor deterministic, meaning that it may not be a step-by-step process; instead it can be a combination of some or all elements.
But it is assumed that it would work in the following manner: recognition of a sense of injustice or victimisation (grievance) that creates a cognitive opening that is filled by ideology, that once socialised will result in mobilisation (terrorist acts) that will raise awareness to the grievance afflicting the individual/group, making thus the process start all over again. It is a vicious cycle and, therefore, scholars suggest a way to interrupt the cycle at mobilisation.
Now, back to disengagement. On paper it seems perfect since you capture a terrorist, then subject him to a social and psychological process at the end of which he won't actually kill people [or kill any longer] - despite retaining his extremist ideas.
The theory sounds good, but then a few questions come to mind:
- How can CT units ensure that the disengaged violent extremists won't feed susceptible individuals with their radical ideology?
- If disengaged violent extremists express their ideas to individuals who are cognitively opened to their radical ideas and later on are mobilised to act upon the set of beliefs earlier expressed: aren't those disengaged extremists in fact still engaged in terrorism by incitement?
- Who will be considered disengaged from terror: anyone who changes his/her behaviour by itself, or only those who earn a certificate of accomplishment from holistic terror-disruption programmes?
- It has been established that mobilisation needs to be disrupted but, thus far, there's scarce information on how to do that. We have heard of deradicalisation programmes (in Indonesia, in Saudi Arabia, in Scandinavian countries) where the subjects allegedly undergo a change in their beliefs (and by consequence a change in their behaviour); however, how is the rupture between the socialisation of ideology and mobilisation to terror supposed to occur exactly?
Jessica Stern wrote (in Deradicalization or Disengagement of Terrorists: is it possible?):
"Said Ali al-Shihri, who was repatriated to Saudi Arabia in 2007, graduated from the Saudi deradicalization program. After al-Shihri’s release, he became the deputy leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen"
If subjecting radicalised elements to programmes to change their beliefs may not produce the desired outcome; we can't really be sure that disengagement measures will, even if the reason to mobilise towards violence is of social nature (suppose the radicalised individual joined terrorism because his friends, or a relative, did - emotional bonds are much harder to break than ideological ones, so we must wonder how disruption is supposed to be done).
Until we receive more information on this matter, we can't be certain that demobilisation is truly an effective CT approach.
[This Blog would like to thank Cristina Caravaggio Giancchini for her valuable contribution]