Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck is a Resident Scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, where her work examines political and extremist violence, radicalization, Islamism, and jihadismwith an emphasis on Algeria.
- How do you think, what is the danger of extremist manifestations for society?
The danger is when extremism turns violent. All extremists are not systematically violent, and the criminalization of non-violent acts is dangerous. Militancyand non-violent extremism should not be considered as the same as violent extremism. Let us keep in mind that radicalization is not a linear process and all those who radicalize do not systematically act out. In our modern societies, we need to have a political debate about extremism and violent extremism and stop criminalizing all non-violent acts because by doing that we deny the militant their very existence.
It is true that the internet plays an important role in providing information, connecting people and recruiting them. Internet plays a crucial role in their access to the Salafi-jihadist ideology for instance, in making them part of the “virtual community” of the Islamic State or Al Qaeda. It is via the internet that they socialize with the group, its followers, sympathizers and its goals and methods. IS was one of the first groups to master social media and technology. In this regard, the group changed the face of jihadism for good.
- Why do young people join violent extremist groups?
It is important to keep in mind that the drivers that entice both men and women into jihadism are multi-dimensional and entangled. Also, every life story is unique, and the motives can vary greatly from one person to another. As a result, profiling is not easy, not to say impossible to do. The motivational factors can be political, social, economic, psychological or philosophical. Political grievances, social exclusion, marginalization, lack of prospects, economic hardships, desire to be part of a community, the thirst for revenge, self-seeking, the boredom and the thirst for adventure…etc… are all motivational factors that pushed women and men in the arms of jihadist groups such as IS. Women do not join IS only to become ‘jihadi brides’ as claimed by several media outlets. Women are not passive agents and victims of males who convinced them to join a violent career. Women are political and rational actors who have different and perplex reasons to join an extremist group such as IS or AQ.
-How can stop it?
Efforts must be made on the local level. I believe that communities can help in fighting violent extremism at the level of the community, family…etc. It should also be saidthat returnees should be given a voice. When you deliver a counter-narrative, you need it to be delivered by an appropriate and ‘legitimate’ source. In that case, who can be more legitimate in the eyes of at-risk individuals than a former jihadist? The example of the American “Think Again Turn Away” campaign is enlightening. The mere fact that the campaign was created by the US Department of State wrecked its credibility. Indeed, an at-risk individual who thinks that the State Department is the ‘enemy to be destroyed’ would never listen to its counter-narrative. Instead, former extremists, returnees, defectors and incarcerated extremists should be given a chance to discuss their experience and tell their stories to the public because they have an authenticity that allows them to gain the trust of the returnees or at-risk individuals. As explained by a former Indonesian jihadist of the Jemaah Islamiyah who benefitted from a de-radicalization initiative and now is the head of a local non-governmental organization: “I used to be like them before. I used to be in their world, so I know how to talk to them in their language” (K. Lamb 2011). Due to this approach, the Indonesian government succeeded in persuading 680 extremist militants to change sides. Former fighters can also be a real asset and help in raising awareness as shown by the former Malaysian extremist Nasir Abbas who became a writer and turned his experience of jihadism into a comic book. His book was handed out in schools and libraries to raise awareness and help change the mindset of people toward jihad. The Algerian government followed this approach in the 1990s in Algeria, and it worked out. The families of fighters still in the field were also engaged, calling on their “sons” to return home. Also, many leading extremist figures endorsed the reconciliation policy and helped in its success by making regular appeals to jihadists still in their hideouts to surrender and return to their communities and society. Others cooperated with the security forces in intelligence gathering and helped to foil attacks. Former fighters were also offered medical and psychological support to cope with their PTSD and trauma, and that was crucial to their reintegration.
- In your opinion, the threat of radical extremism will increase or decrease in the future?
Like all the “Ism” (fascism, communism, totalitarianism…etc) jihadism offers a great thrill and adventure for youth who are in lack of so many things. We will continue to hear about extremism and here jihadismbecause Jihadism offers easy, ‘grab-and-go’ solutions to complex problems; it is an equal employer that provides a brotherly community, a glorious cause, and a thrilling adventure.