The recent surge in high profile incidents of violent terrorist acts and cases of recidivism involving “de-radicalised” individuals have brought to the fore the efficacy of the existing de-radicalisation and counter terrorism programmes.
The lack of legitimate data about these programmes calls into question the viability as also the transparency about their success rates. The notion that “one size does not fit all” engenders states like India and Bangladesh with a unique combination of challenges and obstacles.
Accordingly, contemporary such counter radicalisation programmes have to be tailored to specifically suit different contexts, climate, sensibilities and communities within which they operate. As a matter of fact, specialists of the phenomenon of radicalisation are increasingly debunking the “non-existent” animal of de-radicalisation for internationally acclaimed conflict theorist, Jaideep Saikia’s novel concept of counter radicalisation.
Jaideep Saikia has highlighted this aspect in a Manekshaw Paper (Centre for Land Warfare Studies, 2021) titled “Counter Radicalisation: In Defence of Common Sense” that he had written. An excerpt from the paper is appended below:
Research has shown that a number of Saudi Guantanamo detainees that were “de-radicalised’ have returned to terrorism upon release. Although there have been arguments that de-radicalisation creates a barrier to recidivism, there is really no way to fathom or evaluate whether a thorough cauterisation has taken place. Or are there de-radicalised terrorists—disengaging because of purely instrumental reasons—who continue to harbour a radical world-view? Who determines whether the law-enforcer is erring or not by arranging theological correction of “radicalised minds” that have never actually read the Qur’an? Answers to such questions can only come to the fore were a science that “looks inside the brain” is employed. This theory applies for so-called de-radicalised terrorists as well as ones who have been thought to have been radicalised by religious injunction. After all is it not conceivable that there are extra-religious reasons or considerations that could have propelled perpetrators of crimes to adopt a nihilistic weltanschauung that led to the death and gore that have been witnessed since the “baying” from Ar-Raqqah began?
Therefore, although attempts to predict the “future danger” or an individual’s future engagement in criminal conduct are been made, the results (at the time of writing), are highly inaccurate and debatable. Hence, identifying probable neuro-cognitive biomarkers for assessing and drawing out new ways to alter the brain function can aid, as Saikia has pointed out, in positive behavioural interventions. Mapping out certain brain regions, for example, the Amygdala, which has been linked to fear and aggression can be targeted for assay and better understanding of behavioural outcomes.
Therefore, the recurrent theme of bringing about a neuro-revolution in existing neuro-scientific knowledge and evidences through development of brain-reading/brain-imaging technologies should form the baseline for risk assessment tools for the state actors and other stakeholders to help increase the accuracy of risk assessment and management. One also notes that the radicalised minorities largely use and abuse religion and associated beliefs to exploit justify and legitimise their agenda and tactics. But as Saikia has rightly queried who determines whether the law-enforcer is erring or not by arranging theological correction of “radicalised minds” that have never actually read the Qur’an?
The debate about recidivism being the ground zero of all assent and dissent regarding the coherence of deradicalisation programmes is an indispensable adjunct to any discussion in formulating efficient counter-terrorism policies let alone addressing terrorism. On that account, while it is challenging to quantify the competence of these programmes, it will be a problematic bid to assert and uphold any loss of life and property as a data inconsistency.
Moreover radicalisation is a process that occurs in phases and it is precisely for this reason that counter-radicalisation—as against deradicalisation—that should be used as a tool for deterrence and interference during episodes of active radicalisation. Deradicalisation simply retains and pursues the threat-reactive and post reactive nature of the counter terrorism approach against security threats.
Drawing conclusions from the July 2016 Bangladesh hostage-taking situation and the growing episodes of violence following it (whether it were the machete-murders or other isolated cases of suicide bombings), it will be safe to state that the presence and surge of global terror outfits that were formerly thought to be limited to a particular geographical area would erupt in not only other parts of the country but could spill over into the neighbourhood as well. The apprehensions of cadres belonging to the Ansarullah Bangla Team from Assam are important indicators in the direction.
Jaideep Saikia had written in the aftermath of the suicide bombings in Bangladesh:
Suicide bombing was being resolutely introduced in a land that has never been earlier witness to it—certainly not by womenfolk! The author has spent the days since the suicide bombing occurred attempting to unearth the reasons for the phenomenon. The factor has become even more worrisome since women and infants on their laps are pioneering such acts… It is a matter of time that this alien threat is imported into India, especially into places such as Assam and West Bengal which strategically abut Bangladesh and provinces that have already felt the hand of the JMB. It would be less than practical were security managers in India to continue to think that a) JMB is a divided house and that b) Daesh is—struggling from territorial defeats in the Middle East—would not be able to reach out to the “far enemy” in order to divert attention and most of all c) that there aren’t radicalised women inside India who would be similarly motivated as their Bangladeshi counterparts to carry out shahadat action. The author has also been stating that there could be consideration other than religious for indulging in acts that may seem to be as a result of a Daesh call.
Indeed, such prescience has to be heeded with the utmost of seriousness. The fact that Islamist organisations are beginning to act in unison along with the frequent improvisation in their modus operandi that caters to their purpose, only reflects their unity in agenda and objectives. The international community should, therefore, absorb a clear set of lessons and jettison their previous comprehension of radicalisation and ways to counter it by bringing about a change that is imperative in their state-specific counter terrorism programmes. This has to, of course, be in keeping with the neuro-scientific, theological, ideological and other factors in mind. Quite clearly Jaideep Saikia’s counter radicalisation argument stands out as the most viable option by which the battle against radicalisation can be correctly waged. Delay in comprehending this simple imperative has already cost the state dear and to that end it is important to examine and embrace the counter radicalisation paradigm that Saikia has been propagating in right earnest.
In light of the recent developments, partly in response and discerning from the lessons learnt to deal with the “Indian problem of radicalisation and extremism” steps should be taken to include the religious and community heads in the counter radicalisation processes to propagate the true spirit of Islam, utilise the good offices of the minority community to battle the alien agenda as well as disseminate correct information about the genuine tenets of Islam. The state must desist from a racial profiling exercise and instead propagate the message that Islam does not promote either radicalisation or terror, and it is a misguided few that are tom-tomming a radicalisation agenda which the majority are eschewing. At the same time, the cyber front must also be taken into account. It is imperative for the state and society to build a powerful counter narrative against what might become a popular, albeit dangerous vein. The state must ensure that there is no religious polarisation. The act of ushering in reforms without examining the root cause of religious fanaticism would meet with only limited success.
(Daleeya Dehingia is pursuing her Masters in Defence and Strategic Studies from the University of Madras)