Can a terrorist be rehumanized?
Are individuals who were part of terrorist cells irreconducible?
This is by far one of the biggest questions, not only at the level of terrorism but at the human level. Can anyone change? The immediate answer is obvious. Human beings change throughout their lives, and can even change substantially from one day to the next. substantially from one day to the next if extreme events take place.. After all, this is what psychological therapies are all about, changing thoughts, emotions, behaviors and even changing the subject's brain itself in the direction that improves his or her mental health.
To see how the brain is modified with psychotherapy, we recommend reading this article.
But all these patterns of the individual can be seen metaphorically as a drug; the difficult thing is not to quit, but to avoid relapse.
Former terrorists and their psychology
Coming now to the subject that concerns us, we are going to try to give back to a terrorist his human side and take him away from all that world in which he has immersed himself, but this is really difficult; because relapses exist also for them.
Before we begin to detail the process, we must know two essential points already dealt with in chapters I and II on terrorism:
- The process under which, someone becomes a terrorist.
In the past, widespread methods were used to recruit sympathizers to the cause. Nowadays, with the use of new technologies, the situation is quite different, but the process of becoming a terrorist is not the same as in the past. sstill has a general outline consisting of four phases. The function of these is to progressively immerse the victim in a new world based on violence and dehumanization, until he becomes a terrorist.
- Profile of victims who become terrorists
Today, terrorists in charge of recruiting new followers focus their efforts on getting to know the victims in a personalized way, in order to "hook" them more easily. Thus, it sounds reasonable to think that if the new adept became a terrorist because he was persuaded in a "personalized" way, the therapy he receives should also be personalized, the therapy he receives should also be personalized..
- The case of Michael Muhammad Knight, a Western boy who joined Daesh.
In fact, in a previous post on Psychology and Mind we already talked about a real case of a Western boy, apparently in his right mind, who decided to join the Islamic State terrorist group Daesh. decided to join the terrorist group Islamic State.. His reasons and motivations are surprising.
Phases of rehumanization
The process, always adapted to the idiosyncrasies of each individual, consists of the following three phases. We must keep in mind something very important during the whole process: We cannot achieve a change using the rational way. Subjects in these circumstances will always fight the reasoning of others with their beliefs, as if it were propaganda emitted by a loudspeaker. But not only this; throughout the process, which usually takes a long time to achieve a nuclear change in the person, at no time can you try to change their mind using reason because, every time you do this, it is a setback for change.
So, what to do? Opting for the emotional way.
1st phase: Emotional reactivation
This stage serves as a base and focuses on rebuilding the emotional ties between the victim (who had become an (who had become a supporter of the terrorist group) and his family. The key lies in reactivating memories and emotional ties. The difficulty lies in the fact that these memories have been buried. Another point that makes the process even more difficult is the fact that the families, who ask for help in these cases, when they do so, the victim is already at a very advanced stage.
Despite the fact that most of these people (especially young people) no longer see their parents as such, the human brain always leaves small traces of the past. Such traces lead to memories, which, despite being deep inside, can be revived at any time.
For this purpose, it is necessary for the relatives to do their part and try to bring back these happy emotional memories in their child. Moreover, as we have already mentioned, at no time should any attempt be made to persuade through rational means.
This process must be carried out, for the time being, by the relatives on their own, since the intervention of third parties is usually counterproductive, increasing the victim's defenses. A very simple exercise with surprising results is, for example, to put a big picture of when you were a child on the fridge.
When this point is reached, the victim, slightly resensitizedThe victim usually agrees, albeit reluctantly, to participate in support groups. This step should be taken immediately so as not to lose the opportunity that has cost months of work.
The author of these studies relates the following case:
"A young man in the midst of radicalization had centered his discourse of rejection on alcohol. His personal jihad consisted of eliminating the slightest trace of this substance from the home. Deodorants, perfumes and food products were to be eliminated. His parents had been trying for several months to elicit an emotional reaction from their son. Then came Mother's Day. The boy gave her a bottle of perfume. The woman called us in tears on the spot. "In about two hours we'll be there," she replied.
2nd phase: Confrontation with reality
This second phase makes use of supportive therapies to improve the victim's situation.. The components of these therapies will be other former jihadist recruits who have already been rehabilitated. They must explain why they came out of that dark world; conveying the contradictions they found in it and the lies they had been told since nothing was as they had been promised.
They will also explain the stages they went through to be indoctrinated. But the central element at work is to make him see that he will never find what he needs by being one of them. It is now that the person who was aspiring to become a terrorist begins to think for himself again. But there is still a long way to go; about six more months.
It is common at this stage for the person to suffer from ambivalence, a result of the conflict he is experiencing. A real case of a young man who suffered this situation relates it as follows:
"One day I said to myself that my recruiters were terrorists, bloodthirsty executioners, capable of playing soccer with freshly severed heads. I wondered how they could possibly talk about religion. However, an hour later I was convinced that those who sought my apostasy were in the pay of the Zionists, so they had to be slaughtered."
3rd and final phase: The saving uncertainty.
In the final phase the sessions with the former recruits are maintained.. The central objective now is to achieve a sustained state of doubt in order to avoid a relapse into radicalization.
At the beginning of this phase, the subjects find it difficult to pay full attention to the doubts that assail them, but, little by little, and combined with the emotional support of the family and the ex-recruits, these doubts accumulate.
According to researcher Bouzar, most of the people she has worked with have succeeded. But, at the same time she warns:
"Every week we receive a call from five families to denounce a radicalization process [...] this figure only represents an emerging portion of the iceberg. "Bibliographical references:
- Bouzar, D. (2015) Comment sortir de l'emprise djihadiste? Les Editions de l'Atelier.
- Bouzar, D. (2015) Detaching from jihadist networks. Dounia Bouzar in MyC nº76,
- Bouzar, D. (2015) La vie aprés Daesh. Les Éditions de l'Atelier,
- Schäfer, A. (2007) The seed of violence. Annette Schäfer in MyC nº27,
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)