Can terrorists be reformed and rehabilitated? That’s the question being asked by a group of South-East Asian officials and scholars in charge of a project designed to share experiences on reintegrating former terrorists back into society. The project hopes to evaluate specific strategies in order to “explore the necessity and impact of aftercare programmes as part of the larger social integration process”.
The Strategies on Aftercare and Reintegration (SOAR) Network was launched by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in April 2015, at the end of a two-day East Asia Summit (EAS) Symposium on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration. It focuses on three areas: countering radical propaganda online, helping to immunise communities against extremism, and rehabilitating and reintegrating those who have been radicalised.
More than 500 radicals from the Asia-Pacific are now fighting with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In addition, countries in the region such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia have already been struggling with extremist groups, particularly since the 2002 Bali bombings by the then-relatively unknown militant group Jemaah Islamiyah. In this context, could deradicalisation programmes be more effective than using force?
Some observers are doubtful. Susan Sim, a former Singapore intelligence analyst, has cautioned that individuals who have completed a deradicalisation programme have often merely adjusted their views rather than rejecting violence outright: “They reject violence directed at civilians, but if you listen to them, they do not reject violence per se. They say,’Yes, we regret the Bali bombing.’ But if you dig down, they basically say, `We regret the tactical errors that [Jemaah Islamiyah] committed.’”
Nevertheless, are there lessons Europe can learn from these programmes? To get a response, we spoke to Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, Executive Deputy Chairman of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and a former Secretary General of ASEAN (2003-2007). What did he think Europe could learn from Asia in terms of the rehabilitation of foreign fighters?
We also had a comment from James, arguing that the deradicalisation of individuals has to begin in the community:
Communities must work with national and local government to help identify and educate people at risk of radicalisation and bring them back to the mainstream. It is crucial Muslim communities are brought into the fold as they will have the solutions to preventing this problem and re-integrating marginalised individuals. On a wider societal level we have to work harder to better integrate people and share common values.
This is very similar to the argument put forward by Julie Ward, a British Labour Party MEP for the North West of England, who has written an article in Europe’s World about precisely this topic. How would she respond to James’ comment?
Can Europe learn from Singapore’s de-radicalisation programmes? Even with the different social and political environments in Singapore and Europe, are there useful lessons that can be drawn from each other’s experience in dealing with radicalisation? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!