How to deradicalize Gaza

E. Rowell:  On the individual level, people who want to murder a group of people are people brought up to feel they are victims of non-Muslims’ aggression.  Thus when they kill non-Muslims, they feel a sense of victory or triumph over their previous sense of shame and victimhood. The community around them supports their feeling of triumph, justifies the murder, and honors them.  All of this would need to be addressed at the community and individual level.  In the community, not only would there need to be a zero tolerance policy for violence of any kind, but educational efforts would need to be made to help children grow up feeling a sense of agency and personal responsibility for themselves and their community.

Muslim countries have a key role to play in deradicalizing the strip

By Nachum Kaplan, MORAL CLARITY   30 March 2024

Defeating Jihadism is essential if rebuilding Gaza is to be a success.

Mainstream media is focused on Israel’s diplomatic isolation, but the real story is not how upset Western leaders are with the Jewish state, but how pragmatic key Arab ones are.

Diplomacy takes place behind closed doors more than on the floor of the ineffectual United Nations. While Western leaders are having performative seizures, modernizing Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are talking a different game. They may be dismayed at the death toll in the Israel-Gaza War, but they have told Israel clearly that they would like to see Hamas destroyed, and that they will help rebuild Gaza after the war, including financing it.

It has hardly been remarked upon, but Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy is now more modern, moderate, and forward-looking than the Dominion of Canada, the Republic of Ireland, the Federative Republic of Brazil, and the Failed State of South Africa.

Beyond dollars, the biggest contribution Muslim countries have to make is helping to deradicalize Gaza. Support from other countries with relevant experience will be needed, too. Deradicalization could usher in the most important change needed for a political solution – a Palestinian willingness to live with Jews.

Israel has no idea how to deradicalize a Sunni country, and the Palestinians cannot do it themselves because they are the ones radicalized. Education systems will need to be overhauled to end the Islamist indoctrination of children. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) can offer nothing, as its expertise is in radicalizing children. As a supporter, funder, and facilitator of terror, UNRWA can have no role in post-war Gaza. However, here are three very different countries that have deradicalization experience and can play a positive role: Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Indonesia.

The Saudi Approach

Saudi Arabia is the big one. As the birthplace of Islam and home to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia’s credentials are second to none. It has also undertaken at home the biggest deradicalization program since the de-Nazification of Germany after World War Two. Tens of thousands of people have been through it since it and authorities have been constantly refining it.

Saudi Arabia has a unique experience because it was its mosques that exported radical Wahhabism around the globe, inspiring groups such as Al-Qaeda, which led to the 9-11 attacks in New York and Washington, and terror attacks in the Saudi capital of Riyadh itself.

In 2004, Saudi Arabia adopted a tough security approach combined with education aimed at deradicalization. The initial approach was to disengage radicals from their organizations, but authorities soon switched the focus to teaching them less radical interpretations of Islam.

Extremists in Saudi Arabia’s prisons, who had conducted or planned terror attacks at home, were the first group targeted. This involved a six-week intensive rehabilitation program, complete with counseling, theology, and medical treatment. There was a focus on re-integrating them into society. Next, Islamists returning from fighting wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria, were put through the program.

The initial success rate was good, but unsuccessful in about 20% of cases. This prompted the authorities to target the wells of extremism, notably raiding and closing madrasas that were preaching and teaching terror and Islamism. This allowed authorities to achieve the twin goals of separating radicals from their political groups and their extremist ideas.

The Saudis also made deradicalization a public issue, by interviewing former extremists on television, making mainstream the idea that radical Islamism was not normal or acceptable.

As the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia has the credentials to help deradicalize Gaza

Saudi Arabia is modernizing in a way that could reshape the Muslim world. It is easing many Islamic restrictions at home, shifting its economy away from its dependence on oil, and openly working with Israel, even though it does not recognize it.

The Saudis would like to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict, recognize Israel, sign a defense treaty with the US, and work with them on its real priority, which is containing the evil octopus of Iran. A peace dividend worth billions of riyals and shekels is on the table if Saudi petrodollars can mix with Israeli technological prowess.

The Singaporean Approach

Singapore is a rich Southeast Asian city-state of 5.6 million people, of which 76% are ethnic Chinese, 15% are Muslim Malays, 7.5% are Indians, and the rest is a mix.

Since post 9-11 and the rise and fall of ISIS, Singapore has faced a small minority of its Muslim population becoming radicalized, often self-radicalized. The country has developed an effective deradicalization program.

This is critical for Singapore, which has worked hard to maintain – or impose – racial harmony after race riots in the 1960s. Singapore was part of the British colony of Malaya, which gained independence as the Federation of Malaya in 1957. Singapore was then kicked out of the federation in 1965, and became its own state. Malaya then became Malaysia. The main reason for this split was that Muslim Malays were the majority in Malaysia, while ethnic Chinese were the majority in Singapore. This history explains why Singapore cares greatly about keeping Islamism in check, especially as Hamas members have trained in Malaysia before.

Singapore’s deradicalization program uses a draconian piece of legislation called the Internal Security Act (ISA). It is a hangover from British colonial times and allows for radicalized suspects to be detained without trial (subject to supervision by an independent advisory board under the Supreme Court).

Rather than putting suspects on trial, which would draw attention to them and potentially raise community tensions, detainees go through deradicalization education. The aim is to rehabilitate them.

A Religious Rehabilitation Group was established, and respected Islamic scholars were recruited to work intensively one-on-one with the detainees, to challenge and correct their radical interpretation of Islam. If the detainee is a family’s main income earner, financial help is provided to the family during this period and, in some cases, even after release.

The punishment is the detainment, but the possibility of release is the carrot. Detainees who respond positively to the education and counselling, and show remorse, can be released back into the community. They are placed in vocational job training to give them job skills to help them reintegrate into society. Like regular parolees, they have restrictions on their movements.

Overall, this program has been successful, with a roughly 90 percent success rate of detainees being deradicalized and released. Hardened radicals remain in detention. One key leaning has been how long deradicalization takes. Initially, the program took years, but this has been reduced to about nine months. The shorter process has been less effective, though it is not certain that duration is the only factor because radicalization influences have changed and become more effective, too.

Obviously, Singapore is a small country with a Muslim minority, so it is different to the Palestinian territories. However, it clearly has some experience and expertise to share. Singapore has excellent relations with Arab states, and with Israel, which helped the nascent Singapore build its defense forces after independence.

The Indonesian Approach

Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country with 87 percent of its 274 million people being Muslim. It has trouble with Islamist extremists, with a few pockets of ISIS remaining, and has had some success deradicalizing them.

Like in Singapore, its program is based on re-educating detainees about Islamic teachings. This includes former terrorists, now rehabilitated, giving lectures on Islamic theology. State institutions and civil organizations also provide job skills training, and life skills such as money management, to prepare them to integrate into society.

A feature of Indonesia’s program is that it is not mandatory. Detainees can opt out. Indonesia believes that having detainees buy into the process is a key part of its success. The problem is what to do with those radicals who refuse. They can serve out their sentences and be released unreformed. Nevertheless, 89% of those released do not offend again. Those who reoffend, usually do so within two years of release.

Indonesia supports the Palestinians and does not recognize Israel. Intriguingly, though, Indonesia’s president-elect Prabowo Subianto may be more open to working with Israel than any of his predecessors. As defense minister, Prabowo held meetings with Israeli officials about agricultural cooperation. Food security is major issue for Indonesia, while Israel is a world leader in agricultural technology. The two countries also cooperate quietly on tourism. Despite no formal ties, before Covid-19 about 40,000 Indonesians a year would visit Israel, mostly Christians on pilgrimages.

Indonesia is also desperate for a higher international profile; one it feels befitting of its stature as the world’s fourth biggest country and a rising power. This a perfect opportunity for the country to play a constructive role in a high-profile global issue.

Deradicalization is a big task and one that will require constant work. The international community has the money and political will to rebuild Gaza’s buildings and roads, but deradicalizing the Palestinian body politic is the most important task. It is necessary for any lasting political solution to be negotiated.

It is time for friends of peace to stand up, and a chance for Muslim states to do more than express outrage and make a real contribution to peace. These countries’ actions matter more than Western leaders’ pantomime.

April 1, 2024 | 5 Comments »

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  1. @E. Rowell
    I agree with your explanation of how palestinians/arabs/etc. justify their murderous impulses. This just goes to show that what they have is a socio-pathic illness, and it must be treated as such. It brings to mind the US’s attempt to win the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese during that war. That task was nigh on to impossible. Israel will need to look for other solutions. Population transfer, if it can be accomplished, stands the highest chance of bringing peace to Gaza (IMHO).