Rehabilitation of extremists is a state’s responsibility

Rehabilitation programmes for surrendered extremists aim to help individuals who have been involved in extremist activities disengage from violence and reintegrate into society

| Updated: 27 February, 2023 1:22 pm IST

The UK loves lecturing its former colony on human rights, democracy, discrimination, caste and the usual virtue signals of today’s woke activism. But it rarely reflects over its own institutional racism on one side and its cultural relativism, violating the rights of its own British citizens on the other.

In between, it’s stuck between its “chota Pakistans” like Birmingham, the Zakir Naik-type Anjem Choudharys and their victims like ISIS bride Shamima Begum.

Begum is a British woman who left the UK in 2015 to join the terrorist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) in Syria. She was 15 years old at the time and travelled to Syria with two other schoolgirls from East London. While in Syria, Begum married an ISIS fighter and remained with the group for several years.

In 2019, Begum was found by journalists in a refugee camp in Syria and gave interviews expressing her desire to return to the UK. However, the British government revoked her citizenship, citing national security concerns. This decision was controversial and has been the subject of legal challenges.

Begum’s case raises complex legal and ethical issues regarding citizenship, terrorism, and the rights of individuals who have joined extremist groups. Some argue that Begum should be allowed to return to the UK and face trial for any crimes she may have committed, while others believe that her decision to join ISIS and her unrepentant attitude make her a security threat who should be prevented from returning.

Shamima Begum lost her appeal against the decision to revoke her British citizenship, leaving her barred from returning to the UK and stuck in a camp in northern Syria. Begum had fled during the terrorist group ISIS’s last stand and had three children, two of whom died of disease or malnutrition.

Sajid Javid, the then Home Secretary, removed her British citizenship and she was thought to have Bangladeshi citizenship, but the Bangladesh government was “deeply concerned” that she had been “erroneously identified” as a Bangladeshi national. Critics allege Javid breached the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by denying citizenship to those who support terror.

Judges in a commission reporting her case had to consider whether the state’s obligations to combat trafficking and abuse of children should have any influence over national security decisions. The commission concluded that there was a credible suspicion that Begum had been trafficked to Syria and that the motive for bringing her there was sexual exploitation. Begum’s legal challenge failed, but other western countries have allowed former IS supporters back, with Germany allowing 100, France allowing more than 100, and Sweden allowing double figures.

The UK could learn from India how it treats its internal insurgents and home-grown terrorists, providing legal aid, fair trials, and rehabilitation to make it easy to join the mainstream.

Extremism is a type of behaviour that goes beyond the norms of society and is considered dangerous and unacceptable. It has become a growing global concern, leading to more people engaging in extremist activities. To counter this, rehabilitation programmes have been developed to help those who have surrendered or been identified as extremists be de-radicalized and reintegrated into society.

Rehabilitation programmes for surrendered extremists aim to help individuals who have been involved in extremist activities disengage from violence and reintegrate into society. These programmes can take many forms, depending on the specific needs and circumstances of the individuals involved.

De-radicalization strategies may involve counselling, education, and vocational training, as well as programmes that seek to counter extremist ideologies and promote tolerance and understanding. Reintegration programmes may focus on building social and economic support networks for individuals as they transition back into their communities.

Effective rehabilitation programs require a multidisciplinary approach, involving psychologists, social workers, educators, and law enforcement officials, among others. Despite challenges, such programs have shown promise in helping individuals break free from extremist ideologies and rebuild their lives.

The first surrender policy in J&K was announced in 1995, with a one-time fixed deposit of ₹1.5 lakh, a monthly stipend of ₹1,800, and some vocational training. The 2010 Policy on the Return of Ex-Militants to the State sought to facilitate the return of ex-militants who had crossed over the PoK/Pakistan border for training in insurgency, demarcating four entry points and providing monetary incentives.

The key considerations in formulating policies included monetary incentives, safety and security benefits guaranteed to militants and their families, and the existing societal attitudes towards reintegrating former militants into the mainstream. According to the South Asian Terrorism Project (SATP) portal, 38,482 terrorists have surrendered to date since 2000, the highest number being 4411 in 2022.

India has embarked on systemic deradicalisation programmes to counter radicalised thought amongst those identified as being at-risk, as well as those contemplating joining or returning after having joined terror groups. Examples such as Kerala’s ‘Operation Pigeon’ demonstrate how the tactical design of such programmes can bridge the gap between online and offline radicalisation.

Rehabilitation programmes for surrendered extremists can offer numerous benefits for individuals, their families, and society as a whole. From a psychological perspective, such programmes can provide individuals with a sense of hope, purpose, and belonging, helping them to overcome feelings of isolation and despair. By engaging in de-radicalization strategies, individuals may gain new perspectives on the world, learn critical thinking skills, and develop more constructive ways of expressing their grievances.

From a social standpoint, rehabilitation programs can promote social cohesion and reduce the risk of violent extremism by addressing the root causes of radicalization, such as poverty, marginalization, and discrimination. By providing individuals with education, vocational training, and support networks, reintegration programmes can also promote economic empowerment and help individuals become productive members of society.

Implementing effective rehabilitation programmes for surrendered extremists can be challenging too, for various reasons. Despite these challenges, India has, however, maintained effective rehabilitation programmes as valuable tools in preventing and countering violent extremism, promoting social cohesion in an increasingly fractionalised country, while attempting to build a resilient and inclusive Indic society. Shamima Begum’s case is where the UK can start taking lessons from its former revitalised and decolonising colony.

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