Islamist Rehabilitation in America

Now with the fall of the so called Islamic State, a loss of territory in Iraq and Syria and a political proxy war between, Russia, Syria, Iran and Western countries in the Arabian Peninsula, the global community is asking themselves where and what has happened to all the foreign fighters who travelled to the region. Have they stayed in the region or have they travelled back to the country of origin?

For those of us living in the West, the question arises to how many Islamic State fighters left and how are these individuals re-integrating back into the societies in which they are returning to. What are their profiles—women, children, divorcees and what services are provided to them once they are re-integrating back into society? There are more questions than answers, but there are precedents to deal with this.

Throughout the United States, communities in many urban cities throughout the United States have been working on drug and gang rehabilitation and have provided safe alternatives in and out of extremism. Their stories ranging from Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, to name a few, show a symbiotic relationship between various forms of extremism and how recruiters target, solicit and ultimately facilitate various individuals to join their cause and the often slow and painful journey in and out of this extremist mindset. These include both Muslim, non-Muslim, Latino, white and black, all seeking to find ways in which they can find alternative pathways.

Furthermore, the diversity of the threat poses challenges and are not easy to solve. Most recent high-profile cases include the death last year in Maryland of Richard Collins III, an African American student a day away from graduating from Bowie State University, who was stabbed to death by Sean Urbanski, a white supremacist. This underscores how extremism continues to thrive in many different forms and rehabilitation is vital for all sectors of society.

We are 16 years removed from the tragic events of 9/11 and now former al-Qa’ida members who joined the organization in the United States—many whom are U.S. citizens are returning home after their incarceration. Finding positive and consistent programs that help them with their integration back into society is more vital than ever, as the world has changed and groups like Islamic State has morphed into more brutal techniques and tactics.

This spring, Quilliam International, the world’s oldest counter-extremism think tank produced a major study on the longest and most successful 43 year deradicalization program operating in the United States, largely unknown to policymakers and the general public at-large. Its step by step formula, including ideological rehabilitation, self-empowerment and counselling services were essential components as this effort has now produced healthy, productive and thriving members of the American public and overall good humans making a contribution. It is these types of quiet and consistent programs that are important and vital for long-term success.

Learning from past experiences in rehabilitation, regardless of the ideological spectrum can aide us all to find targeted approaches in dealing with the rise of extremist groups, and also to proactively deal with emergent ones on the horizon.

Dr. Muhammad Fraser-Rahim is the Executive Director, North America for Quilliam International, the world’s first and oldest counter-extremism organization with offices in London and Washington, DC.