A different approach is needed to stop people turning to terrorism

A different approach is needed to stop people turning to terrorism

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Islamic State has conquered a large area in Iraq and Syria.
Islamic State has conquered a large area in Iraq and Syria.
Photo: AFP

It is worrying that people from liberal, Western countries are signing up to the extremist ideologies of groups such as Islamic State (IS). Many travel to the Middle East to fight for the terrorists. Some even return home, transformed into terrorists, ready to carry out attacks on their homeland.

But why do these young people, many with bright futures ahead of them, sacrifice everything to fight for a terrorist organisation? On the face of it, it seems Islamic ideology is the only reason. But I believe what IS really offers them is empowerment, and a sense of purpose in life.

Most of these "terror tourists" are young adults just out of their teens. It is a time when many have no idea what their future holds. They are still coming to terms with the new responsibilities in their lives.

That's when groups like IS come into the picture. They run appealing recruitment videos which highlight the excitement of being a jihadist fighter. But most of all, they instil a sense of belonging and purpose.

They show unity by telling people that they'll be marching together with a united force of tens of thousands of people. They offer the opportunity to meet like-minded individuals, a welcome change for those who may have suffered discrimination for many years.

They boast that they have the power to conquer new lands, enforce their rules and generally be top dog. All you have to do, they say, is sign up. And even better, they promise that their actions are justified by God.

For many potential recruits, who often come from low-income, second-generation immigrant families, the cause is noble and the attraction is strong. Would you rather deliver pizzas or help run a new, ideal state?

Countries around the world, especially Western countries, need to understand the appeal. Most countries take the easy path and introduce tough anti-terror laws that try to halt terrorists even before they even commit a crime.

France now allows authorities to seize identification documents from would-be jihadists before they leave for Syria. Britain has arrested more than 60 returnees. At least 30 returning jihadists are facing trials and long prison terms in Germany.

However, we can look at the city of Aarhus, in Denmark, for a better approach. Instead of punishment, they opt for rehabilitation. They look at the returnees on an individual level, and try to help them find direction in life through peaceful means. They provide counselling and healthcare, and also help the jihadists to return to education or employment. It is a much more effective and humane way of dealing with the situation.

Many overseas IS fighters are just ordinary people looking for a way in life. We must first understand why they went to fight if we ever want to stop more joining in the future.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
How to stop people turning to terrorism

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