Can Deradicalization Reduce Violent Extremism? This Expert Thinks So

When seeking counter-terrorism explanations and solutions, the focus is generally on why radicalization occurs. What happens after radicalization–deradicalization–is much more complicated. Deradicalisation programs are becoming increasingly important in countries that aim to avoid further violence and rehabilitate those who have been radicalized.

Deradicalization programs vary but can include counseling, theological education, and attempts to deemphasize violence in the radicalized person’s value system. There is much criticism of the programs’ effectiveness, however, since there is little evidence at this point to confirm whether or not these programs work.

The writings of Daniel Koehler, Director of the German Institute on Radicalization and De-radicalization Studies, and contributor to George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security are vital to understanding this new path. Despite much of the criticism leveled at deradicalization programs,

Koehler argues that arresting or killing people is not the answer to violent extremism since it leaves its appeal untouched or even strengthened[1]. Koehler argues that deradicalization is not the same as disengagement. Disengagement is a mere behavioral change ensuring that a person no longer commits illegal activities, but it does not imply a change in ideology[2].

It is important to understand what motivates a person to engage in violent extremism in the first place. A  broad survey of the literature regarding radicalization suggests that possible driving forces include lack of professional prospects, education, community support, or simply a person’s attempt to find meaning and honor in his (sic) life. Diverse schools of thought including sociological, empirical and psychological theories are converging to grapple with this problem.[3]

Koehler suggests a broad set of tools could be used to address an individual’s concerns, from vocational training to religious or psychological counseling, and even creative art therapy[4].

It is important, however, to tailor the deradicalization techniques to each individual. The ideology and identity that is ingrained during the radicalization process are deeply personal and difficult for a person to simply forget. This lack of efficiency is one of many legitimate concerns about deradicalization programs. Despite those concerns, more research and development could demonstrate that investing in these programs could significantly alter the way extremist groups operate, and perhaps, diminish their success.


[1] Price, Michael. (2017, May 26). Can terrorists be deradicalized? Science Magazine. 
[2] Boghani, Priyanka.  “Deradicalization” Is Coming To America. Does It Work? (MARCH 18, 2016 .). 
[3] Koehler, D. (2014). The Radical Online: Individual Radicalization Processes and the Role of the Internet. Journal for Deradicalization, 0(1), 116–134.
[4] Boghani, Priyanka.  “Deradicalization” Is Coming To America. Does It Work? (MARCH 18, 2016 .). 


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Josephine Neulen

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