(ANTIMEDIA) Crime prevention officers in Aarhus, a small Danish town, are responsible for one of the most effective anti-terrorism operations the world has ever known. Instead of bombs, these officers take a very different approach, offering a chance for redemption to young men and women who previously went to Syria to train under the watch of ISIS militants. The results are shocking the entire continent, and now, it’s America’s turn to learn a thing or two.
In 2012, Aarhus officers started receiving calls from concerned parents. Strangely enough, the callers all had the same complaint: their child had gone missing. Once the officers looked into the information provided, they learned all the missing persons were young men and women who lived in local Muslim communities.
After a deeper investigation, officers learned the missing individuals had all traveled to Syria. They had been looking to join ISIS.
At the time, European countries had passed harsh rules and resolutions against citizens who traveled to Syria with the intent of joining ISIS. France shut down mosques and the United Kingdom called Britons fighting alongside ISIS “enemies of the state.” Even Norway recently joined the gang, hinting it would revoke the citizenship of nationals involved with the militant group.
Instead of following the trend, Danish officers from Aarhus took the exact opposite approach, making “it clear to citizens of Denmark who had traveled to Syria that they were welcome to come home, and that when they did, they would receive help with going back to school, finding an apartment, meeting with a psychiatrist or a mentor, or whatever they needed to fully integrate back into society,” NPR reported.
The results were astounding.
Instead of seeing more local young men and women fleeing to Syria to join militants, Aarhus helped about 330 young potential radicals denounce their terrorist ties. Instead of forcing people to stay by arresting them or stripping them of their rights, the Aarhus officers “fought the roots of radicalization.” But the program was not only effective at the beginning of the ISIS scare. Since the program was launched, NPR noted, “very few have left from Aarhus for Syria, even when traffic from the rest of Europe was spiking.”
Arie Kruglanski, a social psychologist at the University of Maryland who studies violent extremism, says “[t]here are strong correlations between humiliation and the search for an extremist ideology.” Militant groups like ISIS prey on young men and women who are the victims of racism, as well as political or religious discrimination. When they feel hopeless, Kruglanski claims, they are most at risk of joining these groups. With the Aarhus approach, however, these kids are taught they have a place to call home.
“The original response was to fight [extremism] through military and policing efforts, and they didn’t fare too well,” Kruglanski says. Instead of stopping extremism, the established response “puts [people] as suspects and constrains them and promotes discrimination,” which, over time, exacerbates the problem, making it more likely to “inflame the sense there’s discrimination and motivate young people to act against society.”
Musa Al-Gharbi, a Muslim sociologist who often writes for the American Conservative, recently wrote that Muslims in America are offered the short end of the stick when it comes to helping authorities find radicalized individuals in Islamic communities.
“Often,” Al-Guarbi explained, “would-be jihadists give plenty of warning signs … [and] those who witness a loved one undergoing this kind of transformation frequently do attempt to challenge that person’s radical views.” But all too frequently, they “choose not to alert the authorities.” Why? Because the government fails to reward good behavior, and in many cases, it even instigates young Muslims’ participation in terrorist activities, putting them in jail for at least a decade and destroying their chance at a normal life once they are released.
If law enforcement in America had the same approach as Aarhus officers, things could take a different shape, and those in American Islamic communities who are struggling to find help for their loved ones would have a place to seek help.
What Aarhus officers were doing was “so unexpected that it created an opening for people to think differently about their ideology,” reports NPR. Instead of being treated harshly, they are treated with care. “That kind of shock opens people’s minds to [accept that] maybe they were wrong about their society that they perceived as their enemy. It opens a possible window into rethinking and re-evaluating,” Kruglanski says.
Will America ever be brave enough to do the same?
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