An intriguing article about a subject that is regularly ignored too often appeared in The Christian Science Monitor Friday. Can radicalized people who are terrorists or are potentially on their way to becoming one be won over by actually addressing their needs peacefully?
The answer is not a definitive yes but it appears to be a strong yes most of the time. Some of the programs around the world used to address the concerns of radicalized organizations and reintegrate extremists back into society are mentioned in the article and most have been heavily successful with a relatively small number of failures. Surprisingly, even the U.S. government might finally be catching on to this idea:
The Pentagon recently gave a $4.5 million grant to a group of psychologists based at the University of Maryland to conduct a five-year study on not only how to deradicalize militants, but perhaps also find ways to intervene with potential recruits before they sign up.
Obviously, this idea is hugely controversial (though not often debated) and not everyone is going to agree on these issues. One of the realities Americans must accept is no matter how good most of us think a societal environment is, there will be unhappy people who look to terrorism because of what they see as injustice. Timothy McVeigh would be a quintessential example of this. On the other hand, the numbers game is easy to see. The likelihood of someone becoming that radicalized in the U.S. certainly appears to be lower per capita. (Or maybe we just express extremism in different ways, both violent and non-violent).
Another reality is these programs will do a lot of good because “sometimes all that’s required is to make sure militants get a job and find a place in society”, but there will still be a minority who are not appeased unless they see blood. There is no answer with a 100% success rate at this time. This makes sense in that almost no one would be satisfied with just a job if, for example, their family, who were innocent civilians, had been wrongly killed by a foreign entity in wartime. We are kidding ourselves if we assume that type of created hatred would be extinguished so easily. But the importance of preventing what can be stopped before people choose that route should not be overlooked.
The detailed reasons for how militants are created, what they want exactly, and the methods for creating peace will vary from place to place and person to person (i.e. a militant in the Middle East probably has very different circumstances than one in Southeast Asia). But the important point here is the simple recognition by even the most ardent supporters of military solutions that violence through warfare by the U.S. is not always the answer and might even be (soon possibly scientifically proven!) the worst answer with violence begetting violence.
The difficulty now is the acceptance by the American populace of this after we have been brainwashed through so much propaganda about what “they” are and how evil these extremists can be. That is not to excuse crimes that have been committed but is about the future and diminishing violence as much as can reasonably be accomplished. In the past, we were told “they” were evil, crazy, and hated us because of the way we live. We are then further distanced from “them” through simple linguistic tricks in warfare, such as the idea of collateral damage. If civilians are killed in a gunfight in the U.S., they are innocent bystanders which notes the recognition they are people and creates feelings of empathy. If the same happens outside our borders, they are collateral damage which suggests physical damage to a lifeless entity and breeds feelings of apathy. Generating support for warfare would be far more difficult without these distortions of language. And therein lies the difficulty of making such a drastic change in tactics by the U.S. government.
But these changes are possible and the sooner we accept them the sooner we can truly make strides in the War on Terror.