MALAYSIA’S terrorist rehabilitation programme panel member Dr Ahmad El-Muhammady believes that it is important to get reformed former terrorist group members to take part in Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) activities.
Ahmad, a political science lecturer at the International Islamic University of Malaysia, who works closely with the authorities in curbing militant activity, says that these former members can be credible voices in persuading others to stay away from extremist ideology and radicalism.
“In the case of Harris, he could share his personal experience with the authorities – his recruitment techniques, what platforms he used and who his target groups were,” explains Ahmad, pointing to one example of a reformed IS recruiter spreading awareness of the dangers of radicalisation.
“Those who are undergoing rehabilitation are also able to open up more to Harris and have a very engaging discussion.
“This is because he understands the arguments they use, how they think and what counter arguments work best.”
Ahmad believes that the most effective form of rehabilitation is the right combination of soft and hard approaches.
“The hard approach includes things like detention. The soft approach is dialogue, but both must be done by separate entities,” he says.
“The hard approach is often done by the police and Prisons Department, whereas the soft approach is by non-security individuals such as NGOs, rehabilitators and people like Harris.”
Ahmad stresses that both approaches must be carried out within the country’s legal framework and aim to achieve the same goals: prevention, raising awareness, and encouraging members of the public to stay away from militancy.
He further underscores the need for society to support those who want to exit militancy.
“When someone wants to turn away from militancy, often people are suspicious of them. It should not be that way. Society must be supportive of those who want to leave that life and provide them with encouragement and necessary assistance.
“If they do not get support, they may go back to militancy as this may fortify their previous beliefs,” he says, adding that compassion and moral support can go a long way in changing the lives of former militants and help them come to terms with their sense of regret and repentance.
Iman Research co-founder Dina Zaman also recognises the importance of including reformed people in the CVE process, but she emphasises that it is best that they remain as advisors.
“We need to know the process of radicalisation and how we can stem this in the public and among vulnerable people who may be influenced.
“It’s also a way of integrating back into society,” says Dina, who is also fundraising director at the think tank that studies society, religion and perception with a primary focus on preventing and countering violent extremism.
According to Dina, the best way to prevent extremism is to take a multipronged approach.
“We need to look at our government policies and how we dictate race and religion as well as identity and social capital in Malaysia,” she says.
The fact that people turn to the Internet for religious advice and direction shows that there is a huge gap that we are not fulfilling,” she says.
“We need to regulate religious teachers – Muslim or not – coming into the country, and we need to regulate private and fly-by-night religious schools,” she adds.
Dina believes that the public also has an important role to play by working with authorities and CVE organisations.
“If they see something amiss, communicate with us. I also think that we need more compassion in the way we approach religion and race – we all ‘pakai tembak’ (blindly attack) on social media,” she says.
“We must be critical in our thinking when we assess situations.”
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