How should we respond to American terrorists?

ADAM QUINN, Opinion Editor

Early one morning last November, a 20-year-old UAB student named Hoda boarded a bus to Atlanta from Hoover. Two days later, she called her father from Syria to tell him that she had joined the Islamic State’s caliphate.

Hoda, whose father emigrated to the U.S. from Yemen, views fighting with the Islamic State as part of her duty as a Muslim. Hoda’s father and family, however, interpret Islam as a peaceful religion directly opposed to the Islamic State’s violent terror campaign.

Hoda was not raised by terrorists, was not taught by terrorists and did not grow up around terrorists. She was radicalized solely through contact with the Islamic State’s social media accounts and her own feelings of political marginalization in the U.S.

Hoda’s case is particularly relevant to Birmingham because it brings a war being fought almost 7,000 miles away to a city 15 minutes from Samford’s campus. But Hoda is not the only one.

Over 22,000 foreign fighters from more than 100 countries have joined Hoda in Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State, according to a March 2015 report to the UN Security Council. At least 3,400 of these come from Western countries, including up to 180 Americans, according to a February 2015 House Homeland Security Committee report.Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 9.27.48 AM

This issue comes even closer to home when these fighters return to the U.S. Just last month, U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper confirmed that 40 U.S. citizens who have previously been members of the Islamic State have already returned home.

The prospect of welcoming former Islamic State members back into the U.S. raises the important question: how can we make sure former terrorists have stopped engaging in terrorism?

The UK has responded to this problem by requiring all British citizens returning from Iraq or Syria to participate in deradicalization programs that attempt to reverse what Prime Minister David Cameron terms “the extremist narrative from which the men and women of violence draw succor.”

However, a 2010 RAND Corporation study found deradicalization programs to be spectacularly unsuccessful in preventing future terrorist actions and in some cases make individuals more likely to commit terrorist actions in the future.

Deradicalization programs fail because they target the religious narratives surrounding extremism instead of the political motivations of extremists themselves.

Yet terrorism is not a religious issue. It is a desperate response to political and social oppression that often uses religion as a justification or recruitment tool.

The U.S. has the opportunity to reverse this trend by implementing disengagement programs that address the root causes of terrorism rather than its symptoms. Instead of deradicalization, the U.S. should focus on disengagement as our primary response to radicals returning to the U.S.

Based on long-standing programs that combat gang involvement in prisons and inner cities, disengagement programs seek to address the political and social roots of extremism. Disengagement recognizes that the most important part of rehabilitating terrorists is simply giving them a better option.

Just as individuals turn to gangs because of poverty and lack of opportunity, many Sunni Muslims in the U.S. turn to the Islamic State to find political representation and social acceptance.

Our job is to give them a voice and a place here so that they don’t have to.

Adam Quinn is a senior English major. Email him at cquinn@samford.edu.

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