Greg Sheridan, the foreign editor of The Australian, makes the case that Indonesia has the most successful deradicalization program today, in part because it approaches active members of Al Jemaah Al Islamiyya as individuals who arrive at radical beliefs and violence for different reasons. Sheridan's observation suggests that at root, alienation may be the key attribute leading men and women to violent extremist groups. Leaders of such groups are willing to exploit their vulnerability, which may take different forms.
The solution, a labor intensive effort to reach members of extremist groups in ways that speak to their particular vulnerabilities, does not sound radically different from efforts to bring gang members or others into the mainstream social fold. While Sheridan's analysis makes it clear that the Islamic component means a great deal when that is the social and religious context in which radicalization takes place, it is as clear that there is nothing intrinsically Islamic about radicalization, or exceptional about Muslim extremists. In Sheridan's words:
Part of the key to Indonesia's success in deradicalisation has been to approach each terrorist as an individual. It's a labour-intensive business. There are many paths to Islamist extremism. Recruitment can be intellectual, emotional, spiritual, based on kinship or on friendship. There is even the occasional lone wolf who comes to the ideology without any social help. Deradicalisation understands that the hard power of counter-terrorism must be matched by intelligent soft power. It seeks to exploit information.
In some senses it is easier for a predominantly Muslim state to undertake than for a secular state because it approaches detained terrorists as Muslims. It seeks to change their mindset by changing their attitude to jihad. Although it provides a lot of intellectual material to bring subjects back to moderation, the emphasis is on practical matters rather than ideological argument. This happens through building up personal connections between state officers and detainees.
One element is to provide modest financial support, especially for the family of detainees, and to provide training and education opportunities. Another feature is the use of former extremists who have themselves returned to moderation. Some of these people have written books. Such people and their books are extremely helpful because extremists have been inculcated to trust only fellow insiders, not to trust the outside world.
In particular, a huge effort is made to bring detainees back from hijrah, or the unreal world of the imagination, to the real world of the here and how. Officers will eat and pray with detainees and give them dignity by sometimes allowing them to lead prayers.
This is not a variant of the old Western mistake of blaming the victim and glorifying the criminal, although the process, if seen out of context, can look strange to an outsider. But the detainees are in no doubt at any point that any violent action they have taken is wrong. The deradicalisation program offers them a way back. It is a sign that the state and society have not given up on them, that they can recover an Islamic meaning to their lives that renounces violence and extremism.