Sending terrorists to jail is counter-productive because then they will act even more like terrorists.
If you do not follow that logic, then you clearly do not sit on the U.K. House of Commons Select Committee on Justice, where a group of cross-party MPs has just proposed that those convicted of certain terrorism offenses should not end up in jail.
The theory is that, with prison radicalization now a problem, and de-radicalization initiatives so under-developed, it is better to not jail convicts guilty of certain lower-level offenses.
But the answer to prison radicalization is surely better solutions against prison radicalization (for example, isolating Islamist recruiters to reduce their influence), not to stop sending those who have committed crimes to jail.
To be fair to the committee, they were seemingly only repeating what the Parole Board told them. However, all this speaks to a larger problem of over-complicating our response to the very real dangers posed by terrorism. Yes, absurd ideas get aired in all walks of life. But a higher proportion than most seem to emerge when it comes to discussing Islamist terrorism.
Just look at Europe. In recent years, we have had the notion floated that the Islamic State should be renamed as ‘The Un-Islamic State’. That al Qaeda are our allies. That the answer to anti-Muslim hatred is for journalists to stop revealing the identity of terrorists. That Germany’s open-door policy on refugees reduces the terror threat, rather than increases it. That the best defense against ISIS suicide bombers is “our own humanity.” Or that terrorism committed in the name of Islam has absolutely nothing to do with Islam.
It was even once fashionable to contend that those who took part in the fighting in Syria were analogous to the International Brigades and should be considered buddingGeorge Orwells. This became a less sustainable theory after a cell of ISIS returnees from Syria proceeded to massacre Parisians enjoying an evening out in November 2015.
Yet even when these “sophisticated” ideas are disproven, the mindset that is drawn to them just pivots effortlessly to attach itself to a new delusion.
So we get British judges deciding that that those attempting to join the fighting in Syria are just naive, or Danish psychologists saying that jihadis only traveled to Syria for a “decent life” and to escape a “lack of equal opportunities and exclusion.” If that is the lens through which decades of foreign fighter travel is viewed, then the de-radicalization approach they have trialed in Denmark – that terrorists just need understanding, counseling, a cup of coffee, and a nicer place to live – makes perfect sense.
Yet some of these ideas do not even have the benefit of being that original. Indeed, some have already failed. For example, one think-tank paper on returning fighters suggested, “quietist Salafism can represent an effective antidote to violent jihadism." This was an approach once taken by the UK government and shown to have decisively failed almost a decade ago.
Equally, those pushing for ”reintegration” of returnees from Syria over prosecution ignore the fact that over the past few decades, virtually none of those who fought in terrorist conflict zones such as Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Yemen, and then returned to their home countries were prosecuted either. There was no public censure at all.
Yet the result was not more integration and a reduction in the threat — it was some of these veterans taking advantage of their freedom to radicalize a new generation of Islamist sympathizers.
Our response to terrorism has become over-complicated. It’s time to go back to basics. Never mind the incessant search for nuance where none likely exists, or looking for shades of grey when the truth may be closer to black and white. All of this has hampered our response and contributed to a misunderstanding of the nature of the adversary we today face.
Killing or capturing the enemy, infiltrating terror networks, undermining Islamist ideology, and applying the rule of law may not be terribly original suggestions. But they will likely work better than all the complex alternatives.
This piece originally appeared in The Washington Examiner