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I have just read an article in this week’s “L’Express” (July 20) about the first centers of “deradicalization” which the French government will open in Autumn.  It is an interview, in French of course, with a psychologist-psychoanalyst, Amélie Boukhobsa, who explains the methods that will be employed in these programs.  The post you are reading is therefore at once an invitation to French readers to consult the article, and a scoop for non-French readers who otherwise would probably never hear of the approach to be used to convert present and potential terrorists.  That’s the Good News.  I’ll summarize Ms Boukhobsa’s explanations before sharing with you the Bad News.

  1.  Radicalized individuals, aged between 15 and 40 years of age, number 12,000 in France.  They belong to all social classes and economic levels.  Contrary to the public’s illusory self-reassurance, they are not mentally ill.  (Even in this Blog we sometimes call them “maniacs”, as we say hyperbolically that someone is “out of his mind”.)
  2. The specialist distinguishes three levels of radicalization :   a)  Political idealists not yet radicalized, tempted to join Daech in Syria for “humanitarian” reasons, or to combat globalization and “American imperialism”.  Some young women in this category are hoping to find their “Prince Charming” at the front ! ;  b) “Prejihadists”, people who feel that life has dealt them a bad hand, people with a chip on their shoulder because of some real or imagined injustice they have suffered.  They display little religious motivation but are willing candidates for Daech which offers them an opportunity for vengeance ;   c)  True jihadists, characterized by a quadruple motivation :  (i)  To become a martyr and enjoy eternal pleasure in Paradise, with the additional right to choose 70 people to share their heavenly reward;  (ii)  To honor the Prophet;  (iii)  To express their rejection of reason and rationality by an unquestioning acceptance of dogma;  (iv)  To sacralize violence and death.
  3. The challenge for deprogramers is their targets’ absolute faith, in the salafist tradition, in their literal understanding of their sacred texts.  For them the symbolic dimension of religion does not exist.  But some have moments of doubt (they seem to be equivalent to those we call in this Blog BOTBs, Believers on the Brink).  Getting them to speak of their families and of their personal experiences can trigger an emotional response and lead them to question their faith in dogma.  This demands the establishment of an interpersonal bond with them, and, as in classic psychoanalysis, the proposal of a framework which offers an alternative to their dogmatic position (which sounds very much to me like the “good cop” approach).
  4. The centers will handle two different categories of their 30 to 60 inmates.  The first will be people, condemned by the courts, who have returned from Syria, or have committed crimes or are in danger of doing so.  The second will be for volunteers who will spend ten months in a different center, in a program dedicated to getting them to understand themselves, as well as the concepts of secularism and citizenship, and to equip them for social reintegration.  The aim is to reestablish links with their life “before”.  They can continue to practise their religion, but … alone, not in groups (a reminder of the recognized influence of a group praying together).

Now for the Bad News.  The specialist feels confident about converting those tempted to radicalize, but is “not sure” that it is possible to dejihadize a convinced individual (longtime readers of this Blog can think of Jim, our “Lumen de lumine” gung-ho traditionalist Catholic !).  If she is right, the State’s efforts to deradicalize are destined to have no effect on the already radicalized !  Our own suggestion, often repeated in this Blog,  for a media blitzkrieg to expose the absurdity of Radical Terrorism, is likewise not guaranteed of success (see my post “The Final Solution to Fanaticism ?”,February 8, 2015).  But we cannot resign ourselves, in advance, to defeat.  We shall overcome – or we shall be overcome.