Rehabilitating ISIS terrorists is a big lie

Some of the released extremists had no qualms about taking part in horrific terrorist acts and political assassinations perpetrated in Tunisia.
Sunday 10/03/2019
An ISIS member looks out from a prison cell in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq.  (Reuters)
Keeping in check. An ISIS member looks out from a prison cell in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq. (Reuters)

Developments in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq, signal the clinical death of the organisation known as the Islamic State, one of the bloodiest terrorist groups the world has seen in the last decade.

With these developments came many calls, led by US policies, for the repatriation of Islamic State (ISIS) fighters to their countries of origin. European nations, as well as other countries whose nationals participated in ISIS’s bloody wars in Iraq, Syria and Libya, are insisting that the militants be tried in territories where they committed their crimes against humanity.

This controversy concerning approaches to the societal reintegration of extremist fighters or to rehabilitating their humanity, which they have ceded to ISIS dogma, necessitates going to the historical records. Historical precedents highlight an almost immutable truth that the vast majority of those who joined extremist organisations cannot recover their humanness because of the ideological brainwashing based on false religious dogma, which leads to bloody crimes and waging war.

When discussing calls for the repatriation of extremists, one must look to past cases that stirred the same controversy, such as the Algerian experience. Algeria suffered much at the hands of the so-called Algerian mujahedeen returning from Afghanistan during the Black Decade, which wreaked havoc in the country from 1991-2002.

Any discussion of the fate of ISIS fighters and their families, including their children, would be incomplete without mentioning the sweeping consensus among experts on extremist groups regarding the calamity that Algeria went through.

That tragedy would not have happened were it not for the eruption of violent confrontations at the hands of the Algerian militants returning from Afghanistan. They were part of the first generation of extremists, who, on returning to their home countries, laid the groundwork for the emergence of the second generation of extremists that sowed destruction in many Arab countries. We are witnessing the end of the third generation of terrorists received in the bosom of ISIS.

Despite attempts to reintegrate the Algerian mujahedeen into Algerian society starting in 1992, the extremists thought of nothing but to persist in their misguided and bloody approach to changing existing regimes and establishing an Islamic one based solely on the concept of the caliphate. This was the normal consequence of the false religious indoctrination they had received in Afghanistan coupled with military training and fighting experience against the former Soviet Union.

What was even more dangerous in the Algerian experience is that the terrorist actions perpetrated by extremists were not random and isolated operations but were part of well-laid plans to plunge the country in chaos. They even formed a militant structure called the Islamic Salvation Army, the military wing of the Islamic Front, and coordinated their actions with the remnants of the so-called Armed Islamic Movement, which was formed in the early 1980s.

These terrorist movements worked towards creating an environment based on violence and terror that kept Algeria burning for ten years.

Algeria’s neighbour to the east, Tunisia, was spared for a long time after its independence in 1956 the horrors of terrorism until the January 2011 revolution. Unwise policies, adopted in the name of freedom, led to the release of dozens of extremists involved in establishing a terrorist cell in 2007 known as the Soliman Shooting. Tunisian extremist Salafists had planned to declare a rebellion against the state and to change the republican regime, which in their eyes was a form of apostasy, with a caliphate.

As if that wasn’t enough, the released extremists joined the most dangerous terrorist organisations, starting with Ansar al-Sharia and ending with ISIS in Libya and Syria.

Some of them had no qualms about taking part in horrific terrorist acts and political assassinations perpetrated in Tunisia. So how can we expect them and their like to accept reintegration into Tunisian society and respect the statutes and rules of the civil state?

The premise that the humanity of an extremist can be revived remains a lie that we like to believe because of the relentless hype from human rights organisations. Paradoxically, those groups have yet to come up with sensible approaches that can help rid the world of the legacy of terrorism.