This is, by far, one of the big questions, not only at the level of terrorism but at the human level. Can anyone change? The immediate response is obvious. Human beings change throughout their lives, even it can do it overnight if extreme events happen. After all, this is what psychological therapies are all about, changing thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and even changing the subject’s brain in the direction that improves their mental health.
To see how the brain changes with psychotherapy, we recommend that you read this article
But all of these patterns of the individual can be metaphorically considered a drug; the hardest part is not to leave it, but to avoid falling back.
Former terrorists and their psychology
To get to the point that concerns us, let’s try to give a terrorist back his human side and take him away from everyone he’s been in, but it’s really difficult; because relapses also exist for them.
Before starting to detail the process, you need to know two essential points already covered in chapters I and II on terrorism:
- The process by which someone becomes a terrorist
In the past, widespread methods were used to attract supporters for the cause. Today, with the use of new technologies, the situation is quite different, however sigue having a general pattern made up of four phases. Their function is to gradually plunge the victim into a new world based on violence and dehumanization, until she becomes a terrorist.
- The profile of victims who become terrorists
Today, terrorists tasked with recruiting new followers focus their efforts on knowing the victims in a personalized way, to “stick” more easily. It therefore seems reasonable to think that if the new follower became a terrorist because he had persuaded him in a “personalized” way, the therapy you receive will also need to be personalized.
- The case of Michael Muhammad Knight, a western boy who joined Daesh
In fact, in a previous article on psychology and the mind, we already talked about a real case of a western boy, apparently in his sanity, who decides to join the terrorist group Islamic State. His reasons and motivations are incredible.
Phases of rehumanization
The process, always adapted to the idiosyncrasy of each individual, consists of the following three phases. We have to keep in mind something very important throughout the process: we can not achieve change in a rational way. Subjects under these circumstances will always struggle against other people’s reasoning with their beliefs, as if it were propaganda being broadcast over a loudspeaker. But not only that; throughout the process, which usually takes a long time to achieve a nuclear change in the person, at no point can you try to change your mind using reason because every time this is done it is a setback for the exchange.
So what to do? Go for the emotional path.
1st phase: emotional reactivation
This step serves as a basis and it focuses on rebuilding the emotional bonds between the victim (Who had become a supporter of the terrorist group) and his family. The key lies in reactivating memories and emotional connections. The difficulty lies in the fact that these memories have been buried. Another point that makes the process even more difficult is the fact that the families, who ask for help in these cases, when they do, the victim is already at a very advanced stage.
While most of these people (especially young people) no longer see their parents as such, the human brain still leaves little traces of the past. These traces lead to memories which, although being deep down, can be rekindled at any time.
For that, loved ones must do their part and try to resuscitate those happy emotional memories in your child. Moreover, as we have already mentioned, at no time should one attempt to persuade by rational means.
This process must be followed, for now, by relatives alone, because the intervention of third parties is generally counterproductive by increasing the defenses of the victim. A very simple exercise with surprising results is, for example, to put a big picture of when I was little in the refrigerator.
When you get to this point, the victim slightly resensitized, Usually, albeit reluctantly, agrees to participate in support groups. This step must be immediate so as not to miss the opportunity that months of work have cost.
The author of these studies tells us the following case:
“A young man in the process of radicalization had focused his speech on the rejection of alcohol. His personal jihad was to remove every trace of this substance from the house. Deodorants, Perfumes, and Food Items Had to Eliminate His parents had struggled to elicit an emotional reaction in his son for several months, until Mother’s Day came, and the boy gave him a bottle of perfume. for the time being. “In about two hours, we’ll be there,” he replied.
2nd phase: Confrontation with reality
This second phase he uses supportive therapies to improve the victim’s situation. Their components will be other ex-jihad recruits who have already been rehabilitated. They must explain why they came out of this dark world; convey the contradictions they found in him and the lies they told them as nothing was as they had been promised.
They will also walk you through the stages through which they were brainwashed. But the central element we are working on is making him see that he will never find what he needs by being one of them. It is now that the person who aspired to become a terrorist she starts to think for herself again. But there is still a long way to go; about six more months.
It is common at this stage for the person to suffer from ambivalence, a consequence of the conflict they are experiencing. A real case of a young man who suffered from this situation is described as follows:
“One day, I told myself that my recruiters were terrorists, bloodthirsty executioners, capable of playing football with their heads recently severed. I wondered how it was possible for them to talk about religion. However, one more hour. I was later convinced that those who sought my apostasy were paid by the Zionists, so they had to be slaughtered. “
3rd and final phase: uncertainty of savings
In the final phase sessions with ex-recruits remain. The central objective is now to achieve a lasting state of doubt in order to avoid a relapse into radicalization.
At the start of this phase, subjects find it difficult to pay full attention to the doubts that beset them, but gradually, and by combining them with the emotional support of family and ex-recruits, these doubts accumulate.
Most of the people she has worked with have been successful, according to researcher Bouzar. But at the same time, he warns:
“Every week, we received a call from five families to denounce a process of radicalization […] this figure is only an emerging part of the iceberg. “
- Bouzar, D. (2015) How to escape jihadist control? Les Editions de l’Atelier.
- Bouzar, D. (2015) breaking away from jihadist networks. Dounia Bouzar on MyC nº76,
- Bouzar, D. (2015) Life after Daech. Atelier editions,
- Schäfer, A. (2007) The Seed of Violence. Annette Schäfer and MyC nº27,