By Andrew L. Urban. Letter to The Editor, Sydney Morning Herald, 15/3/2015 – unpublished.
It is encouraging to hear of plans to use former Jihadists to counter radicalisation (SMH 14/3/2015, Ex-jihadists could be used to counter extremist message); it shows someone is thinking, as this is one of the most likely plans to have any success in the conflict with Muslim extremism.
There’s even a lesson from Cold War history to support it. In the 1960s, a number of analysts came to the conclusion that one of the most promising anti-communist strategies was to use the democratic Left to subvert the totalitarian Left. The 1968 Prague Spring proved them right.
This was the policy employed by my father, Dr George R. Urban, at Radio Free Europe in the early to mid 1960s when he ran the Radio’s University programmes; he would give plenty of air time to conversations with disillusioned ex-communists, broadcasting into Eastern Europe, where listeners (including Soviet party officials) would hear not what Western propagandists had to say, but these former party members.
A trial of such a policy has indeed been put into practice in Indonesia, where the problem of Islamic terrorism is acute, as Carl Ungerer writes. [Jihadists in jail: Radicalisation and the Indonesian prison experience, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, May 2011] The country faced “a period of sustained terrorist violence for nearly a decade. Since the first Bali bombings in 2002, the Indonesian counter-terrorism police have arrested more than 600 members of terrorist organisations, most of them from the now dispersed Jemaah Islamiah group.
“The Indonesian approach to de-radicalise terrorist convicts is focused heavily on the former JI leadership. … The police have spearheaded an initiative using former militants who have revised their views on violence to engage other jihadists in prisons. This is based on the assumption that former hardliners have a more lasting impact on supporters of violent jihad than the appeals from moderate, state-sanctioned religious clerics.” Ungerer cites a couple of examples of successful de-radicalisation in Indonesia, such as the one with Ali Imron, brother of the first Bali bombers, who is sent to prisons to convince extremists that attacking civilians is forbidden by the Koran and that violence only hurts the Muslim community.
Encouragingly, Jek Harun and Usman, both convicted of helping Bali bomber Noordin Top, revised their views on violence after meeting Imron. There are other examples. It’s a pragmatic and proven approach.