Strategy to tackle militancy draws world’s attention

Strategy to tackle militancy draws world’s attention
Updated 09 March 2015

Strategy to tackle militancy draws world’s attention

Strategy to tackle militancy draws world’s attention

Saudi Arabia has adopted a new approach to combating terrorism since 2004, which involves challenging its ideological roots by promoting moderate messages and security. The new approach was taken after an increase in terrorist attacks between the early 1990s and the year 2003.
The Kingdom’s approach, which is described locally as counseling, involves rehabilitating detainees with extremist and radical ideologies to bring them toward more moderate thought.
The success of this approach has attracted the attention and interests of many countries worldwide, including the US. In a study recently published by the American Council on Foreign Relations titled ‘The Saudi experience in combating extremism,” Marissa Burgess, a specialist in international affairs at the council describes the Kingdom’s strategy as a new way of dealing with terrorist threats based on combining security efforts and promoting more moderate perspectives.
“This strategy has focused on rehabilitating prisoners through moderate religious programs, psychosocial support, and financial support which, in turn, has allowed them to reintegrate into society and has proven to be widely successful.”
According to the study, religious scholars and experts in human and social psychology have supervised nearly 4,000 detainees. Initial focus was on detainees not directly involved in terrorist operations, but has since extended to involve detainees who repatriated Guantanamo and fighters returning from Iraq.
Religion has also played a big role in the Saudi experience, as confirms a study conducted by researches Bruce Reidel and Bilal Saab. Their joint research study published in The Washington Quarterly Journal reveals that religious fatwas complement the Saudi strategy to combat terrorism, citing the example of the fatwa issued by Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al-Sheikh in 2007 warning Saudi youth from joining terrorist organizations abroad.
Research conducted by specialists within the Middle East Program at Carnegie Endowment of International Peace describes the Kingdom’s plan as consisting of “prevention, rehabilitation, and convalescent.” The strategy requires officials recognizing that confronting extremism and terrorism cannot occur through traditional security means alone, but also requires combating ideological roots and the involvement of various concerned state institutions to apply supporting programs.
According to Burgess, the Saudi model has attracted the attention of various countries worldwide, especially US, which sees these programs as a potential role model for combating extremism in countries such as Afghanistan. “US officials are trying to push other countries to adopt this Saudi strategy in order to fight terrorism globally.”
However, experts in the field of terrorism are asking questions about its relevance and applicability in other countries that may not have the luxury to use soft approaches in dealing with terrorist threats.
Burgess’ study “recognizes that the Saudi rehabilitation program suffers from obvious challenges, but it has showed preliminary results of success in treating a number of detainees and reintegrating them into society.”
Despite significant success, challenges may be evident in the ratio of detainees who return to terrorism activities upon completing Saudi rehabilitation programs as indicated in statistical ad regression analysis findings. The US Department of Defense estimates 10 and 20 percent of those released from prison return to the illegal activity.