Singapore has reduced its detainee ranks with Islamic reeducation.
A counseling program that employs Muslim clerics to rebut extremist views of detainees has steadily reduced their numbers over the past four years in Singapore, suggesting that religious-based rehabilitation may offer an alternative to indefinite detention without trial in the US-led war on terrorism.
Faced with swelling detention centers, US military commanders in Iraq have begun to take note. In recent months, they have introduced religious-education programs for adults and juveniles that are modeled, in part, on Singapore's and on a much larger program in Saudi Arabia.
Setbacks in a similar program in Yemen, shelved in 2005 because of high rates of recidivism, had raised doubts about the approach. Experts also distinguish between rehabilitating low-level sympathizers and hardened leaders of terrorist groups, groups, who may see little to gain from cooperating with authorities.
But proponents say that an effective counterterrorism strategy must include efforts to combat religious indoctrination, especially for suspects held behind bars. Injustice is a recruiting tool, and open-ended detention of suspects is an affront to many Muslims. Releasing them into the community armed with Islamic teachings that debunk Al Qaeda's do-or-die rhetoric can help to win a "war of ideas," the proponents argue.
"Deprogramming is not 100-percent successful. Among suspects that you rehabilitate, some will go back (to militancy). But it's the only intelligent thing to do," says Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism expert at Nanyang Technological University and a consultant on the Singaporean program. "We've planted a seed.… Iraq was the beginning. I believe America can take this idea to Guantánamo, Afghanistan, and other areas."
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