Sunday, August 19, 2007

Saudi Reeducation

The Jamestown Foundation reports on the elements of a jihadist reeducation program in Saudi Arabia:
"The centerpiece of the Saudi strategy is dubbed the 'counseling program,' which is intended to assist those individuals that have espoused takfiri beliefs 'repent and abandon terrorist ideologies' (al-Ikhbariyah, April 27). The program seeks to de-radicalize extremist sympathizers by engaging them in intensive religious debates and psychological counseling. It is important to stress that participants in the counseling program are only terrorist sympathizers, and at the most individuals caught with jihadi propaganda. They are not individuals that have been active in terrorist violence in the kingdom; people 'with blood on their hands' are barred from participating...

"The Religious Subcommittee is the largest of the four sub-groupings. It is made up of approximately 100 clerics, scholars and university professors, and it is the group that directly engages in the prisoner dialogues and the reeducation process. The Psychological and Social Subcommittee is comprised of around 30 psychologists, social scientists and researchers. They are tasked with evaluating a prisoner's social status, diagnosing any psychological problems, assessing the prisoner's status and compliance during the process and determining what support the prisoner and his family may need. The Security Subcommittee performs several functions: they evaluate prisoners for security risks; make release recommendations; advise prisoners on how to behave upon release; and monitor prisoners and who they associate with once they leave prison. The Media Subcommittee produces materials used in the program and also makes other educational materials for use in schools and mosques. The Media Subcommittee is focused on outreach and education, and targeting young Saudi men...

"In their first meeting, committee members will simply listen to the prisoner. They ask them about what they did, why they did it and the circumstances that brought them to be in prison. Throughout the process, the scholars engage prisoners in discussions about their beliefs, and then attempt to persuade them that their religious justification for their actions is wrong and based upon a corrupted understanding of Islam. The committee first demonstrates that what the prisoners were tricked into believing was false, and then they teach them the proper state-approved interpretation of Islam.

"The Advisory Committee runs two programs. The first includes short sessions, which typically run about two hours. While some prisoners recant their beliefs after the first session, typically a prisoner goes through several of these meetings. The others are called 'Long Study Sessions.' These are six-week courses for up to 20 students led by two clerics and a social scientist. Ten subjects are covered over the six weeks, including instruction in such topics as takfir, walaah (loyalty) and bayat (allegiance), terrorism, jihad and psychological courses on self-esteem. At the end of the course, an exam is given; those who pass the exam move to the next stage of the process, while those who do not pass repeat the course."

The use of psychology against dissidents in some former Soviet republics makes me nervous about its use by any government I don't trust in combating ideologies. Leaving that aside, however, and accepting that Saudi Arabia does and will continue to claim, with popular support, the right to define the correct parameters of religious belief, a program like this strikes me as exactly the sort of thing that could work at reducing support for jihadi ideas in the Islamic world. As I've said before, what certain areas need is more education in Islam, not necessarily less or some sort of forced secularism.



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