Intelligence and military experts have a singular solution to terrorists, which is to either kill them or incarcerate them. However, as a recent article in Science notes, some mental health experts believe that terrorists or potential terrorists can be “deradicalized” through an intervention that includes the community, security officers, and doctors trained in the technique. Such a Program might have the effect of derailing the recruitment of discontented young men by terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS. However, the program may have some legal ramifications when dealing with people who are “at risk” of becoming terrorists but who have not yet committed crimes.

Detecting potential terrorists

The fact that lone wolf attackers such as the one who blew himself up in Manchester, killing 22 people and maiming dozens more, were being radicalized is something that is generally known to his friends and family members. Indeed, very often such terrorists in the making become known to security services. Authorities cannot make an arrest before a crime is committed, however. Keeping potential terrorists under watch can be a logistical nightmare.

‘Deradicalizing’ a would-be jihadi

One of the factors that have been getting in the way of identifying potential terrorists has been the fear of being labeled an “Islamophobic.” Some neighbors of the perpetrators of the San Bernardino Massacre noticed that they were behaving suspiciously but were afraid to say anything for fear of being labeled racist.

Having identified a potential jihadi, the question arises about getting him into a deradicalization program. Would peer and family pressure be enough to motivate him to seek help?

Finally, the question arises, does an effective technique exist for talking a potential terrorist down from the ledge, as it were. The motivations of what causes someone to become an ordinary criminal, not to mention a terrorist, are not well understood.

Radical Islam as a mental health issue

The idea that terrorism is a psychological disorder that can be treated in a beguiling one. Most current deradicalization programs consist of convincing the patient that religion does not condone the taking of innocent life or, at the very least, turning him away from violence to more productive pursuits.

The problem is that no known metric exists as to the effectiveness of such programs. Does deradicalization even work? What is the recidivism rate for jihadis who have been in the program, have apparently been “cured” but eventually go back to terrorism? Until these and other questions are answered, calling in the psychiatrists will not be the silver bullet that ends terrorism. However, the strategy is appealing enough so that more research is certainly warranted.