Revisiting the De-Radicalisation or Disengagement Debate: Public Attitudes to the Re-Integration of Terrorists


  • Gordon Clubb School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds
  • Edward Barnes University of Leeds
  • Ryan O'Connor University of Leeds
  • Jonatan Schewe Berlin School of Economics and Law
  • Graeme AM Davies University of York


De-radicalisation, Disengagement, Re-Integration


The article reports on the findings of an experimental survey which was conducted to ascertain the level of support and perceived effectiveness of using de-radicalisation programmes to re-integrate returning foreign fighters. Public support (or the lack of opposition) for re-integration programmes can be important in ensuring the programmes have the time, resources and opportunity to be successful however we know little about what wider society thinks about re-integration programmes. The article explores the extent to which the inclusion of de-radicalisation – in name and content – changes attitudes to a re-integration programme. This is relevant in showing attitudes to de-radicalisation over disengagement and whether de-radicalisation, while perhaps not more effective at the programme-level, is or is not more effective at generating public support for re-integration (and thereby facilitating the process itself). We find that the inclusion of de-radicalisation in the name and content of a re-integration programme to a small extent increases support for re-integration over a programme that uses the terms disengagement and desistance. However, we also find that while de-radicalisation increases support, it also decreases perceived effectiveness, leading respondents to feel it makes the country less safe and less likely to reduce the re-offending rate than if the programme excludes de-radicalisation. We argue this polarising effect is reflective of wider reasons for supporting the policies (e.g. de-radicalisation may be seen as a form of ideational/normative punishment) and that the term de-radicalisation may shift the framing of the problematic to entrenched social structures, thus rendering itself ineffective as a policy treatment. In terms of policy, we argue there is a necessity for greater openness about re-integration programmes and that governments would benefit from selling the programmes to the public. We conclude our paper with a justification of focusing further research on understanding public/community attitudes to re-integration programmes and understanding the PR of counter-terrorism policies more generally.


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