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Mind Over Martyr

How to Deradicalize Islamist Extremists

A woman reporter runs with a rebel fighter to avoid snipers at the frontline against the Islamic State fighters in Aleppo's northern countryside October 10, 2014. Jalal Al-Mamo / Reuters

Is it possible to deradicalize terrorists and their potential recruits? Saudi Arabia, a pioneer in rehabilitation efforts, claims that it is. Since 2004, more than 4,000 militants have gone through Saudi Arabia's programs, and the graduates have been reintegrated into mainstream society much more successfully than ordinary criminals. Governments elsewhere in the Middle East and throughout Europe and Southeast Asia have launched similar programs for neo-Nazis, far-right militants, narcoterrorists, and Islamist terrorists, encouraging them to abandon their radical ideology or renounce their violent means or both.

The U.S. government would do well to better understand the successes and failures of such efforts, especially those that target Islamist terrorists. This is important, first, because, as General David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, has noted, the United States "cannot kill [its] way to victory" in the struggle against al Qaeda and related groups. Although military action, especially covert military action,

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