One proven anti-dote

How do we deliberately engage with the dangerously disengaged?

By now we have come to understand the consequences posed when an otherwise withdrawn and disengaged young man, feeling disconnected socially, leaves his Tunisian home and moves to France hoping to finally “find himself” only to there feel the same social disconnect. Until one day (nature does abhor a vacuum) he finds this new identity as a member in good standing of a powerful terrorist group that advocates such behaviors as getting a truck and using it for mass homicide – suicide on the crowded streets of Nice on Bastille Day.   Or when another such individual finds a new identity as a black military veteran and does a copycat murder-suicide ambush of a group of police officers in an American city.

Suicides generally foster a copycat behavior especially among isolated individuals looking to join and belong in a social grouping.  This may well be one reason U.S. military veterans have been committing suicide at the rate of some 22 persons per day.  But as I pointed out in my prior blog, a tiny but still real percentage of suicidal ideation includes first taking out as many other people as possible before one’s own suicide by cop.   And literally no group is more famous for its “successful” murder-suicides than ISIS, which welcomes all wannabe joiners and recruits all current loners.

So how do we deal with these violent threats, these murder-suicides, in places like San Bernadino, Orlando, Nice (France), Dallas, and Baton Rouge? How do we engage the dangerously disengaged before someone else does?

Hanna Rosin, in writing for NPR’s “Health News,” posts what is one of the greatest testimonies to the Gospel of Jesus ever…………and without even mentioning the word Gospel or the name Jesus.    She writes about how the Danish town of Aarhus deliberately went about engaging its most disengaged young people.

Rosin’s story centers around two police officers in that town, Thorleif Link and Allan Aarsley, as they began investigating some missing persons cases that involved local young people who had, one at a time, become ISIS recruits to the horror of their own Muslim families.  Rosin reports that Link and Aarsley did something rather novel. They looked at the scientific research in the discipline of Social Psychology. And one of the world’s top researchers in the area of treating social radicalization is from the United States. His name is Dr. Arie Kruglanski, with the University of Maryland. Rosin quotes Kruglanski as saying, “The original response was to fight [extremism] through military and policing efforts, and they didn’t fare too well. That kind of response that puts them as suspects and constrains them and promotes discrimination — that is only likely to exacerbate the problem. It’s only likely to inflame the sense there’s discrimination and motivate young people to act against society. There are strong correlations between humiliation and the search for an extremist ideology. Organizations like ISIS take advantage of people who, because of racism or religious or political discrimination, have been pushed to the margins of society.”

So Link and Aarslev’s tried the scientific approach instead, which happens to coincide with the ancient Christ approach, even though Rosin made no mention of such. The city of Aarhus began to greet returning young people from Syria with a new kind of welcome home approach highly resembling the parable of the prodigal son. These radicalized young adults re-entering Denmark were helped to find free university or job training and placement, free healthcare including mental health counseling, and a wrap-around program of other social services.

Concerning this type of welcome-home reception for the returning ISIS recruits, Dr. Kruglanski is quoted by Rosin as saying, “They expect to be treated harshly. That kind of shock opens people’s minds to maybe they were wrong about their society that they perceived as their enemy. It opens a possible window into rethinking and re-evaluating.” Another way of describing this welcoming home of the prodigal is called, in social psychology, “noncomplimentary behavior.” In other words, when hateful people expect hateful responses in return, a warm and loving response creates a crisis that wrecks their own paradigm, turning upside down their own beliefs about other people, shocking them into a new way of thinking and behaving.

I know.  Sounds just like Jesus.  Or what Christians should be doing in today’s world.

According to Rosin, “starting in 2012, 34 people went from Aarhus to Syria. As far as the police know, six were killed and 10 are still over there. Of the 18 who came back home, all showed up in Aarslev and Link’s office, as did hundreds of other potential radicals in Aarhus — about 330 in total. But the program is admired for another accomplishment: Since the initial exodus of young people, very few have left from Aarhus for Syria, even when traffic from the rest of Europe was spiking. Last year, in 2015, it was just one person.”

So the first “how to” involves what today’s behavioral scientists have now begun calling the “Aarhus Model” noting that, of all western cities lamenting the return of trained radicals, only Aarhus, Denmark has stopped denying behavioral science and tried to follow an approach that actually works to prevent terrorism or, if you insist, to fight radical Islam. It is an approach aimed at welcoming the prodigal returning as trained terrorists.

Next I will focus on the “how to” of helping the isolated and “potential” terrorist before being recruited by ISIS or before carrying out a copycat police killing or other murder-suicide.


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