Around the world, many countries face a challenging security question: what to do with citizens who have joined violent extremist groups. While many face criminal trial, thousands who traveled to live with ISIS will have to reintegrate into their communities, meaning rehabilitation must play a central role in any realistic security approach. Based on experience and research, this rehabilitation is possible through a two-way “re-humanization” effort. Yet we currently lack the language in public discourse to talk about those disengaging from violent extremism without reinforcing stigmas that hinder reconciliation.

It is critical for returning persons and community members to again see and treat each other as people with whom they share a basic human nature. Prosocial engagement between returning persons and community members and institutions is key to that effort. However, public discourse insists on using language steeped in fear and anger: the returning persons are “terrorists,” “jihadists,” “ISIS brides,” or “fighters.” The stigma this language produces is a self-fulfilling prophecy—it impedes empathy, erects barriers to prosocial engagement, and perpetuates the isolation and dehumanization that often fuels violent radicalization in the first place. 

On August 6, USIP discussed the cognitive underpinnings of language and perception in violent radicalization and rehabilitation. The panel explored examples of other social challenges where the deliberate use of language has been used to reduce stigma and create opportunities for prosocial engagement for highly stigmatized populations.

Continue the conversation on Twitter with #ReintegratingExtremists.

Speakers

Dr. Arie Kruglanski
Distinguished University Professor, University of Maryland

Shannon Foley Martinez
Consultant for the prevention and disruption of targeted identity violence

Dr. Hollie Nyseth-Brehm
Associate Professor of Sociology, The Ohio State University

Dr. Paul Thibodeau
Assistant Professor of Psychology, Oberlin College and Conservatory

Leanne Erdberg, moderator
Director, Countering Violent Extremism, U.S. Institute of Peace

Related Publications

Ask the Experts: How Can Renewed U.S.-African Partnerships Counter Terrorist Threats?

Ask the Experts: How Can Renewed U.S.-African Partnerships Counter Terrorist Threats?

Thursday, January 5, 2023

By: Andrew Cheatham

Too often, the United States and its partners have failed to prioritize Africa in global counterterrorism efforts — leaving the door open for violent extremist movements to further destabilize the continent. The U.S. Institute of Peace’s Andrew Cheatham spoke with retired Lt. Gen. Michael Nagata, former director of strategy for the National Counterterrorism Center and a current member of USIP's Senior Military Advisory Group, about the evolution of violent extremism in Africa.

Type: Blog

Violent Extremism

How to Advance Peace and Stability in Coastal West Africa

How to Advance Peace and Stability in Coastal West Africa

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

By: Senior Study Group on Coastal West Africa

The U.S. government has identified stability in Coastal West Africa as a foreign policy priority, engaging five countries in particular — Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, and Togo — through its Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability, which was adopted in December 2021. The strategy reflects the U.S. government’s consideration of the five countries as strategic focal points in the fight against transnational terrorism and violent extremism emanating from the neighboring Sahel region.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Fragility & ResilienceDemocracy & GovernanceViolent Extremism

Central Asia’s New Foreign Fighters Problem: The Russia-Ukraine War

Central Asia’s New Foreign Fighters Problem: The Russia-Ukraine War

Thursday, September 8, 2022

By: William B. Farrell, Ph.D.

Since the start of the current conflict in Ukraine, there have been growing glimpses coming through media reports, social media feeds and personal networks of Central Asian mercenaries and volunteers fighting on both sides of the Russia-Ukraine war. But the emergence of this new foreign fighter phenomenon — less than a decade after thousands of Central Asians joined ISIS in Iraq and Syria — is raising increasing concerns and important questions for Central Asian security. Unlike the phenomenon of Central Asians fighting in Iraq and Syria, the cleavages in Ukraine are much closer to home and echo those in Central Asian society, which makes this mobilization much more divisive internally.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Violent Extremism

View All Publications