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. 

Join USIP on August 6 as we discuss the cognitive underpinnings of language and perception in violent radicalization and rehabilitation. The panel will explore 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.

Join the conversation on Twitter with #ReintegratingExtremists.


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

How Civil Society Can Help Prevent Violence and Extremism

How Civil Society Can Help Prevent Violence and Extremism

Thursday, June 6, 2019

By: Leanne Erdberg ; Bridget Moix

Editor’s Note: Congress charged the U.S. Institute of Peace with convening the Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States. Following the public launch of the Task Force’s final report, four groups of experts came together to discuss how to implement the report’s recommendations. This four-part series will discuss the findings from these strategy sessions. Part one summarizes expert discussion on how civil society actors are preventing violent extremism and building resilience in their communities and practical ways the U.S. and other international actors can more effectively interact with civil society to bolster its role in prevention.

Fragility & Resilience; Violent Extremism

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