A novel approach is being taken by Denmark towards young jihadists returning home after a stint spent fighting for ISIS and other rebel groups in Syria and Iraq. Are they stopped at the airport and refused entry? Are they thrown in jail? Passports confiscated? Are they forced to undergo some sort of deradicalisation brainwashing treatment? No: they are offered counselling.
Says the Washington Post story:
In Demark, not one returned fighter has been locked up. Instead, taking the view that discrimination at home is as criminal as Islamic State recruiting, officials here are providing free psychological counseling while finding returnees jobs and spots in schools and universities. Officials credit a new effort to reach out to a radical mosque with stanching the flow of recruits . . . “In 2013, we had 30 young people go to Syria,” said Jorgen Ilum, Aarhus’s police commissioner. “This year, to my knowledge, we have had only one. We believe that the main reason is our contact and dialogue with the Muslim community.”
Steffen Nielsen, a crime prevention advisor involved in the Danish scheme told Al Jazeera: “A lot of guys who come home have experienced a loss of innocence and some sort of loss of moral belief. They thought they were going down there for a good cause. And what they found was thugs who are decapitating women and children and raping and killing people, and everything smells and you've got diarrhoea from drinking the water and it's not the great cosmic battle for al-Sham that you'd imagined."
This mature approach will be hard to swallow for some people. It stands in stark contrast to the situation in Britain, where jihadists face likely arrest and the threat of prosecution on terrorism charges. It stands in stark contrast, too, to all the Islamophobic hysteria, the scaremongering, the "clash of civiliations" warmongering, the pathologisation of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims. What Edward Said wrote back in the Dark Ages of 1997—before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the so-called “war on terror” that followed—is ever more true today: “Malicious generalizations about Islam have become the last acceptable form of denigration of foreign culture in the West.”
What news of Denmark?
Denmark is not some Hans Christian Andersen idyll. But we could learn a thing or two about the meaning of the word “society” from this tiny, enlightened Scandinavian nation. As with jihadists, the focus with criminals in Denmark, too, is very much on rehabilitation as opposed to retribution. Crime rates and prison populations are small. Simon Jenkins writes this week: “Imprisonment is brutalism, reflecting society’s inability to police antisocial acts. The community needs to be protected from those who ‘cannot stop themselves’ from harming it. But that is a tiny minority of prisoners. Most are locked away in fortresses because we can think of nothing else to do with them. We have admitted defeat. It is as archaic a response to crime as bleeding and leeches once were to sickness.”
Denmark also has excellent free schools, hospitals and healthcare for everyone, cheap and abundant public transport, and it gives more of its GDP to foreign aid than almost any other country. The government prioritises gender equality. Environmentally it’s miles ahead, entirely energy self-sufficient, with 43 percent of its needs coming from renewable sources such as wind and biomass. A few years ago, I went to Lystrup to see the world’s first “Active House”—one that generates more energy than it uses thanks to solar panels that create hot water, solar cells that generate electricity, and all kinds of other innovative ideas.
It’s a civilized society with low levels of inequality and—surely not unrelatedly—is the happiest nation on earth according to several surveys. Not that Danish counsellors have nothing to do. Statistics show that that 38% of Danish women and 32% of Danish men will receive treatment for a mental disorder at some point during their lifetime. The winters are long and dark. Suicide is hardly uncommon. Mental dis-ease is indiscriminate.
Clearly in need of some counselling was Hamlet, the bereaved, depressed and psychologically paralysed Prince of Denmark. "How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world!" he says in his first soliloquy. "Fie on't! ah fie! 'tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature possess it merely. That it should come to this!"