Family Focused Outreach Programs Aim to Help People "Quit" Radical Islam

By Victoria Kim 07/10/14

Many de-radicalization groups have been trying to steer young Muslims away from jihad using counseling, hotlines, and job programs.


Since the September 11 attacks, outreach programs to prevent and even reverse radicalization to Islam have been on the rise in Europe. School counseling, emergency hotlines, and programs to help returning jihadists find jobs seek to steer such people, especially youth, away from fundamentalism.

Most of those who are drawn to fundamentalism in the West are descendants of Muslim immigrants, but there has been a significant number of new converts like Damian Clairmont of Canada, who turned to Islam at 17 after battling depression. Fourteen months after leaving home for Egypt to study Arabic, Damian was killed in fighting between rivaling Islamic militants in Syria. He was 22 at the time.

“So far, as a society we’ve only reacted when it was too late,” said Kemel Bozay, a son of Turkish immigrants in Bochum, Germany. “This is the first time we’re approaching the problem preemptively.”

Bozay runs a project called Wegweiser, which means “signpost” in German. The center, which also has locations in Bonn and Dusseldorf, aims to prevent radicalization among Muslim teenagers with then help of schools, families, religious leaders, and job centers.

Another group called Hayat, which handles the case work directed to them via a German national telephone hotline for people concerned about radicalization of friends or family, uses the power of family to get through to individuals on the path to radicalization. Counselors do not work directly with Islamic radicals.

Family members are coached on how to persuade and communicate effectively with their loved ones who are considering or have already made a decision to pursue radical Islam. “We encourage the family to connect with their son or daughter on an emotional level,” explained Hayat counselor Daniel Koehler.

Hayat, which means “life” in Arabic, was launched in 2011 and has had 83 cases so far, 63 of which are still active. It has received inquiries worldwide, including Canada, Austria, Sweden, Britain, and the Netherlands. The Berlin-based organization grew out of a long-running project aimed at helping far-right extremists leave the neo-Nazi scene.

Its founder, Bernd Wagner, a former police investigator, felt authorities focused too much on locking up extremists rather than addressing what draws young people to such ideologies in the first place. “We saw a parallel between Islamism and the far right,” he said.

So far, Hayat as helped about 528 people quit the far-right scene and “de-radicalized” dozens of Muslims.

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