Denmark City’s Strategy For Combatting Terrorism Might Sound Crazy—Except It Works

The model for helping radicalized people re-integrate into society is named after the Danish city.

Credit: Thomas Winz

In pretty much every nation in the world, there’s only one accepted strategy for fighting terrorism and that’s with war, incarceration, and punishment. Terrorism is a serious crime that has cost countless humans (and animals) their lives as technology has progressed and made mass murder more possible. While no one is arguing about how horrible terrorism is, people rarely talk about how the people that become radicalized can be helped both before and after their indoctrination.

Something that is preached in most countries is that war wins against war, but many individuals have been fighting this philosophy for years. People that advocate for peace as a means of solving conflict have increased exponentially, and there is evidence to support the fact that this strategy can work. One such city that uses this strategy to help those from their city escape the grips of radicalism and terrorism is Aarhus, a Danish city that has been home to hundreds of terrorists since 2012.

Known as the “Aarhus model,” the city does what no other city or country does: they support Denmark citizens who have gone to Syria or some other warring nation to fight as a rebel by allowing them the opportunity to fully integrate back into society. The Danish police made it clear that if people previously looking into extremist ideologies wanted help with coming back to Denmark, the city would help them go back to school, find an apartment, meet with a psychiatrist or mentor, and request other services in order to integrate back into society.

“The original response was to fight [extremism] through military and policing efforts, and they didn’t fare too well,” said Arie Kruglanski, a social psychologist at the University of Maryland who studies violent extremism. “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 is a strong correlation between humiliation and an extremist ideology, so it’s likely that if someone who has been radicalized has second thoughts but is only met with contempt and incarceration upon their return home, their anger and that of the extremist groups will expand. As Christopher Hopwood, an associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University and an expert on noncomplementary behavior explained, there is a profound psychological response in the aggressor when they are met with warmth and kindness, despite their own hostility.

Credit: Scanpix Denmark

Hopwood explained that with complementary behavior, a warm demeanor will often be met with a warm attitude from someone else, and the same goes for hostility and anger. With noncomplementary behavior, when a hostile person is met with kindness, they find that response so unnatural that it completely changes the dynamic of the interaction in a positive way.

“Aarhus is the first, to my knowledge, to grapple with [extremism] based on sound social psychology evidence and principles,” Kruglanski said. “They expect to be treated harshly. Instead they got the opposite. 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.”

The program in Aarhus has been highly effective, with over half of those who left for Syria coming back home and re-integrating in Denmark. Since the beginning of the program, there has been a sharp decline in the amount of people leaving Aarhus for Syria, even when the numbers continued to increase for other nations throughout Europe. While this is happening on a smaller scale in Denmark, many have questioned whether it would work on a large scale in countries such as France or the U.S. It doesn’t appear that either of these nations, or ones like it, intend to change their approach anytime soon, but it’s interesting to hear about such strategies and how they are working to change the world.

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