DeradicalizationThe Role of (Dis)Trust in Disengagement and Deradicalization

Published 31 July 2021

When designing a disengagement or deradicalization program, there is a need for careful consideration regarding who delivers it and how much they are trusted.

When designing a disengagement or deradicalization program, who delivers it and how much they are trusted needs careful consideration.

“Perhaps a useful starting point for what follows is the assumption that terrorists are ordinary people to the extent that they are not distinguishable from other ‘ordinary’ people who make choices in the contexts in which they find themselves,” say the authors of a new CREST report.

By treating the psychological normality of terrorist actors as our starting point we must, therefore, apply our external understanding of ordinary, non-terrorist decision-making processes to this population. Included in this should also be a consideration of the roles which trust and distrust play.

It has been proposed that the dichotomous variable of (dis)trust can and does play a significant role in the psychology of terrorism. Trust has a role to play at each stage of the terrorist career, from initial involvement to sustained engagement, right through to disengagement and deradicalization. There have been a variety of forms of trust identified. This has included, among others:

·  Abstract trust: Trust in a system or principle (e.g. trust in democracy or trust in an ideology used to justify terrorist activity).

·  Functional trust: Trust in a practical relationship with others (e.g. trust in an employee to do their job or trust in a terrorist organization to successfully complete an attack).

·  Personal trust: Trust in others that exceeds functionality and concerns the quality and nature of the personal relationship between individuals (e.g. trust in a friend or trust in a terrorist comrade).

Each of these forms of trust can play a role in an individual’s involvement in terrorism. When we look specifically at the role which (dis)trust has played in relation to disengagement and deradicalization, we can see that a deterioration in the functional and personal trust in the leadership and rank and file membership of the terrorist organization can play a significant role in pushing an individual away from terrorism.

If members do not trust their comrades enough to collaborate with them, this can play a significant part in pushing them outside of the groups. Similarly, if there is elevated trust in those external actors and institutions external from the terrorist group and opposed to the utilization of terrorist violence, this can assist in the facilitation of an exit from terrorism.