‘Hug a terrorist’ program hopes to stop spread of extremism
By Gemma Wilson August 8, 2017 | 8:27pm
As governments around the world scramble to stop the spread of radicalization and terror attacks one country is going against the grain and trying something different.
In Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city, police have set up a program referred to by some as the “hug a terrorist” model of de-radicalization, t.
They are trying to steer those who have been radicalized down a different path by offering them kindness.
Police told Dateline that after receiving numerous calls from parents whose children had fled to Syria they knew they had to do things differently.
“We could prosecute them all if we can find evidence, however those we couldn’t prosecute, what should we do about them?” Superintendent Allan Aarslev said.
Police also realized that many Muslims whose parents were born overseas felt like outcasts in society and this was driving them to extremism.
The program in action
Dateline reporter Evan Williams spoke to Jamal*, who almost became a terrorist.
When Jamal aggressively defended Islam during a high school debate his teacher interpreted something he said as a threat directed at another student. The school referred him to the police and he ended up getting suspended from school.
Despite having not broken the law Jamal felt like police were treating him as a criminal.
His extremist views began to develop and he started spending more time at his mosque, talking with a new group of friends about jihad.
At one point he thought about fleeing Aarhus.
“In my mind I was like, ‘they treated me as a terrorist. If they want a terrorist, they will get a terrorist’,” he said.
But then a police officer called him and apologized, saying his case had been handled poorly, and asked if he would meet with a Muslim mentor.
Mentors are key to the Aarhus program.
Despite his initial suspicions, he had several meetings with his mentor and spoke about the difficulties of being Muslim in Denmark.
Eventually Jamal began to reconsider his views and moved away from his extreme thoughts.
But not everyone is a fan of this new method. Danish politician Naser Khader, a Muslim born in Syria, says it sends the wrong message.
“Go out and do something criminal, be jihadis, you will get a lot of privilege from the society. That’s wrong in my opinion.”