De-Radicalizing Terrorists
The global war against terrorism has become a war of ideas. Is the U.S. doing enough to fight it, and what can it learn from other countries?

From the Boston Marathon bombings to a recent attack on the Westgate Mall in Kenya, 2013 has seen a spike in terrorism worldwide. Even as the U.S. uses military force to try and weaken Al Qaeda and affiliated groups, it is grappling with how to fight terrorism on another front -- battling the extremist ideas and ideologies that drive the violence. It is a battle that is waged in schools, mosques, community centers and any other place you might find potential terror recruits.

In this month's America Abroad: De-Radicalizing Terrorists, we take a closer look at how governments, community groups and activists are tackling the ideological front in the global battle against terrorism, from London to Jakarta, Riyadh and Minneapolis.

Adapted from the broadcast audio segment; use the audio player to listen to the story in its entirety.

Young Western Muslim men and women find their way into foreign conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, pulled by the ideology of violent Islamic extremism. Some become disillusioned with the fight. Some do not.

How does the United States wage a war that’s now a war about ideas? What can it learn from other countries? And where is the line between engaging with and spying on Muslim communities?

Islamic extremists have launched violent attacks across the globe. We’ve seen them in London, Syria and most recently Kenya.

The bombings at the Boston Marathon last May - allegedly by the Tsarnayev Brothers - brought that home to the U.S. in all its horror.

Osama Bin Laden has been dead for two years, and U.S. troops are out of Iraq and they’re withdrawing from Afghanistan. But, the number of attacks from Al Qaeda and its affiliates has been increasing. In a speech last Spring at the National Defense University, President Obama said even though most Muslims don’t endorse Islamic extremism: “We need all elements of national power to win a battle of wills, a battle of ideas.”

A big challenge is reaching disaffected, young people. Young people like Urfan who travelled to war zones and became radicalized:

“My blood was boiling when I came back to England. It was like red alert. Even my brothers they said, ‘you’re crazy’. I used to have videos I’d show to my friends of be-headings. Looking back on it, I think to myself what the F… It was horrible,” says Urfan.

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Featured Experts

Juan Zarate
Juan Zarate is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Zarate served as deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism from 2005 to 2009 and was responsible for developing and implementing the U.S. government’s counterterrorism strategy and policies related to transnational security threats.
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Farah Pandith
Farah Pandith was appointed as the U.S. State Department’s first-ever Special Representative to Muslim Communities in June 2009 by then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Office of the Special Representative is responsible for executing a vision for engagement with Muslims around the world based on a people-to-people and organizational level.
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Hanif Qadir
Hanif Qadir is the CEO and Co-Founder of the London-based Active Change Foundation. He is recognized as one of the U.K.’s leading specialists in positively transforming violent extremists, and advises senior policy makers, governmental institutions, and U.K. police authorities.
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Dr. Quintan Wiktorowicz
Dr. Quintan Wiktorowicz is an expert on Muslim communities, Islamic movements, and radicalization. He has served as the former Senior Director for Global Engagement in the Obama White House. He is also the founder and CEO of the Q Group DC, a strategic consulting firm.
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De-Radicalizing Terrorists / Written and Edited by Martha Little / Produced by Jacob Conrad and Flawn Williams / Julia Rooke contributed reporting from London / Samara Freemark contributed reporting from Minneapolis / Research help from Anjali Patel and Sam Lavine / Photo credit: AP/Hatem Moussa

Host: Madeleine Brand/ Length: 51 minutes / Airdate: November 2013

Support for this show was provided by The Stuart Family Foundation and Turkish Airlines

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America Abroad is an award-winning documentary radio program distributed by Public Radio International (PRI) and broadcast on public radio stations nationwide. Each month, we take an in-depth look at one critical issue in international affairs and U.S. foreign policy.

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