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Considerable effort has been devoted to understanding the process of violent Islamist radicalization, but far less research has explored the equally important process of deradicalization, or how individuals or groups abandon extremist groups and ideologies. Proactive measures to prevent vulnerable individuals from radicalizing and to rehabilitate those who have already embraced extremism have been implemented, to varying degrees, in several Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian, and European countries. A key question is whether the objective of these programs should be disengagement (a change in behavior) or deradicalization (a change in beliefs) of militants. Furthermore, a unique challenge posed by militant Islamist groups is that their ideology is rooted in a major world religion. An examination of deradicalization and counter-radicalization programs in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Europe assessed the strengths and weaknesses of each program, finding that the best-designed programs leverage local cultural patterns to achieve their objectives. Such programs cannot simply be transplanted from one country to another. They need to develop organically in a specific country and culture.

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Smith Richardson Foundation and conducted by the RAND National Security Research Division.

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