Approach to Dutch jihadists failing: book

The Netherlands' debate on jihadists is characterized by a simple, sometimes sensational misrepresentation, according to terrorism experts Edwin Bakker and Peter Grol in their new book Nederlandse jihadisten, van naive idealisten tot geharde terroristen. Jihadists can't all be recognized in time, and therefore can't always be stopped. And if you managed to stop them, it is unreasonable to expect that they will suddenly turn into a "model citizen who embraces democracy", they write in the book, AD reports.

Bakker and Grol call the debate on Dutch jihadists politicized and polarized. Politicians must sometimes take a moment to think about what they are saying, the experts write. They call for policies based on knowledge and analysis. "It would help if politicians would be more careful with their statements. And would be more careful with implementing policies based primarily on what they consider desirable from a political perspective, or what sounds good for the elctoral."

Over the past few years countering radicalization was a big priority for the Dutch government. Millions of euros were pushed into de-radicalization programs for potential jihadists and thousands of teachers and community workers were trained to recognize signs of radicalization and on how to intervene. But this is not very effective, according to the book.

"It is good that society is becoming aware of the phenomenon of radicalization. But we should not overestimate what all those 'eyes and ears' can pick up, given the fact that many jihadists managed to leave unseen in recent years. That is a frustrating reality", Bakker and Grol write. "The role of the community police officer is great, but the role of secret service AIVD is more important."

A big part of why the current policy is not effective, is the fact that the prototype Dutch jihadist does not exist, according to the experts, who studied the backgrounds and radicalization of twelve Dutch foreign rebel fighters in the Syrian civil war. "They do not fit into a single picture. It is, fortunately, often very personal decisions. That is good news: it involves a limited group, there is no question of a kind of national mobilization among young Muslims in the Netherlands." The bad side is that a general policy on stopping foreign rebel fighters can't catch them all.

Most jihadists are relatively young, Muslim and faced problems in their youth, according to the book. Motives to go to Syria are very varied. They range from ideology to seeking adventure or even seeking martyrdom. "The image that this kind of guys come from socially disadvantaged positions has long not always been true. They themselves don't give poverty as a reason." Many do say that the feel left out in the Netherlands. Bakker therefore promotes programs that teach mothers how to recognize and deal with radicalization. "Because you see in many young people who left for Syria that the bond with their family was broken."