A Danish answer to radical jihad

Der Spiegel reports: If you ask Allan Aarslev, the friendly blond police commissioner from Aarhus, about his almost globally famous program, he answers with numbers. He mentions, for example, 31, 16 and one.

In 2013, he says, 31 Muslim men from Aarhus left for Syria with the intention of joining the radical jihadists of Islamic State (IS). Five of them have since lost their lives and 10 remain in the war zone. But 16 have returned to Aarhus, either for a rest before rejoining the fight, or to remain in Denmark and, as Aarslev says, perhaps become a danger closer to home.

But the program he designed for those returning from Syria has ensured that no such danger has developed. Indeed, since the project began only a single man from Aarhus has traveled to Syria to join the war. “One single person,” says Aarslev, doing his best to sound humble. The young men who live here in Aarhus, he says, are much less radical than they were just one year ago.

Denmark can use that kind of comforting news these days. The two murders committed just over a week ago by Omar Abdel Hamid el-Hussein, a 22-year-old with Palestinian roots, have hit Denmark’s liberal society hard. And they have reignited the debate that was triggered by the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris: How can a society that holds freedom of opinion to be an inalienable right prevent political-religious violence?

Copenhagen was a rather grim place to be last week with police officers armed with machine guns standing at bus stops and in front of shopping centers, helicopters buzzing low over the city and the shriek of sirens frequently piercing the air. Last Monday’s large demonstration, which saw 30,000 people gather at Gunnar Nu Hansens Plads in the heart of the city, did little to alleviate the shock — even if Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt proclaimed that all Danes had joined hands in the face of such difficult times.

Everywhere, though — in the editorial offices of newspapers like Politiken, for example, and at police headquarters in Copenhagen — people were talking about the pilot program in Aarhus. Indeed, the city’s mayor even flew to Washington recently at the invitation of President Barack Obama to talk about the Aarhus project, says Commissioner Aarslev. The city has received 150 requests from across the globe for more information and delegations are constantly visiting.

The program is almost naive in its simplicity. A significant number of the some 250 people involved work as scouts whose job it is to spot young Muslim men who have become radicalized. Once identified, they are approached by authorities in conjunction with a local Muslim cleric in the hopes of turning them away from violence. It is essentially a vast screening program for potential terrorists. And the strange thing is: It appears to be working. [Continue reading…]

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