For today’s post, we present an excerpt from Jon Atack’s book, Opening Minds: the Secret World of Manipulation, Undue Influence and Brainwashing.

When Jemaah Islamiya leader Nasir Abas was arrested in Indonesia, he braced himself for torture. Instead, Abas was persuaded to reveal his own inner turmoil about civilian casualties by a religious expert, not an interrogator. The security services effectively counseled Abas out of his fanatical affiliation. With his help, they rounded up most of the al-Qaeda related network in South East Asia, the world’s most populous Muslim region. The group, responsible for the Bali bombings, has performed no further terrorist attacks in a decade.

Despite its dreadful civil rights record, Indonesia’s approach has been markedly different to that of the United States and its allies. The US has subjected hundreds of alleged terrorists to brutal and humiliating treatment, which President Obama has admitted amounts to torture and a violation of international law.

Though this aggressive policy may have foiled some terrorist plots, it has disseminated terror rather than containing it. There were less than 500 members in the four groups lumped together as Al Qaeda when the awful tragedy of 9/11 shocked the world. Currently, there are hundreds of thousands of Al Qaeda, ISIS (Daesh) and Shia activists, many of whom joined up as a direct consequence of violent military action and reports of torture at ‘black sites’.

Shock tactics are counter-productive. However, with patience, most fanatics will reconsider even the most entrenched views, just as alcoholics, gamblers and other addicts can be persuaded to change without aggressive intervention. My long experience with cult members bears this out.

A safe setting without fear of physical or psychological torment allows a fanatic to examine fixed ideas. The counselor must have empathy for the beliefs, attitudes and behaviours of the subject, and a deep knowledge of the realities of the condition or affiliation.

Gradually, the member’s own abiding doubts will surface. Then the deception and exploitation of the totalist relationship can be explored. Such interventions are comparable to the extensive and highly successful denazification process after WWII, and are relevant to anyone who has been subjected to an institutional experience or reduced to compliance by a manipulator. The template for such an intervention can be transferred to many other situations, including the deradicalisation of a terrorist.

What do you think about this excerpt? Do you agree? If you would like to read more, you may order Jon’s book here. Do you have a story about talking to fanatics that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!