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The Shared Characteristics of Sustainable Development and Deradicalization

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byHouda Barroug
onJuly 24, 2020

This article in Arabicالخصائص المشتركة للتنمية المستدامة ونزع التطرّف

Sustainable development refers to the pattern through which we meet human needs without compromising the future generations’ ability to meet theirs. It requires a comprehensive approach with components that can be individually achieved, including but not limited to economic prosperity, independence, and social well-being. In some ways, individuals may become radicalized precisely because these components are not met.

In ‘The Three Pillars of Radicalization’, Arie W. Kruglanski and Rohan Gunaratna defined the 3Ns: three determinant factors that result in individuals’ radicalization. The first N refers to these individuals’ need to feel valued and personally significant within their society. The second determinant is the [ideological] narrative these individuals have been exposed to while growing up that influences not only their personalities but their relationships with their states, society, and environment. The third and final N refers to the network these individuals are embedded in that validates, if not nourishes, their narratives. While the literature on this topic mainly focuses on the reasons leading to individuals’ decisions to join extremist groups, deradicalization — the ways we could disconnect them from these groups–is equally important.

The term deradicalization remains broadly used, usually referring to the programs, methods, and techniques aimed at stopping or controlling radicalization by the state. But is full-scale deradicalization possible? Are the rehabilitation programs sufficient and effective? To answer these questions, this article explains how sustainable development can decrease radicalization.

Sustainability as an integral part of the human development

Environmental education helps change our awareness, values, and ethics, all of which are fundamental parts of sustainable development. Sustainability acts as an organizing principle and connects bridges between different parties — the state, NGOs, and civil society. It legitimizes state actions and is integral to economic and human development. However, we find that radicalization seeks to delegitimize the state and official actors and to create gaps between the state and its people, giving extremist groups the opportunity to brainwash and overtake the dominant rhetoric in the public sphere.

American psychologist Abraham Maslow argued in 1954 that people’s needs are ranked in ascending order from physiological to self-actualization. And according to Micheal Redclift’s Sustainable Development: Exploring the Contradictions, the priority of peoples’ needs changes in the course of development, from the satisfaction of basic needs, such as clean water, food, and shelter in developing countries, to more aesthetic and extravagant ones in more developed nations. Putting this into perspective with the three pillars of radicalization, achieving sustainable development helps to deradicalize society as it allows various groups to meet not just their basic needs but also psychological ones by fostering a sense of belongingness, accomplishment, and fulfillment. Met needs that achieve the people’s quest for significance change the narratives they are exposed to and their membership, or network, in the authors’ words, that adheres to the narratives. Sustainable development has a critical impact on social cohesion, human security, the efficiency of state institutions, and their alignment with society and individuals. Strengthening the relationship and trust between the different parties that constitute a society increases the feeling of belonging and self-value, which, if absent, pushes people to seek it elsewhere through radicalization.

Sustainable development for long-term deradicalization

Deradicalization programs have regularly been described within the realm of counter-terrorism strategies and policies as well as in the capture of violent extremists. This will not guarantee the end of a radicalized group, nor would the use of violence and military power, because these groups can continue to recruit more new members. However, offering prospective recruits concrete reasons not to join extremist groups in the first place has a greater potential to stifle the proliferation and existence of such groups. Meaning, as mentioned above, the people who seek radicalization tend to be those who have nothing to hold on to economically and socially. A study conducted in India by A. Nageswara Rao and Dr. Kumara Srivedi titled Economic Importance of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) in India has proven that sustainable development offers opportunities for poverty eradication, enhanced human well-being, and increased livelihoods that ensure the socio-cultural integrity of people. According to the study, as much as 50 to 90 percent of the total source of livelihoods of poor people is said to come from non-market natural goods and ecosystem services.

Sustainable development calls on everyone to participate. Local and small businesses and initiatives, for instance, enable the creation of wealth and skills necessary for a better future, cultivate personal significance, improve the quality of the economy, and target the gap between the rich and the poor. The state must give them a seat at the decision-making table, either directly or indirectly. Giving small communities the ability to learn and develop their own projects generates collaborative efforts and fosters free decision-making. Members of the society learn the necessary skills to efficiently put the resources available into appropriate use. This requires engagement and a high level of commitment from various stakeholders for a sustained period of time. In the end, it will provide the economic stability and self-empowerment necessary for the people to achieve their goals.

Houda Barroug is an undergraduate student at Brown University and an intern at the High Atlas Foundation in Morocco.