French government officials have announced that France’s first official de-radicalisation boot camp will open at the end of September. Officially known as the Centre for Prevention, Integration and Citizenship, it will be the first of 12 regional de-radicalisation centres, and is to be housed in the 18th-century château de Pontourny in central France. Catering for 25 radicalised young people aged between 18 and 30, the centre will attempt to stop them from being enticed into joining a jihadist group and being groomed to undertake a terrorist attack.
It is not entirely clear how these centres will operate. Aimed at those who are deemed to have become radicalised and are apparently looking for a way out, participants’ attendance will be voluntary, and they will be free to return home on weekends.
It is not a unique initiative. Western governments have long been seeking to counter the growing appeal of radical jihadist subculture among young people, with de-radicalisation centres also having been set up in Montreal and Brussels. It is unlikely, however, that such centres are going to provide an effective alternative for young people drawn towards a radical jihadist subculture and lifestyle. For a start, there is little evidence that de-radicalisation programmes actually work. Worse still, these initiatives are often based on the American criminal-justice boot-camp model, which seeks to divert young people away from a life of delinquency. However, young, would-be jihadists are not simply a variant of would-be criminal gang members. They do not see themselves as embarking on a life of crime; they see themselves as pursuing a morally just mission.