Why Terrorists Quit: The Disengagement of Indonesian Jihadists.

AuthorTemby, Quinton
PositionBook review

Why Terrorists Quit: The Disengagement of Indonesian Jihadists. By Julie Chernov Hwang. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2018. Hardcover: 206pp.

According to an influential thesis by David C. Rapoport, terrorism comes in waves. But amid the current "Religious wave", it is easy to lose perspective. Militant Islamists of previous generations, like the hijackers of 9/11, are now followed by those of the iGeneration. For these young militants, the 9/11 attacks are pixelated images from a distant past of phone booths and dial-up Internet. The Religious wave seems endless.

Yet we know that terrorists do, in fact, quit. This is the starting point of Julie Chernov Hwang's book. Why Terrorists Quit: The Disengagement of Indonesian Jihadists. Hwang's work builds on a research agenda that is more closely associated with criminology than terrorism studies, in which researchers seek to explain "desistance"--an offender voluntarily ceasing to commit crimes. Yet research on terrorist desistance is relatively rare, despite the generous funding that has been made available in recent years for highly experimental intervention programmes under the rubric of countering violent extremism (CVE).

In her study, Hwang is careful to distinguish disengagement from the more contested notion of deradicahzation. Her focus is on the former, which is typically defined as ceasing to take part in violence. "The term connotes a change in behavior", Hwang explains, "in contrast to ideological deradicalization, which denotes the delegitimation of the ideology underpinning the use of violence" (p. 4).

Hwang's findings are based on extensive fieldwork over a sixyear period during which she conducted over a hundred interviews with 55 Indonesian jihadists. The greatest contribution of the book is its richly detailed biographical summaries of five jihadists--some named, some anonymous--who each receive a dedicated chapter. The jihadists are quoted at length, bringing their process of engagement and disengagement to life for the reader. Anas--a Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) militant who took part in the Ambon conflict --describes with insight his attraction to armed jihad: "When I was there, I became addicted to it. We have to be aware that jihad is addictive. Some people say that violence is like opium" (p. 82).

From such interview data Hwang identifies "patterns of disengagement" from which she derives four factors that cause terrorists to disengage from violence. None of the...

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