Radical terrorists have gripped the world in fear. From London to Barcelona, many have fallen victim to their disturbing acts of public violence. Equally troubling are the increasing number of disillusioned citizens who are being lured by their perverted ideology. Is reform possible for these radicalized recruits? The makers of Hug a Jihadi travel to Denmark to profile controversial rehabilitation efforts that favor empathy over condemnation.
The program is underway in the city of Aarhus, and its unusual approach has garnered equal parts praise and criticism. Counselors know that ISIS recruiters work to target the most impressionable, impoverished and isolated candidates they can find; therefore, they've made it their mission to step in and disrupt the radicalization process before it's allowed to fully take hold.
They don't achieve their goals through bullying or threatened imprisonment. Instead, they share time with each subject, hear their concerns, impart guidance, and appeal to their sense of moral righteousness and shared humanity.
The filmmakers introduce us to Jamal, a young man who felt unfairly discriminated against because he was a Muslim. This perceived injustice seethed within him until he found a distorted sense of purpose within the allure of radicalization. Thankfully, the police interceded before he seized his opportunity to stand alongside ISIS on the front lines in Syria. They urged him to meet with a Muslim counselor. Faced with a mentor who understood his struggles, Jamal no longer felt like an outcast in need of emotional shelter, and he ultimately reversed the destructive course of his life.
Organizers within the program claim many success stories like this one, but critics remain skeptical. They believe these recruits should be penalized harshly under the law. But proponents insist that a more tolerant approach is the only way to truly rehabilitate this dangerous mindset, and that increased aggression would only deepen the sense of alienation that made these subjects susceptible to radicalization in the first place.
Hug a Jihadi exposes the frailties of the human psyche when people lack a strong sense of self worth and belonging. The film also shows us how simple gestures of acceptance and compassion can make all the difference.