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An in-depth analysis of some topics of special interest for pluralism

A secular de-radicalization in a pluralistic legal system

A secular de-radicalization in a pluralistic legal system

The theme of the relationship between religious freedom and security has, over the last twenty years, acquired such centrality that hitherto unknown or little-used concepts have entered the public and specialized debates. Prominent among these is regarding the most concrete and important long-term public intervention in the fight against extremism on a religious matrix, i.e., deradicalization, often simplistically understood as the opposite, or reverse, of a radicalization process.

The activity of de-radicalization, therefore, must first be defined in its theoretical sense to grasp its real meaning and objectives; then, it is necessary to identify its content in practice, trying to understand its founding themes and limits. The risk of such a public intervention is interfering with the deepest sphere of the individual, with his or her religiosity and intentions, overstepping the limits derived from the different types of secularism (as Italian laicità or French laïcité) that characterize the State, requiring it to consider individual conscience as impassable territory.


Conquering the superficiality of those who understand the latter, simply, as the opposite of the former, must start from the concept of re-education. Without dwelling on all the possible synonyms of re-education, an analysis of the jurisprudence of the Italian Constitutional Court shows that, in fact, regardless of the lexical variant used, the re-educative function is substantiated in all those interventions aimed at fostering the recovery of the prisoner to a life in society. The concept of re-education espoused by the system, therefore, is not static, aimed at passively providing content to the individual, but dynamic. This signifies something much more complex, directly linked to the relational sphere of the subject: the educational path that will be offered to him must be oriented toward an effective citizenship. Therefore, in the Italian penitentiary system, reintegration can be considered the final goal of the re-educative path, the true goal to which civil institutions aspire, in the absence of any intent of moral repentance. In a not dissimilar manner, then, the reintegration of the radicalized into a new and peaceful sociality must be the ultimate goal of a de-radicalization plan.


Along these lines, de-radicalizing cannot amount to eradicating the individual’s innermost convictions, however reprehensible and deplorable they are deemed by secular institutions; rather, what the State can aspire to is the individual’s disengagement from criminal action, even if this is motivated by the mere fear of a new sanction, rather than by a powerful adherence to the values at the basis of social coexistence and the order that regulates it.

This leads to a subsequent, twofold order of considerations.

First, reference is made here to what also emerges from a literal exegesis of the constitutional dictate of Article 27, third paragraph of the Constitution. Indeed, the provision requires, with felicitous lexical choice, that punishments “shall aim” at re-educating the convicted and not that they must necessarily achieve it or, much less, impose it. The re-educational plan, inevitably the bearer of values, is thus only offered by the system to the convicted person, who nevertheless retains complete freedom to decide whether to accept all or part of the State’s outstretched hand or, regrettably, to reject it. Such a lofty ambition as that of the individual’s social reintegration does indeed require a shared commitment to a justice project based on the restoration and reconstruction of the social bond, but this does not translate to an obligation on the part of the individual to adhere to the treatment program. The imposition of such a duty, which implies an effort that is only minimally material, burdening, rather, the inner sphere of the individual, seems far from the concepts of re-education and respect for human dignity. Consent to a re-educative project, in fact, implies a real choice of conscience and is, consequently, part of that inner individual space in which any interference of law marks a retreat of freedom. conducted in the democratic, personalist, and pluralist orders cannot be considered free, or, more correctly, to be freely adhered to by the subject toward whom it is directed.


Second, any re-educative treatment will necessarily have to follow the path of individualization.

This is not only an additional consequence of the decisive influence, in the Italian legal system, of the personalist and pluralist principles that value the specificities of each person in the variety of infinite forms by which individual personality develops. More specifically, the need to tailor the sentenced person’s rehabilitation intervention to his or her specific condition is also expressly outlined in the Prison System Act in its first article. There is therefore a need to outline a re-educational program suited to the needs of the radicalized, one that lies somewhere in between a utopian, albeit fascinating, integrally personalized plan and a model, and on the other hand, one that is generalized, devoid of any consideration of the specificities of the individual.

So, de-radicalization should be understood to mean nothing more than what the legal system desires it means: re-education that is tailored to the needs of the individual, in this case a subject deemed radicalized.


Coming to the contents of a secular de-radicalization plan, participating in a project as ambitious as that of the resocialization of an individual, moreover in his/her declination of radical positions, means illustrating to the person the ideal pillars that the legal system has implemented as the basis of the coexistence of fellow citizens and to which minimal adherence is required, albeit exclusively on a factual and relational level and not on that of the inner, individual conscience. What must be made clear is that where the State is required to renounce any assertion of absolute truth, religiously grounded or not, the individual cannot be obviously precluded from embracing one. Moreover, the admixture operated by the radicalized, whereby the religious message also takes on a political nature to the point of losing its original connotations, would be intolerable if implemented by civil institutions, should they claim to impart religious, or even merely spiritual, valence to their political activities, but the same does not apply to individuals. In fact, the principle of distinction of orders - and more generally that of laicità, which is the essential core - does not require that simple citizens, as well as public powers, keep civil and spiritual spheres rigidly separate.

However, this does not mean that civil institutions are destined to implement a necessarily ineffective de-radicalization strategy. The canon of neutrality that distinguishes the secular State does not in fact prevent it from attributing relevance to ethical values, rationally founded, without evoking the idea of an order that oppressively imposes its axiological bearing. Once enshrined in the Constitution, those values also assume legal prominence in the form of principles, giving shape to public ethics nourished by that indisputable patrimony of values. With such a notion, we do not identify a specific ethic, whether religious, secular, or collective, but a general and binding “meta-ethic”, whose ultimate purpose is to ensure the peaceful coexistence of other ethics within its framework. This inevitably leads to the assertion that even the most liberal order is based on its own set of values, from which it has become necessary to draw, in order to produce a content proposal for a de-radicalization plan.


More concretely, a de-radicalization program will have to illustrate, first and foremost, to the individual to whom it is addressed that everyone is fully free, within a secular legal system, to profess his or her own beliefs, being assured in that sphere a space free from public and private interferences. In fact, the primary merit of laicità consists of its “assiduous concern to give everyone a way to be themselves” (Bellini): to every consociate, then, even if radicalized by a religious or political matrix.

Above everything, the theme that should be given renewed centrality is responsibility.  Indeed, the idea that the concrete exercise of guaranteed freedoms may be opposed by limits related to the necessary social participation of the citizen reveals the role that the system attributes to the perceived responsibility of one individual toward another. The relationship between freedom and responsibility is thus conceivable in a circular manner, exactly as with the dialectic between rights and duties: the exercise of an inviolable right always entails the assumption of a duty toward the community, just as “every freedom is the foundation of responsibility” (Pizzolato).

Thus, to insist on responsibility is not only to aim to make people understand the solidary foundations of civil coexistence designed by the legal system, but also to raise awareness of a bond that is considered essential for the realization of that minimum cohesion that constitutes the necessary compensation for the centrifugal thrusts proper to pluralism.


The reference to responsibility is valid for our purposes in two respects. In the first instance, inasmuch as a de-radicalization plan cannot fail to include a reference to the sanctions to which an individual may be subjected in the event of conduct detrimental to the fundamental legal goods of others, such as life or physical safety. Such a reference, however, may not be sufficient.  This is a view that is not only excessively cynical, which considers humans as incapable of regulating themselves in the absence of the prospect of retaliation, but above all is short-sighted, overlooking the essentiality, in our legal system, of the principle of solidarity. About the latter, we are reminded of its nature as the connective tissue of relationships between individuals, placed at the basis of the social coexistence prefigured by the Constitutional Charter. Once it is ascertained that the goal of a re-educational strategy is primarily disengagement of the individual from criminal action, one may well choose to pursue that goal purely through intimidation, but this would betray the genuine spirit of solidarism that animated the constituent project, which clearly requires something more.

In this context, a second aspect related to the new and, here, hoped-for role given to the theme of responsibility in a de-radicalization project takes on additional significance. In this direction, the core of the re-educative—or “de-radicalizing”, as it may be—activity might justifiably consist of this aspect: if the radicalized person is unable to nurture respect, solidarity, or compassion toward the other since he or she disallows the latter’s humanity and, ultimately, dignity, a different vision must be proposed. A vision centered on respect for equal dignity and the solidaristic constraints imposed by the legal system in exchange for the recognition of inviolable rights, which really could ensure, should it be adopted by the radicalized, a renewed abstention from criminal activity motivated by his or her religiosity. This would be a public action that, in full compliance with the principle of laicità, is in no way intended to alter individual religiosity, which could very well remain intermingled with political and even totalitarian elements. It would, however, constitute a laico attempt at de-radicalization, which, together with the fallout from violating a State rule, would show the radicalized not only the legal consequences of his or her actions, but also what it means to be part of a social compact regulated by our Constitution, in which the bridge between guaranteed freedoms and required responsibility is constituted precisely by the value of human dignity.


(Focus by Alessandro Negri)


Essential bibliography:


F. Alicino, Terrorismo di ispirazione religiosa. Prevenzione e deradicalizzazione nello Stato laico, Rome, 2020.


U. Beck, Il Dio personale. La rinascita della religiosità secolare, Rome-Bari, 2009.


P. Bellini, Della idea di laicità nelle relazioni fra privati, in M. Tedeschi, ed., Il principio di laicità nello Stato democratico, Soveria Mannelli, 1996.


G. Bettiol, Il mito della rieducazione, in Aa.Vv., Sul problema della rieducazione del condannato, Padova, 1964.


N. Colaianni, Sicurezza e prevenzione del terrorismo cosiddetto islamista: Il disagio della libertà, in Stato, Chiese e Pluralismo Confessionale, 2019, 27.


G. Di Cosimo, Coscienza e Costituzione. I limiti del diritto di fronte ai convincimenti interiori della persona, Milano, 2000.


E. Dolcini, La rieducazione del condannato. tra mito e realtà, in Rivista Italiana di Diritto e Procedura Penale, 1979, 469.


G. Fattori, ed., Libertà religiosa e sicurezza, Pisa, 2021.


L.S. Martucci, Laicità e diritti nei programmi di deradicalizzazione dal terrorismo religioso, in Dirittifondamentali.it, 2019, 1.


L.S. Martucci, Radicalizzati jihadisti: Profilazione e deradicalizzazione Constitution-compliant, in Stato, Chiese e Pluralismo Confessionale, 2019, 1.


R. Mazzola, Pedagogia, diritto e radicalizzazione. Cosa si dovrebbe evitare volendo fare prevenzione, in Educational Reflective Practices, 2021, 83.


A. Morelli, Solidarietà, diritti sociali e immigrazione nello Stato sociale, in ConsultaOnline, 2018, 533.


A. Negri, Radicalizzazione religiosa e de-radicalizzazione laica. Sfide giuridiche per l’ordinamento democratico, Roma, 2022.


F. Pizzolato, Finalismo dello Stato e sistema dei diritti nella Costituzione italiana,  Milano, 1999.


A. Spadaro, Laicità e confessioni religiose: Dalle etiche collettive (laiche e religiose) alla “meta-etica” pubblica (costituzionale), in Annuario 2007. Problemi pratici della laicità agli inizi del secolo XXI, Padova, 2008, 57.


G. Vassalli, Il dibattito sulla rieducazione (in margine ad alcuni recenti convegni), in Rassegna penitenziaria e criminologica, 1982, 437.