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Jul 15, 2016
Originally published on August 27, 2016 12:40 pm
Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ALIX SPIEGEL, HOST:

This story starts in Washington, D.C., on a warm summer night. There were eight friends gathered around a backyard dinner table. They were toasting family and friendship. And everybody was having a good time.

MICHAEL RABDOU: Kind of one of those great evenings - lots of awesome food and French wine. And it was like a magical night.

SPIEGEL: That's Michael Rabdau. He was there with his wife and his 14-year-old daughter Khyber. And he says it was getting late, maybe around 10 p.m., when it happened.

RABDOU: I was standing beside my wife. And I just saw this arm with a long barrel gun come between us. It was as if in slow motion this hand - and then it just got really quiet.

SPIEGEL: The hand belonged to a man, medium height, in clean, high-end sweats. He raised the gun and held it first to the head of Michael's friend, Christina, and then to the head of Michael's wife.

RABDOU: Then he said...

KHYBER: Give me your money.

SPIEGEL: That's Khyber, Michael's daughter.

KHYBER: Kept repeating, give me your money.

RABDOU: Or I'm going to start effing shooting. And we believed him.

SPIEGEL: But there was a problem. No one had any money. So they started talking, grasping for some way to dissuade the man. They started with guilt.

RABDOU: What would your mother...

KHYBER: What would your mother think of you?

RABDOU: And he said something like, I don't have an effing mother.

SPIEGEL: Michael remembers thinking, this is headed towards a very bad end.

RABDOU: Someone was going to get hurt.

SPIEGEL: But then one of the women at the table, this woman Christina, pipes up. She has an offer for the man.

KHYBER: She said, you know, we're here celebrating. Why don't you have a glass of wine (laughter)?

RABDOU: It was like a switch. He could feel the difference.

SPIEGEL: All of a sudden, Michael says, the look on the man's face changed.

RABDOU: And he tasted the wine - and just said to him, that's a really good glass wine. We had some cheese there, too. And so he reached down for the cheese. And then he put the gun in his pocket.

SPIEGEL: The man drank his wine, ate his cheese. And then he said something that no one expected.

RABDOU: I think I've come to the wrong place. And we were all like, hey, I understand.

SPIEGEL: For a moment, they all sat there together, the stars overhead twinkling, the sound of chirping insects in the night air.

RABDOU: And then he said something just so strange - just said, can I get a hug? My wife hugged him. And then our friend hugged him. Then he said, can we have a group hug?

SPIEGEL: And so everyone got up and formed a circle around the man.

RABDOU: I can't tell you how strange that was. But we all did come around him and hug him. And he said, he was sorry. And he walked out with a glass of wine out the gate.

SPIEGEL: Later that evening, after everything had calmed down, they would find the glass neatly placed on the sidewalk by their alley - not thrown, not carelessly discarded - placed. But that was later. At the time, all they could think to do was run into the house and cry in gratitude.

RABDOU: It was like this was like a miracle. It was like a miracle.

SPIEGEL: But was it a miracle? Or is there a better word for what happened that night?

Before we start, do you have any questions for me?

CHRIS HOPWOOD: No. No questions.

SPIEGEL: This is a professor at Michigan State University named Chris Hopwood. Chris spends his life looking at how people interact with each other. And one of the things that he looks at is called noncomplementary behavior. So the basic idea is that people naturally mirror each other.

So when someone is hostile to you, you are typically hostile back. Warmth begets warmth. And breaking this pattern - say, being really warm to somebody after they've been incredibly hostile to you - that is noncomplementary behavior. And according to Hopwood, it's incredibly hard to do.

HOPWOOD: So if I am really nice to you, and you're really cold and unfriendly to me, generally speaking, either I'll try to do something to, like, appease you and make you like me so that you'll warm up. Or maybe I'll respond with coldness to you because you're being unfriendly to me. Or we'll just stop interacting.

SPIEGEL: But people do manage to sometimes behave in noncomplementary ways. And when they do, it often completely shakes up a situation - flips the script. It happens between people. But also, it can happen on a bigger level.

HOPWOOD: The reason, for example, that we admire people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. is because they were able to maintain a sort of warmth and integrity in the face of people who were being cruel to them.

SPIEGEL: The march in Selma, nonviolence in India, offering a man with a gun at your head a glass of wine - those aren't miracles. They're examples of noncomplementary behavior.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: This is INVISIBILIA. I'm Alix Spiegel.

HANNA ROSIN, HOST:

And I'm Hanna Rosin.

SPIEGEL: INVISIBILIA is a show about all of the invisible forces that shape human behavior - our beliefs, thoughts, emotions, assumptions. And today, our show is about noncomplementary behavior.

ROSIN: That is an awkward term.

SPIEGEL: I like that term. It's a beautiful word.

ROSIN: Hashtag, #noncomplementarybehavior.

SPIEGEL: So begging to be a meme. So we're going to look at the way that people use noncomplementary behavior to change things up and flip the script.

ROSIN: We're looking at a group of people in Denmark who are using noncomplementary behavior to address one of the biggest problems facing the world today, terrorism and radicalization.

SPIEGEL: And we have a story about dating for balance.

ROSIN: Stick around.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: OK. So Hanna is going to start us off. She has a story about a different country that used noncomplementary behavior to flip the script on a real problem.

ROSIN: It's a story that takes place on the east coast of Denmark in a small prosperous town called Aarhus. Driving around town on a sunny afternoon, it looks so tidy.

Just very orderly, wouldn't you say?

SPIEGEL: Very. Very orderly.

ROSIN: There are no homeless people on the streets - none of the usual signs of urban decay. It's your typical supercivilized Scandinavian success story.

(Singing) Hello. Can you hear me?

Like, this TV station in town once tried to do this experiment where they dropped wallets around town just to see how many would be returned. And they couldn't even get going with the experiment because people just kept picking up the wallets and returning them right away. It feels like the kind of place that darkness could never penetrate.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: And then one day in 2012, a couple of cops in Aarhus are sitting around in their office and the phone rings. It's a call from some parents. And these parents are just hysterical.

THORLEIF LINK: They were crying and really unhappy. I mean, they were really desperate. Very desperate.

ROSIN: Their son is missing. They literally woke up in the morning and he was gone. This is a big deal in a town like this that doesn't have a lot of crime, so the cops do what cops do and they start looking for clues.

ALLAN AARSLEV: He was a very young man.

ROSIN: Seventeen or 18 years old.

LINK: In gymnasium.

ROSIN: High school?

LINK: High school, yeah.

ROSIN: And he lives in a mostly Muslim neighborhood.

AARSLEV: And a very religious young man.

ROSIN: So they were working on this case and as they're working on it, another person goes missing. They get a panicked call from another set of parents.

LINK: Very disturbed, very angry, very frightened.

ROSIN: And then they were working on that case and then a third kid goes missing.

AARSLEV: Suddenly, there are three. And there were five and then there were seven.

LINK: Suddenly, there was 10.

ROSIN: Suddenly, it's a cascade of kids who go missing.

LINK: Fifteen kids. Fifteen kids.

AARSLEV: Twenty-seven people, I think.

ROSIN: Damn.

AARSLEV: Why is this going on?

ROSIN: Why on earth?

AARSLEV: Why?

ROSIN: The only clue that they're picking up from these parents sounds crazy.

LINK: Rumors. Rumors about Syria, that people were going to Syria.

ROSIN: This is 2012. All you hear about Syria is that there's a brutal civil war over there, that there's dozens of Islamist radical groups fighting for control. It's just absolute chaos.

LINK: We didn't knew at that time what was going on.

ROSIN: Over the next few months, the parents' worst fears were confirmed. It looked like their kids were jihadists, radicals who'd left tidy Denmark to go fight a holy war.

LINK: We didn't know what to do with all the parents because they were so frustrated, so frightened.

ROSIN: They started hounding the police - showing up at the station every day, pounding on the door, calling the cops on their personal cell phones.

LINK: Because they went to the foreign ministry, they couldn't help them. They went to the intelligence service, they couldn't help them.

ROSIN: So they land in the office of these policemen who decide for whatever reason, they're going to take this on as their problem.

LINK: I mean, what could we do?

AARSLEV: What can we do about it?

ROSIN: These two cops you've been listening to - that's Allan...

AARSLEV: Allan Aarsley.

ROSIN: ...And...

LINK: Thorleif Link.

ROSIN: ...Thorleif. Allan and Thorleif are the head and heart of this story. They're cops, but they're not typical cops. They work in crime prevention. And until these kids started disappearing, they'd never dealt with problems on this scale before. Of course, they wanted to help these parents get their kids back. But getting these kids back meant getting them back from Syria, which might mean getting a whole bunch of angry terrorists back to their town. Also, they had no idea what kind of numbers they were dealing with. Who knew how many young kids out there in Aarhus were flirting with terrorism, whether they went abroad or not?

LINK: That was the kind of problem we looked into.

ROSIN: In 2012, the rest of the world was also waking up to the problem of their citizens getting radicalized. And obviously, it's still a big problem. Thousands of young people were sneaking off to Syria from Belgium and the U.K. and France and Sweden and the United States. There were Allans and Thorleifs all over Europe fielding calls from hysterical parents whose kids had left in the night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Eighteen thousand foreign fighters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Foreign language spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: One thousand new fighters per month.

ROSIN: How did they deal with this new threat? Most of the countries had one solution - get hostile, meet force with force.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID CAMERON: Taking away your passport, prosecuting, convicting.

ROSIN: For instance, France would shut down dozens of mosques. And in the U.K., British Prime Minister David Cameron pulled out all the weapons.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CAMERON: You are an enemy of the U.K., and you should expect to be treated as such.

(APPLAUSE)

ROSIN: And partly because of Aarhus, Denmark - happy, tidy Denmark - was second on the list of European countries with a homegrown terrorist problem - second. Thorleif and Allan needed a plan.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: The building where Allan and Thorleif work doesn't look like a war room for fighting terrorism. It looks like an IKEA playroom. When you walk into the waiting room, there's a kid-sized doll house with a tiny stool to sit on and fake wrapped presents. The vibe is more we want to help than we want to punish. Outside in the rest of Denmark, there was political pressure to stamp out terrorists.

But Allan and Thorleif were worried that coming down hard like that would backfire because that's exactly what they saw when they were beat cops. In their early days, Thorleif in particular spent a lot of time pulling over cars driven by young Arab men. And a lot of times, they would get aggressive with him until one day, Thorleif asked one of these guys, why are you so hostile? And the guy told him...

LINK: The police are harassing me.

ROSIN: He'd been pulled over nine times that day.

LINK: And what - I haven't done anything. It's because I'm Arab. You have to see this.

ROSIN: Thorleif had never heard that before, never considered that he might be racially profiling these guys. And the interaction really stuck with him. Maybe he was doing something that was making them more aggressive, that was making the whole situation worse. Was there some way to stop this pattern? This line of questioning ultimately led these two cops to create one of the most unusual approaches to the war on terror going. And we'll get to that. But first...

JAMAL: I felt that I was pushed away from the society, that I have no place, no name.

ROSIN: This is Jamal. And a quick warning, Jamal uses the N-word when describing his experience. Also, Jamal isn't his real name. He asked us to use a pseudonym, which we don't normally do in stories, but he doesn't want people to know him as a kid who almost joined the jihad. He wants a job and a life now. But for a long time, that didn't seem possible.

JAMAL: This is the trouble.

ROSIN: Jamal was born in Mogadishu, Somalia when the country was in the beginning of a civil war. When he was 5 years old, he and his family moved to Denmark, to a neighborhood at the outskirts of Aarhus. They were the first black family in the neighborhood, the first Muslims.

JAMAL: They never said [expletive] or black, but they'd never seen a black person before. They were like, do you have the same blood as we have?

ROSIN: This kind of thing made Jamal angry.

JAMAL: I was always fighting. But my father was very disappointed, and I didn't like to see my father disappointed.

ROSIN: Jamal decided that he needed to change himself. Instead of fighting, he was going to be the good kid in school.

JAMAL: I could solve the problems in the math class and make a joke. The teacher was, oh, you're very good. And he made jokes at me, and they were like, OK, this guy is actually clever.

ROSIN: So he was going along making a lot of Danish friends, starting to feel more Danish even. And then one day in high school, his teacher organizes a debate about Islam.

JAMAL: And...

ROSIN: And this girl he's debating with...

JAMAL: A girl from the Danish side.

ROSIN: ...Starts criticizing Islam.

JAMAL: Islam is evil and is not good for any human being.

ROSIN: And Jamal was like...

JAMAL: What the hell you talking about? What do you know about Islam?

ROSIN: Anything?

JAMAL: Are you a Muslim? She said, no.

ROSIN: But she knew what she heard on the news.

JAMAL: They're killing themselves, stoning women...

ROSIN: Got right up in his face.

JAMAL: ...Terrorizing the Western world, and I was like, OK.

ROSIN: Jamal lost it. He was like...

JAMAL: People like you should never exist. You are evil. You are going to end up in hell.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: The way Jamal saw it, this girl was just dishing out insults, and he was dishing them right back. But that's not how this girl saw it, not at all.

JAMAL: She talked to the teacher and said, I feel that Jamal is a dangerous person, and maybe he can do something dangerous in this class. And the principal - when he heard that, he called immediately to the police.

ROSIN: And then the police got in touch with Jamal's father who got in touch with Jamal and told him to get himself immediately to the police station.

JAMAL: The policeman - he said to me, some of your classmates think that you are extremist and radicalized. And I was like, what? That you are capable of maybe bombing your school, your classmates. And I was like, what?

ROSIN: The police told him he would be wise to cooperate or they would have to hold him in jail. They asked for his passwords, so they could go through his email and social media accounts. And then they told him that they would have to search his house.

JAMAL: As I said, is that very necessary because my family is there? I don't like my family to be humiliated.

ROSIN: But he had no choice. The police put him in the back of a cruiser and headed to his house.

JAMAL: My mother opens the door, and she sees the police. And - what's going on? And I have to explain to her in Somali so she could understand.

ROSIN: So she lets the police come in, and they start taking apart the house.

JAMAL: It was very intimidating.

ROSIN: For a week, Jamal didn't go to school. That happened to be the week of graduating exams, but Jamal missed them. He just sat at home, looked out the window and worried.

JAMAL: I waited a whole week. A whole week I didn't sleep. My head's spinning. My thoughts is all around. I'm finished. Only have myself. I'm going to be taken. Somali, black - kidnap me and send me to Cuba. When does the next flight to Guantanamo go?

ROSIN: At the end of the week, a letter arrived from the cops. It said he was clean. After all that, they didn't find anything suspicious.

JAMAL: All that pain for no reason. So...

ROSIN: The principal wouldn't let him take any make-up exams, so he had to repeat a bunch of high school which made him furious.

JAMAL: That summer, my mother dies from heart attack. I was totally black in front of my eyes. I'm alone. The whole world is gone. In my mind, the school did this, the police did this. They are behind it - all my troubles and pain.

ROSIN: One day, Jamal went for a walk in the woods behind his house to grieve and to make sense of all the bad things that were happening to him.

JAMAL: I didn't focus on the colors in the woods, the flowers. I was like all this [expletive] happens. Everything is going wrong because of an unjustice system, racism and even worse that the politician is behind all of this. So I thought they called me a terrorist. I would give them a terrorist.

ROSIN: You think I'm a terrorist? I'll show you a terrorist. That is a classic complementarity story. You give someone hostility. They give you hostility right back. And in Jamal's case, that's exactly what happened. It did escalate. Over the next year, he had to repeat high school, but he resented it. He grew more and more angry and felt rejected by Denmark. And then he ran into a group of guys who felt basically the same way he did.

JAMAL: Some of them - his sister was spit on on the street, other guy - his brother was arrested by the police for nothing.

ROSIN: One of these guys had an apartment, and Jamal started spending all of his free time there.

JAMAL: In that apartment, We discussed Islam. We focused on religion. We build ourselves up, and this took into me. And I was like OK. Of course I need people around in a tough time especially.

ROSIN: The group would also hang out at a mosque down the road called the Grimhoj Mosque, and then they would come home and together they would watch YouTube videos of an English-speaking imam.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken).

JAMAL: Anwar al-Awlaki - it's very famous.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANWAR AL-AWLAKI: There's no rolling back of the worldwide jihad movement.

ROSIN: Jamal heard al-Awlaki's message loud and clear.

JAMAL: The government in the West will turn against you. Don't see it as your country.

ROSIN: And over time, the guys in the apartment became fixated on one idea.

JAMAL: There's a prophecy when the black flag is raised in Syria, and they are called for caliphate. Every Muslim should join the caliphate.

ROSIN: The caliphate - the Islamic state that ISIS was then planning in Syria. Two of the guys in that apartment started plotting their trip. Within a year, they would be gone, two of the disappeared that Allan and Thorleif would later hear about.

SPIEGEL: INVISIBILIA will be back in a minute.

This is INVISIBILIA. We've been talking to Jamal, a young man in Denmark who was tempted to become a terrorist. Now we're going to see how the cops in his town decided to deal with cases like his. Hanna Rosin is telling the story.

ROSIN: As Allan and Thorleif continue their investigation into the kids who had gone off to Syria, a sort of villain emerged.

AARSLEV: A specific mosque here in our city, a mosque called the Grimhoj mosque.

ROSIN: The Grimhoj mosque - the same mosque where Jamal and his friends from the apartment had gone.

LINK: Twenty-five of them - of our investigation - are connected to the mosque. And they are now to Syria, so we had a situation.

ROSIN: Once word of this mosque connection hit the press, people were outraged. The local press picked up every scrap they could about this place.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: ...The worshippers to participate in the Syrian war.

ROSIN: They reported that one of the imams said that women who are unfaithful to their husbands should be stoned.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (Foreign language spoken).

LINK: This is deeply offensive to me.

ROSIN: That the mosque leaders believe in an Islamic state just like ISIS does.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (Foreign language spoken).

LINK: It is a completely absurd mindsight to have.

ROSIN: From their office, Allan and Thorleif watched as the community got more and more belligerent.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (Foreign language spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: ...Grimhoj mosque - it can't happen too fast.

ROSIN: And then they came up with their own battle plan.

AARSLEV: We called the chairman of the mosque. We told him we would like to meet with him to have a cup of coffee.

ROSIN: A cup of coffee. Allan and Thorleif headed over to the mosque to see what its leaders knew about these 25 people who had disappeared.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hello?

LINK: This looked like an old factory building with the carpets, some pillars.

ROSIN: Within those walls, Allan and Thorleif found a community that was totally freaked out.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Quite horrified.

ROSIN: Freaked out, sure, by all the negative news coverage but also freaked out by the sudden exodus of young people from their community.

FADI ABDALLAH: Of course, of course we were afraid.

ROSIN: This is Fadi Abdallah, an accountant by day who volunteers to be the mosque's spokesperson. He was one of the guys who Allan and Thorleif met with at the mosque. He told the cops that he was really worried about these missing kids.

ABDALLAH: We wanted to get them back as soon as possible because it's not their war. They don't have experience.

ROSIN: Fadi told them that he and the other mosque leaders had nothing to do with planning these Syria trips. It was a group of rebellious young kids at the mosque, a youth group. And they're the ones who had planned the whole thing.

ABDALLAH: They said, yes, we have problems with the youngsters. We disagree a lot because they see us as old men.

ROSIN: What Fadi was describing to the cops, it's actually a pretty common scenario. We've learned in recent years that young people don't get radicalized inside mosques. They tend to get radicalized in social circles outside the mosques. And often their parents don't know a thing about it. Fadi told the cops that even his best friend's kid went to Syria. And the father had no idea what his son was up to.

ABDALLAH: The father didn't know about his son. And he tried to talk to him a lot of times - come back, come back, come back. And suddenly, he was bombed and died.

ROSIN: Fadi didn't want the cops to come down hard on these kids. He had one main point to convey. These guys who disappeared - they were not just a bunch of ISIS terrorists. It was much more complicated than that.

ABDALLAH: Understand why this guy went to Syria before giving him a staple of being a terrorist or a criminal. They went to Syria because they consider themselves as Mujahideen.

ROSIN: Mujahideen. To the cops, to most non-Muslims, this mean scary terrorist on the evening news. But to Fadi, it's an expansive term. It can mean warrior. But it can also mean a guy who went to Syria to work in a refugee camp or maybe in a hospital.

So you're saying, not only treat them like human beings. Treat them like somebody who has done something they can be proud of.

ABDALLAH: Yes, of course. We kept saying that if they consider them as criminals and as terrorists and put them in jail, then they would become terrorists and criminals and that we have to meet them with love and caring.

ROSIN: Love and caring - for most Western countries, these are not among the weapons we use to fight terrorism. Even considering it would be political suicide. Thorleif wasn't totally convinced, but he let Fadi's ideas bounce around in his head.

LINK: Everything in the way that we see them, we speak about them, it's very simple. It's if not black then it's white. If you've been to Syria, you are a holy warrior. You are a Islamic State. That's it. There's no difference, you know. There's nothing in between. That's nothing - it's what you call an English nuances.

ROSIN: Nuances.

LINK: Yeah.

ROSIN: One of these guys maybe went over to be a holy warrior, but the next guy just wanted to pose with a Kalashnikov and post a picture on Instagram. And the third guy - maybe just made a stupid teenage mistake and he regretted it and wanted to come home.

LINK: It could be.

ROSIN: After talking to Fadi, here's the calculation the cops were making. They suspected that Fadi was making these kids out to seem more innocent than they really were. But the thing is they couldn't arrest them just for going to Syria anyway because that wasn't illegal in Denmark. What is illegal is fighting for a terrorist group. But that's really hard to prove because gathering evidence from a war zone is nearly impossible.

LINK: We couldn't prove anything, very difficult.

ROSIN: Basically, their choice was let these guys go back to their neighborhoods...

LINK: Back to the dark.

ROSIN: To get more angry and more radicalized.

LINK: It's not good idea.

ROSIN: ...Or offer to help them.

LINK: We could be close to you, and we can screen you. We can have a feeling about you.

ROSIN: You know, keep your enemies close. As they saw it, this was a version of Fathi's idea, love and caring, that was in their self-interest.

AARSLEV: Exactly.

ROSIN: So now, instead of calling these kids terrorists, they started calling them Syrian volunteers. It was a huge shift. And when they got back to their office, Allan and Torleif decided they were not going to do what the rest of Europe was doing. They were going to freelance their own thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: It would be both for the guys coming back from Syria, but also for the potentially hundreds of young people in town who are thinking of going to Syria or whose parents or teachers or friends suspected they were getting radicalized. They were going to combat radicalism with love, with love...

...With love. With love - paid for by the state, of course. Love.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: Instead of arresting people at the airport who are coming back from Syria, they would just call them up and invite them to the office.

LINK: Have a coffee with us.

ROSIN: They would set up a hotline for people to call with tips about budding young radicals. And once they got them in the door, they would find a city official who could hook them up with Denmark's extensive network of social services.

AARSLEV: There are a number of things we can do for them.

ROSIN: Get a job, get health care, get an apartment.

LINK: I can help you with this.

ROSIN: Help them reenroll in school.

LINK: Don't stand in the dark. Come in here be a part of us.

ROSIN: And maybe the most significant part of the program...

AARSLEV: We can connect them to a mentor.

ROSIN: ...The mentorship.

LINK: A person who can lead you the way.

ROSIN: And now they just needed people to enroll, so they waited.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: And then one day, they heard about a guy who was back from Syria. Torleif invited him into the office for coffee and a friendly chat. The guy's mom made him do it.

LINK: Whoa, this was really great.

ROSIN: And at first, when he got there, he was kind of struggling to explain to Torleif why he'd gone to Syria. But then he got his point across with a metaphor, a soccer metaphor.

LINK: He said, Thor, if you compare to football, if you compare it to European football, the Champions League final, if you are there, you know, the best of the best, here, I was there, and I could get in the stadium. I could be amongst them. You know, for me, it was really something holy.

ROSIN: He told the cops that he wasn't a warrior, that he was just helping out in a refugee camp. But this guy had a gunshot wound in his shoulder.

If he was injured, doesn't that suggest that he was fighting?

AARSLEV: Yes. Of course, we also asked him that question. And he gave us an explanation to us why he was injured. And he told us that was not through battle. It was an accident. We had no kind of evidence that he had committed any kind of crimes, that he had been a part of the ISIS and so on. So we had to...

ROSIN: Can I just ask, do you think that he was part of - that he was fighting for ISIS?

AARSLEV: Yes, as a matter of fact, we do. But we have to believe what they say.

ROSIN: They made a choice, in other words, to embrace people back into their fold who might have done really bad things. This was a bold move. But that's the bet they were making to get out of this complementarity trap, where hostility just leads to more hostility. They wanted to write a different script for their future. And this was the only way they could think to make that happen.

AARSLEV: They more or less expect when they return that they will be prosecuted and convicted for crimes. What surprises them is the fact that they can get help.

ROSIN: Here's how it happened. That first guy, instead of arresting him, they took him to a hospital to treat the bullet wound. And that's how he knew that they were for real. Then the next day, he called Thorleif and said...

LINK: I have a guy who's down in Syria now. He's been down there for a year. Can you take him? I said, phone him at once. We'll meet him here.

ROSIN: And then these radical jihadists, they all started to come home.

LINK: My son came home yesterday. Can we come to your office? Of course.

ROSIN: The calls kept coming.

LINK: Hello, my name is Thorleif.

ROSIN: Each time, Thorleif would invite them to the office.

LINK: Do you want to come in?

ROSIN: For coffee and a friendly chat.

LINK: I want to. Hello, my name is Thorleif. Do you want to come in? Yes, I want to. I have this friend. He doesn't dare to come back. Can he come to you? I said, yes, of course. Hello, my name is Thorleif. Do you want to come in?

This work IS 24/7.

ROSIN: Why, are you like a wizard? Why?

LINK: We don't understand ourself. It's really amazing.

AARSLEV: As a matter of fact, to our own surprise, they all come. They all come.

ROSIN: Thirty-four guys went from Aarhus to Syria. As far as the cops know, six got killed, and 10 are still over there. Of the 18 who came home, all of them showed up in Allen and Torleif's office, along with hundreds of other young budding radicals in Aarhus, about 330 in total. Which brings us back to Jamal.

JAMAL: They call me terrorist, so I will give them a terrorist.

ROSIN: Jamal was one of the first people that Allan and Torleif reached out to. At the time, he was redoing high school, going to the mosque and hanging out at that apartment with his friends. In fact, he was literally in that apartment talking about jihad and planning his exit when Thorleif called him up.

JAMAL: He said...

LINK: Hi...

JAMAL: ...My name is Thorleif. I would like to talk to you.

LINK: He said, you and your society, you can [expletive] off.

JAMAL: I said to him...

LINK: [Expletive] you.

JAMAL: ...Listen, I want to finish this school. When I finish, I'm gone. You cannot do anything about it. Goodbye. And he said, wait, wait, wait, wait. Sorry.

LINK: Yes, I said to him, I'm sorry.

JAMAL: That's the first time in the whole nightmare that I heard a policeman say sorry.

ROSIN: It was strange for Jamal to hear those words, to hear a Danish policeman say that he was sorry and that they'd made a mistake and that it was their fault that his life had been so screwed up. Because of that apology, Jamal agreed to meet Thorleif in his office the next week. And when he got there, there was a third guy there, Erhan Kilic.

Erhan was one of the first official mentors hired for this new program.

ERHAN KILIC: I was nervous.

ROSIN: Jamal was his first case. And he thought...

KILIC: What kind of guy is he? Is he the angry guy, or is - he's a guy who wants to do something bad? You know, I have a lot of things going on in my mind.

ROSIN: Erhan told Jamal that he was Turkish and a practicing Muslim. And he was also a successful lawyer with a wife and two daughters.

JAMAL: And a house.

KILIC: Yes.

JAMAL: I was like, you're a Muslim? That's not allowed. It's not possible (laughter) in this country. You have black hair as I have. You're not Danish. You're not even close to Danish (laughter).

ROSIN: The two had a lot in common. Erhan had started out just like Jamal facing a lot of discrimination. Growing up, his family car had been vandalized a lot.

KILIC: More than 20 times.

ROSIN: Of course, he was angry.

KILIC: Of course, of course all of those feeling was there. But...

ROSIN: But Erhan wanted Jamal to know this kind of discrimination, even though it was still happening, it didn't mean that he had no place in Denmark. Yeah, there were racists. But not everyone was like that. And if Jamal chose to, he could find his place in the country. To prove this to Jamal, Erhan took him to a downtown coffee shop.

KILIC: I think it was the name Zike.

ROSIN: And when they first walked in, Jamal was really uncomfortable.

JAMAL: In that coffee shop, the most of the people who were the customers, they were white (laughter). There wasn't a single Somali.

KILIC: He was like, whoa. Are we going to sit here? Where should my jacket be or what should we order?

ROSIN: Jamal had been to plenty of restaurants but mostly Somali and Middle Eastern ones. This place, with its $5 coffees, it seemed like a place only for rich, white Danes. Jamal was willing to try it out. But the best he could do at first was just mimic Erhan.

JAMAL: I don't know. I just ordered what he ordered (laughter) just to be safe, you know?

ROSIN: It was a waffle.

JAMAL: With the cream on or something like that.

KILIC: It was a big thing for him - small thing, maybe, in daily life for young people. But it was a big thing for him to feel that he was a part of the room.

ROSIN: For two years, they met weekly. They went to see movies, they ate nachos, they walked along the harbor. They tried lots of different downtown coffee shops. And over time, this script that Jamal had been living by, outsider, outcast, rejected by the West, it flipped.

Are you Danish?

JAMAL: I'm Danish. And I like my country.

ROSIN: He likes it all the more knowing what his fate could've been. During the time that Jamal was meeting with Erhan, two of his friends from that apartment left for Syria. One was killed.

JAMAL: His car was blown up. Of course, you feel sorrow because that's a life who was lost for no reason.

ROSIN: The other, the Somali guy, he's still over there.

JAMAL: He was funny, opened-minded. Suddenly, he went south.

ROSIN: Did that reflect back on you or make you think anything about your path in...

JAMAL: Yeah, I was pretty lucky that I got that phone call from Thorleif.

ROSIN: Since those kids disappeared in 2012, very few have left from Aarhus to Syria, even when the traffic from the rest of Europe was spiking. Last year, 2015, just one guy left - one. The program is still precarious, though. If there's ever a terrorist attack in Aarhus, it will really be tested. It's already been tested, in a way, by that one guy from the program who left for Syria in 2015.

LINK: Mohammed, we worked with him for so long.

ROSIN: Thoraleif and Allan could not have intervened in Mohammed's life more. They helped him go back to school. They helped him get an apartment. They got him a mentor. They got invited to his wedding. But he kept trying to sneak away to Syria. And then one day, he finally succeeded, taking his wife with him.

LINK: The forces that turned his head was too strong for us.

ROSIN: Programs like this will have failures. They might have a lot of failures. But they still might be worth trying because this whole thing is a long way from over. There are still thousands of people who are drawn to the brotherhood or the narrative or the meaning or whatever it is they're finding in ISIS and the caliphate.

LINK: They want identity. They want recognition.

ROSIN: Whether they find it in a small apartment in front of a YouTube imam who tells them to hate all the people around them or in a downtown coffee shop where they order from the same menu as everyone else.

LINK: The youngsters are dying to belong. They are dying to belong.

SPIEGEL: INVISIBILIA will be right back with a story about dating and the quesadilla explosion salad.

ROSIN: Welcome back to INVISIBILIA. I'm Hanna Rosin.

SPIEGEL: And I'm Alix Spiegel.

ROSIN: We just heard a story about an unusual program in Denmark to combat terrorism.

SPIEGEL: Which, naturally enough, leads us to internet dating.

ROSIN: I guess Internet dating is like its own kind of battlefield.

SPIEGEL: Yeah. I mean, this is definitely a story about a guy who felt like dating was such a trial that he needed to do something drastic. And it starts when he was a kid.

When you were growing up, did you think it would be easy to find someone to marry?

DAVID WHEELER: I did. My parents met when they were, like, in sixth grade, and they've been married for 32 years. So I thought it would be, like, a lot easier than it is. Yeah.

SPIEGEL: Despite near-constant longing, it took David Wheeler until 11th grade to ask a girl out. But when he did, he went big. He made his proposal in video form.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

SPIEGEL: The video opens with David in the bathroom, combing his hair in front of a mirror as he moves his body to the beat of the 1982 hit "Come On Eileen" in a way that can only be described as terrifyingly Caucasian.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS: (Singing) Come on Eileen...

SPIEGEL: David chose the song because the name Eileen, though not exactly the name of the girl that he is trying to ask out, is close to the name of the girl that he is trying to ask out.

WHEELER: So here I'm getting into my nicer clothes.

SPIEGEL: In the video, you see him dance his way out of his house and over to the house of a friend of the girl, then disappear into the hall closet.

WHEELER: The end of the video, I jump out.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

WHEELER: (Singing) Won't you please come to prom with me.

SPIEGEL: The girl said, yes. And to David, it was as if the whole world opened. David had secretly liked the girl for years but had masked his passion behind friendship. At prom, he decided he would finally come clean. And prom was great. It was great until the very end.

WHEELER: Pull up to her house. And I was thinking I've got to tell her I like her. I've got to tell her I like her. And I asked her - I said, do you ever think we're going to be more than friends? And she said, I'm sorry, this won't be more than just friendship. You're not my type. You're not my type. You're not my type.

SPIEGEL: David didn't ask another girl out until his senior year of college, more than four years later. The girl's parting words haunted him.

WHEELER: You're not my type. You're not my type.

SPIEGEL: Basically, David, like many of us, got really nervous about dating.

WHEELER: I just - I never had a ton of confidence in myself maybe.

SPIEGEL: Even after becoming a long-distance runner and graduating from college into a high-paying job in suburban Wisconsin, David felt anxious about romantic interactions. But more than anything, he wanted to find someone, to get married. And so David did what most people do these days. He turned to online dating.

WHEELER: Eharmony.com, match.com, plentyoffish.com (ph), okcupid.com, christianmingle.com...

SPIEGEL: But there, too, things didn't go smoothly.

WHEELER: I was nervous, so nervous to meet people. I hated it.

SPIEGEL: David would write and talk on the phone with potential dates for weeks. And then when the time came to meet, he would studiously prepare.

WHEELER: I would make outlines of questions I could ask the girl that hopefully would get the conversation going so that it's natural and try to memorize, like, 40 of the questions.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Favorite sports team.

Do you work out?

And I remember still, like, going to the bathroom and, like, pulling out my handy-dandy sheet and being like, OK, 10 left. All right, I've got some in the bank. Good. (Laughter).

(LAUGHTER)

SPIEGEL: Doing all this felt natural to David. And really, it's only a slightly more extreme version of what most people in the world of online dating do. In the age of swipe left, it feels like you need to make the best impression you can as quickly as you can. Put your best foot forward.

WHEELER: Yeah, for sure.

SPIEGEL: But even though David is an objectively good-looking guy who was trying to put as many of his best feet forward as he possibly could, for one reason or another, things didn't seem to be clicking. Take the beautiful woman he met online and chatted warmly with for weeks. Things were going great. And then came the time to meet in person.

WHEELER: I showed up with my Dodge Stratus. And I know when I drove up that girl instantly counted me out, instantly decided this guy doesn't make enough money.

SPIEGEL: But David did the decent thing. He took the girl to Chili's and paid for her quesadilla explosion salad.

WHEELER: And I remember when the date finished, most girls - usually you get a hug and, like, you leave. She literally got out of the door and ran to her house - ran.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: Misalignments like this happened all the time. And it began to feel to David like this whole system of online dating - the always on, always putting your best foot forward system - was just flawed, deeply inefficient. Then one day, David was hanging out with his college friend Jacob. They were on the way to Wendy's.

WHEELER: I remember the exact Wendy's. I remember the exact spot.

SPIEGEL: And David was complaining about the problem of the entire enterprise of online dating.

WHEELER: We're all imperfect. We all have our own things, and we're all too scared to talk about them.

SPIEGEL: And then suddenly it hit David. There was a better way. He would make his own dating site.

WHEELER: Create a structure that actually asked people to upload bad pictures and talk about your imperfections and talk about what you would settle for.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: It wouldn't just be people advertising their faults. The concept was that people would be honest about the good and the bad. The way they imagined it, each profile would have a line directly down the middle of it; on one side, the good side - there would be the typical Internet-ready flattering picture and a list of the person's best qualities, just like match.com. But on the other side, the bad side - they'd be asked to post an ugly picture of themselves and describe their weaknesses. David and Jacob even came up with a name for the site - Settle For Love.

WHEELER: We wanted a name like Settle because it just kind of, like, slaps people in the face and says, hey, wake up. You're not perfect. Your partner's not going to be perfect or your date's not going to be perfect. Your wife's not going to be perfect. But again, you can be perfect for each other. You can - the imperfections are what make us real. They're what make us us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: When David told his friends about this new idea, some of them were doubtful. But David wasn't worried.

WHEELER: We're going to change the way people do online dating.

SPIEGEL: I'm going to flip the script on the whole Internet.

WHEELER: Yeah, exactly (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: And so David and Jacob worked nights. They worked weekends, perfecting their sight until finally, in the summer of 2014, Settle For Love went live. David and his co-founder were the very first profiles on the site.

WHEELER: Yeah, so this is my profile - caddy501.

SPIEGEL: On the left side of the page is a picture of David looking like a hunk. His smile is wide and a long list of good qualities appear in bullet points below. But on the right side of the page, there's a very different view.

WHEELER: The picture of my bald spot. There's no hiding it.

SPIEGEL: That is - I have to say, that's a fairly bold picture of your bald spot.

WHEELER: Yeah. It was my biggest fear physically. And I was like, you know what? I want people to know that this is what you're getting yourself into.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: For what felt like a long time, David, Jacob and a handful of their friends were actually the only members of the Settle For Love site. Still, David kept at it, blasted media outlets with press releases, one after another, pitching his new dating site, and then one day a miracle. He was visiting his family in Illinois.

WHEELER: I remember it was around Christmas. And I was literally, like, so down. And my mom hands me the phone, and she said, it's "Good Morning America." They want to talk to you about Settle For Love. And I was like, what?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: A new dating site is trying to change that, saying getting real is the only way to find real love. ABC's Reena Ninan has the story.

WHEELER: Then it just kind of like took off. It pretty much went from, like, 50 to, like, a thousand overnight.

SPIEGEL: Person after person it seemed wanted in, in to a site that allowed them to not just be their happy, shiny Internet selves but also to be human.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: And David saw them all. He was responsible for approving the membership of every single one of them. The good - I do not play mind games. I am down-to-earth. I like making desserts. I find it hard to let people in. I have a genetic disorder called Klinefelter's syndrome. Look it up.

Pros - I'm intelligent and love challenging myself.

Cons - I live with my parents.

Pros - kind-hearted, passionate. Cons - anxiety/PTSD.

Pros - I rescued a German shepherd.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BILL MILLAR: Here we go. Fifty-one years of age, male, straight, single, seeking long-term relationship, lives in Ottawa.

SPIEGEL: This is Bill Millar, a Canadian who heard about Settle For Love on the radio about a year ago and found the concept so appealing, he immediately signed up.

MILLAR: Well, I thought I might be honest about my issues and, you know, maybe find someone who, like me, was - that I could get along with.

SPIEGEL: Bill says, he grew up shy and socially anxious, then discovered about six years ago that he has Asperger's syndrome, which was actually a great relief.

Since you found out that you were autistic, have you dated anybody?

SPIEGEL: No, been a long time. How many years?

MILLAR: Probably 20.

SPIEGEL: Bill told me, he never even considered going on another dating site. He felt he wouldn't do well. But then suddenly there was Settle For Love. And he says, he experienced a hope that he hadn't felt in years. So he signed up and filled out his profile.

MILLAR: My pros - I'm on the spectrum. I love to cook. I'm wild for movies. I'm resourceful.

My cons - I'm on the spectrum. I have social anxiety, questionable dress sense, visually impaired left eye and three testicles (laughter).

SPIEGEL: Actually, Bill has two testicles and a large cyst his doctor is watching. But because he was on Settle For Love, he decided not to hold anything back.

MILLAR: I just wanted to be honest, I guess.

SPIEGEL: I talked to Bill for more than an hour. And it's clear he has a ton to offer. He usually has a good, steady job. He has a kind heart. And he says, one expression of his Asperger's is that he cooks a lot.

MILLAR: Who wouldn't love breakfast in bed, you know?

SPIEGEL: And so almost every week, logs on to Settle For Love, searching for a mate. But so far, he hasn't gotten lucky.

MILLAR: No.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: Which brings us back to David Wheeler.

WHEELER: When this was taking off, I thought about one thing. I'm like, it'd so cool to sell this for, like, a billion dollars. But even more cool would be to, like, actually, like, make a change in the space and, like, change the way people date.

SPIEGEL: But it is hard to change the way that people date, hard to flip the invisible script on this particular part of the human experience. The whole thing about appearing in the best possible light when we're on the search for a romantic or sexual partner, it does feel pretty basic to the biology of being human. So it probably should not be surprising that a couple of months after the "Good Morning America" segment, things slowly started to peter out.

WHEELER: A few hundred a day, and then it slowly tailed off a little bit.

SPIEGEL: Now the site gets only a few dozen members a day. To give you some sense of scale, match.com reportedly gets around to 25,000 new members a day, which for me raises this question - is part of the problem that when it comes to romance, people don't necessarily want to acknowledge and be the self that they actually are?

Do you think that people want reality? Do you know what I mean? Like, essentially...

WHEELER: I do. I mean, I think - I really do, and I'm not kidding. Like, even - I guess that's what I want, so I know my heart. But I think this is what it comes down to, is people want to go where people are. And if there aren't hundreds of thousands of people on a site, they're not going to go. We just need more people.

SPIEGEL: I think David is right that it's not impossible. Norms around dating, like all norms, can profoundly change. In any case, I hope they do, for people like Bill, but really for us all. There should be a site like Settle For Love.

As for David, he's found a girlfriend, albeit through a competing dating website called Christian Mingle. She's someone he really feels passionate about. In May, as a surprise, he presented her with an elaborate video he had made especially for her set to this song, "Want To Be Loved" by Ben Rector. In it, he asked her to marry him. She said, yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WANNA BE LOVED")

BEN RECTOR: (Singing) I think it's true that we all live and die through everyone else's eyes. It's why we need to belong.

ROSIN: Hey Alix.

SPIEGEL: Yeah?

ROSIN: Will you marry me?

(LAUGHTER)

ROSIN: Is that a yes or a no?

SPIEGEL: No.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IK STOL PA DEM")

RASKE OYE: (Singing in Danish).

SPIEGEL: INVISIBILIA is hosted by me, Alix Spiegel.

ROSIN: And me, Hanna Rosin, with Lulu Miller.

SPIEGEL: Our senior editor is Anne Gudenkauf. Our executive producer is Jeff Rogers.

ROSIN: INVISIBILIA is produced by Yowei Shaw an Abby Wendle, with help from Linda Nyakundi, Liana Simons (ph), Megan Kane (ph), Mathilde Piard, Maria Paz Gutierrez, Nora Wazwaz (ph), Andy Huether (ph), Meredith Rizzo, Nancy Shute.

SPIEGEL: And our vice president of programming is Anya Grundmann. Special thanks to Merrit Kennedy, Elias Groll (ph).

ROSIN: Jane Gilvin, Sara Hamouda (ph), Maya Dukmasova (ph), Vivian Fairbank (ph) and Raske Penge and Hojer Oye...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: It's Hojer Oye - I repeat, Hojer Oye.

ROSIN: ...Who's given us permission to use the song "Ik Stol Pa Dem" to close out the hour with a touch of Danish protest hip-hop.

SPIEGEL: And now for our moment of non-zen. You don't even know about internet dating, you old lady.

ROSIN: That's true.

SPIEGEL: You are pre.

ROSIN: I did hieroglyph dating.

Join us next week for more this year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.