How and where does Islam fit in the Contemporary Security Environment
Updated: Nov 8, 2018
"You will be at the forefront of fighting terrorism..." was probably the line that I remembered the most from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono speech at the Merdeka Palace in Indonesia. "You have been entrusted wit ha big responsibility....with your backgrounds in Quran and Islam, you are well equipped to take on this task when each and every one of you return back to their respective countries".
It sounded like that dreaded cliche line you are waiting to hear from every President/Leader of any Muslim country but after listening to that interpreter through that headset for an hour, I was convinced that this President was quite genuine. After all, anyone would be concerned about Terrorism if they happened to rule over the largest single Muslim population on earth.
Having served the Muslim community for a long time, I look back to the President's words. That was 8 years ago, I look back at how some of us have moved on in life. I can quite comfortably say that some of us today are fully qualified Imams running mosques and Islamic Centers all over the world. Others are currently working in government forming strategic partnerships between nations as well as advising policy makers. Having an idea about where a particular group and their ideologies can give you a bit of a head start with regards to where you think they might be headed.
After studying about Islam for the past 12 years both inside and outside of university, in English and in Arabic from both an Islamic as well as secular western perspective, I have recognized that on a systematic basis the word "Islam" in "Radical Islam" seems to be the most misunderstood. Just like ice-cream, if you have never seen it before and you try to go off the word "ICE" simply because it is something you can relate your sensory experiences to, you are more than likely to get a skewed perspective on what this delicious dessert really tastes like. Now the academics among you might be dreading this example but this is how I see the war torn parts of the Middle East today as a result of ineffective Foreign Policy.
Understanding how a given population behaves and acts is very crucial to security practitioners today. This is equally relevant to front-line staff as it is to Policy-Makers.
Ill never forget the day where I was at a Friday prayer at one mosque and a riot nearly broke out. Protesters were staging a sit-in where a corrupt community individual rather than hearing them out decided to escalate the situation by bringing security guards over to evict them from a place of worship "very sensitive huh?". One elder was stressing to them the importance of taking off their shoes whilst they were stressing about the 100+ people that they had to evict (as you naturally would as a Security Officer)! The guys understood that I was on their side and someone had set them up to fail. When police arrived, the order was given in to storm the mosque as they were acting on the 'victim's request'...a very corrupt victim!
Now I am not trying to take credit for deescalating a situation here. From the side of the police, it was a sit-in done on private property which happened to be a place of worship. From the protester's side it was in retaliation to a committee member who was misspending their donations, the protest was actually a reaction to someone's bad behaviour.
I seriously felt for the security and Law Enforcement that day as they were simply enforcing the law and acting on behalf of the property owner who at that time had legal right to kick them out despite being a corrupt official which is why I had to help out.
When you are under stress, you will always default to your training. The SGT in charge that day was focused getting his team in formation in case a riot broke out. Security where on standby to help police out. Given the amount of tension, emotion and adrenaline in the air to hear the other side and figure out who is protesting and who is causing trouble. The best you can do is go off your training and prepare yourself for the worst.
I know very well that if the SGT knew, he would have reacted like we did that day. The protesters ended up walking out peacefully under their own will. This is the point we are trying to make. Understanding the needs of this Muslim congregation was the difference between them walking out peacefully and a full-on confrontation. Imagine if things went south for your organization and you had the privilege of making it on the 6 o'clock news.
The lack of understanding of the Islamic faith and culture of Muslim people has caused serious headaches for some over the past couple of decades simply due to the fact that they don't understand what Radical Islam is about. For example, try posing the simple question of "What makes Radical Islam different from moderate Islam?" Some of the most common answers we get are:
-It's more extreme and more violent.
-Hates the West.
-Is very medieval.
Or as former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot quite simply put it, maybe they are a bit backwards right now and the time will come when this religion will experience enlightenment like we did in Europe.
From our experience at BCSS, 'Radical Muslims' don't necessarily have to hate the West to be radical. If they were medieval, then why are some of them more active on social media than your parents or university lecturers? Isn't social media it a Western invention?
Knowing from experience, academics are still debating the definition of Terrorism with people still trying to find a universal definition for it at 300-level university papers, you can now see where the Islam part fits in the security context (it doesn't get mentioned at all!) After reviewing the study of Islam in 5 universities across Australia and New Zealand, we have come to the conclusion that you might be lucky to find one introductory paper that you will have to take in your own time from a completely different department "That is assuming your studying Defence, Security etc.." and hope by the end of that paper that you will be able to cross-credit it over to your course let alone see how it relates to your other papers. Take this example:
"The Schism between Sunni and Shia started at 656.A.D. To the university student and lecturer alike this is a very important date as it is a case study in how the two sects began to form ideas about one another. However, to the trained security academic, this event is viewed as one of the earliest case studies of radicalization and counter-insurgency in the Middle East"
So why go through the trouble of teaching Islam in the Security Context? If the above example has not provided you with enough justification, then the straightforward answer is that it gives security practitioners and future operators flexibility in understanding the dynamics of Islam which gives them plenty of options at their disposal. For example, now you have more 'soft-power' options when it comes to dealing with situations. It could be an Iftar to start up a community-led policing initiative on a strategic level or that front-line operator that grabs you a jug of water to conduct your ablution for prayers at an overseas FOB in the desert. All these little things add up. Having served the Muslim community, the most vital tip I can personally offer to you as a security professional is that you need to make them feel that their opinions are valued and that it is safe for them to engage with security personnel at any level or agency.
One solution to help bridge this gap is to create "hybrid" or "combined" papers when it comes to understanding Islam and Radicalization. A student at any university can tell you that there is a reason behind compartmentalizing subjects under different papers is the Lecturer's way of simplifying the teaching of this subject for both the lecturer and the student, of course, with the hope that the student will be able to bridge the gap between each of these papers together in their mind at a later given date after their exams.
An example of what BCSS refers to as a 'hybrid' subject that has been applied successfully in Academia was the 149.370 Psychology of Evidence in the Security Environment paper at Massey University. One witness stated that the subject completely changed everyone's perspective on evidence and how they related it to their workplace. There was even a Senior Team Leader in charge of investigations that voluntarily went back to change their statement citing that they might have not been able to perceive events correctly when they initially gave that statement based on what they learnt in class!
Engineering disciplines at university are already fundamentally grounded in this approach. For the first 2 years, you do your math, physics, programming and practical fundamentals. The third year is your advanced level papers. Fourth year is where you get a mixture of hybrid papers such as the mandatory final year project, and addition to one or 2 that contain anything from 3-6 subject "such as building a robot". It is amazing how some courses at university deprive you from this practical experience. The security environment today is full of complex problem solving hybrid teaching approach can better equip the security professional to be better able to tackle on these challenges.
After introducing these subject, bench marking will be a vital part of their success. Getting staff trained to an acceptable "Benchmark" in the IC and the wider security community is the pre-requisite to ensuring you have baseline "Noise Filtering" that is inherent to your collection cycle and information interpreting. It can also help provide sound advice to the Policy Makers in order to deliver a more desirable outcome when it comes to providing a safer community.
Intelligence Academic Dr. Jim Vietch stressed the need of bench marking education in the Security Industry as it helps regulate industry standards as "Now you actually have something to compare the industry to". He has been a strong advocate of introducing Intelligence Studies to New Zealand but unfortunately could not continue on with this passion by the end of 2013.
It is understandable that the complexity around Islam and what is actually deemed to be mainstream Islam is a can of worms that no one wants to even think of opening. But until we decided to open it, no one is really going to know what Radical Islam is about. To put it simply, the sooner that you can open that can, the sooner you will be able to make a mess, then the sooner you will be able to clean it up. We will simply continue to keep making the same mistakes with this War on Terror simply by believing what we want instead of finding out who the other party really is. Every threat keeps being counter-attacked with a larger response to the point that we ended up in a (lock-down) and as a result we end up with new threats that we did not even imagine before. It might be time that we stood back and asked ourselves "Isn't it now time to get back to the basics?"
The Massey University model has had its benefits as the complexity of some of today's problems require a hybrid approach in terms of problem-solving.
The CT industry is not crying for Sharia Graduates but if you learn a thing or two about Islam and you see something that you have come across in the past on your desk as an analyst, you might have a better chance of understanding the information going through your organization. The last thing you want to be doing is asking yourself "What's the difference between a Laqab and a Kunya?". This is very relevant to collection staff who need to get a positive ID on a subject and just as relevant to the Analyst who will use the same information to extrapolate the next course of action.
At BCSS were are not critical of University's as most of us graduated from them at some point and have found these academic institutions a life saving mechanism when faced with a complex investigation that required foresight and a different outlook. It is vital to have future CT practitioners,security operators, Defence and Law Enforcement personnel differentiate between what is Islam and what is Radical Islam by either selecting professional development that is relevant to their profession that will help them specialize on the subject or take up this initiative in their own time. University's today can simply innovate in order to break out of this cycle and cater to some of these gaps by constantly reviewing the relevance of their papers and how they are to relation to their respective industries.
Since these individuals will literally be as one mate of mine put it "At the tip of the spear" when they will be called upon, an believe me, the last thing you want to be doing when that time comes is looking for your blade sharpener!