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Unmasking potential terrorists a good move

Monday, February 13, 2017
Minister of National Security Edmund Dillon, centre, and representatives of local Muslim communities after the meeting on Friday.

The first meeting in a planned series was held last Friday and was attended by leaders of all the major Muslim organisations in T&T, National Security Minister Edmund Dillon and other government officials, as well as representatives from the United States administration.

This issue, always urgent, has now assumed added priority given the hawkish signals being sent by new American president Donald Trump. A media release from the Ministry said that Minister Dillon challenged the Muslim leaders "to assist in the identification of potential terrorist recruiters" and assured that the "latest collaboration will assist the government of Trinidad and Tobago to chart a way forward, to treat with issues pertaining to terrorism and terrorist activities in a cooperative and collaborative manner."

This is the crux of the issue, and the leaders who attended the meeting gave the assurance that they would try to provide the Government with information, even as other Islamic representatives complained about being left out. But the media release said that other faith-based organisations would be included in future discussions, begging the question as to why certain groups were left out of this initial one.

Be that as it may, the focus should not only be on gathering intelligence from these organisations in order to identify and arrest terrorists. Perhaps even more important is encouraging and assisting these groups to offset the radicalisation process which certain mosques in Trinidad are reputedly engaging in.

American officials at the meeting undertook to provide reliable data to the Government to identify the possible causes for T&T citizens joining ISIS.

Research on terrorists from other countries, Islamic and otherwise, has established that conventional wisdom about such factors is wrong. Empirical analyses do not confirm standard claims that poverty, lack of education and even hatred of democracy causes extremism.

Many Islamist radicals from Muslim-majority countries, for example, not only have high levels of education, but most of them come from middle-class and even upper-class families.

Additionally, nearly all have been motivated to join terrorist organisations because of real or perceived geopolitical injustices.

Far from terrorists being so desperately deprived that they have nothing to live for, most terrorists are individuals who are willing to die for a cause.

Put another way, terrorists always have a grievance and, in T&T, the grievance industry has long thrived.

No official research has been done here to see if these indicators match the profiles of the 130 people known to have gone abroad to fight with ISIS, but the broad premise should be a good foundation of any programme to diminish the attraction of ISIS and other terrorist organisations. Thus, even if these recruits are not especially educated or well-off, could it be that they have been funded by wealthy individuals in T&T, given that opinion polls in other nations show that high-income and tertiary educated people are more likely to say that terrorist actions, such as suicide bombings, are justified? On the other hand, most terrorist attacks occur in the perpetrators' homeland, which has not been the case for T&T except for the 1990 attempted coup. This may be because terrorists typically come from nations which suppress civil and political liberties, which should sound a warning to the Government in respect to fighting terrorism by tampering with constitutional rights.

Much work remains to be done. Hopefully, this initiative will bear fruit sooner rather than later.


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