Muslim counter terrorism experts: The key players in combating extremism

| Updated: 15 November, 2023 12:35 pm IST

Islam, like any major world religion, is not immune to the challenges posed by the complexities of the modern world. There is an internal struggle within Islam – between the modernity and the medieval nature of the religion, theological debates, sectarian conflicts, extremism, gender issues, generational differences, and political divisions. Reams and reams have been written about this internal crisis, there is a talking circuit developed on every continent about how Islam needs reform, that progressive Muslims need to come forward in huge numbers and that if the current trend of brutal organisations taking inspiration from the Quran, Hadith and the Sira is not countered, the number of youth leaving Islam will increase in time.

In recent years, there have been a growing number of counter-terrorism experts of Muslim heritage. Their role in combating extremism is pivotal because these individuals possess a deep understanding of the sociopolitical landscape within Muslim communities, as well as the religious and cultural nuances that characterize these communities. Their expertise allows them to effectively address radicalization, tackle extremist ideologies, and work towards fostering peace and security.

The Israel-Hamas war compelled a lot of Muslim heritage counter-terrorist experts, propaganda-busting activists, and outspoken reformers within Islam to speak up for Israel’s right to exist while upholding the two-state solution for Palestinians and Israel to co-exist peacefully. This required countering disinformation from dubious social media sites, media influencers and charity groups as well as agencies while being actively involved in community engagement initiatives. By calling out hypocritical stances, and the terror of the proscribed and banned terror organisations, they also work to build trust and rapport within Muslim communities. This helps them identify and address potential radicalization factors, including pro-Hamas supporters and left-liberal anti-Semitic individuals, who rip off posters of kidnapped Israeli hostages by Hamas to Gaza.

One of them is former al-Qaeda terrorist-turned-counter-terrorism expert Noor Dahri. a British-Pakistani writer, public speaker, and researcher, who serves as the executive director of the Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism (ITCT). He contributes as a writer for the “US Homeland Security Magazine (HSToday)” and is recognized for his expertise in geopolitics and global issues related to counter-terrorism and violent extremism. Dahri holds qualifications in forensics, and criminal psychology from Oxford College, and counter-terrorism from the University of Maryland and the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) in Israel. His research-based articles are published in various international newspapers, including the Times of Israel and the Great Middle East. He has addressed the International Counter-Terrorism Conference in Israel and has authored two books on global jihad and the Israel-Palestine conflict. Currently pursuing an MSc in Terrorism, Policing, and Security at the University of Leicester, Dahri remains a prominent figure in the field of counter-terrorism.

There is also Farhan Jeffery, who holds the position of Deputy Director and Head of the South Asia desk on terrorism at ITCT (Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism). Additionally, he serves as the Director General of Operations and Head Consultant at the Midstone Centre for International Affairs. Specializing in counter-terrorism, counter-extremism, and security-related matters in South Asia, Jeffery closely monitors jihadist groups in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, particularly those affiliated with Islamic State and Al-Qaeda. His expertise extends to Open Source Intelligence and terrorist propaganda. With a background as a News Editor and analyst for a national security think tank, Jeffery has been widely published and quoted in international media. His early memorization of the Quran in Arabic adds to his proficiency in Quranic and Hadith interpretation.

As a Brigadier, (Retd) Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain served in Jammu and Kashmir, commanding the 12 Infantry Brigade, and later commanded the 19th Infantry Division in Baramulla as a Major General. He is noteworthy for conceptualizing and implementing the “Hearts Doctrine,” which emphasized the centrality of people in Kashmir. Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain has had an illustrious 40-year career, serving in various turbulent environments and conflict zones. From Sri Lanka to Siachen Glacier, the North East to Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), and UN operations in Mozambique and Rwanda, he has garnered extensive experience and decorations. Having commanded the Indian Army’s Srinagar-based 15 Corps, he is a renowned writer and analyst on J&K, Pakistan, the Middle East, and transnational extremist violence. A sought-after speaker, Gen Hasnain contributes to major Indian newspapers and participates in television debates. His strong academic background, including education from Sherwood College Nainital, St. Stephen’s College Delhi, the Royal College of Defence Studies, Kings College London, and the Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies, Hawaii, positions him as a thought leader. He promotes the Scholar Warrior concept in the Indian Army, emphasizing the fusion of scholarship and military prowess.

As a Distinguished Fellow at the Vivekanand International Foundation and Centre for Joint Warfare Studies, he plays a significant role in fostering strategic thinking. Associated with institutions like the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) and the Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies (IPCS), he speaks on National Security at military, civil services, and corporate institutions. Appointed as Chancellor of the Central University of Kashmir by the President of India on July 13, 2018, Gen Hasnain continues to contribute to India’s strategic culture. He holds six decorations awarded by the President of India and two by the Army Chief. Gen Hasnain superannuated from the Indian Army in July 2013 after four decades of active service. A sought-after speaker, Gen Hasnain contributes to major Indian newspapers and participates in television debates. His strong academic background, including education from Sherwood College Nainital, St. Stephen’s College Delhi, the Royal College of Defence Studies, Kings College London, and the Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies, Hawaii, positions him as a thought leader. He promotes the Scholar Warrior concept in the Indian Army, emphasizing the fusion of scholarship and military prowess.

As a Distinguished Fellow at the Vivekanand International Foundation and Centre for Joint Warfare Studies, he plays a significant role in fostering strategic thinking. Associated with institutions like the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) and the Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies (IPCS), he speaks on National Security at military, civil services, and corporate institutions. Appointed as Chancellor of the Central University of Kashmir by the President of India on July 13, 2018, Gen Hasnain continues to contribute to India’s strategic culture. He holds six decorations awarded by the President of India and two by the Army Chief. Gen Hasnain superannuated from the Indian Army in July 2013 after four decades of active service.

Zahack Tanvir, a Saudi-based Non-Resident Indian (NRI), is a prominent figure in counter-extremism, international affairs, and journalism. As the Director, Founder, and Editor of Milli Chronicle Media England, he focuses on exposing Islamist and extremist factions. With over 16 years in the IT industry, including work with major companies like Infosys, Zahack combines his technological insights with a passion for journalism and counterterrorism. Zahack’s engagements on global platforms, including the G20’s Youth-20 and addressing U.S. congressmen at Capitol Hill, showcase his expertise. He participated in a virtual Jewish-Muslim solidarity rally organized by the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), delivering a speech that emphasized dialogue, empathy, and understanding.

His advocacy work extends to media engagements, including interviews on various platforms and contributions to reputable publications like News18 and Firstpost. Zahack’s online presence, with a significant following on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, amplifies his views. Zahack identifies as an “anti-Islamist” traditional Muslim, highlighting his stance against extremism while upholding his religious beliefs. His journey from an NRI in Saudi Arabia to a key figure in counter-extremism showcases his dedication to combating radicalization and contributing to global discourse on critical issues. Through Milli Chronicle Media and various engagements, Zahack strives to create awareness and foster dialogue in the fight against extremism.

Adopting a holistic approach to counter-terrorism, these experts acknowledge the multifaceted root causes of extremism. Their strategies integrate socio-cultural and religious perspectives to comprehensively address underlying issues that fuel radicalization. This inclusive methodology not only dismantles extremist narratives but also fosters unity and cohesion within Muslim communities. Collaborating with local leaders, conducting educational workshops, and providing support to at-risk individuals are integral aspects of their proactive approach, instrumental in preventing the spread of extremist ideologies. Beyond countering extremism, Muslim counter-terrorism experts actively contribute to building bridges between diverse communities. Through open dialogue and collaboration, they strive to foster mutual understanding and dispel misconceptions about Islam and Muslims. This intercultural exchange is fundamental in promoting tolerance and harmony, countering the divisive rhetoric perpetuated by extremist groups.

The impact of Muslim counter-terrorism experts transcends local communities, reaching a global scale. Their valuable knowledge and insights contribute significantly to international efforts in combating terrorism. Engaging in policy development, providing cultural expertise, and participating in diplomatic dialogues, these experts play a crucial role in shaping effective global counter-terrorism strategies. In conclusion, Muslim counter-terrorism experts are indispensable in the fight against extremism. Their multifaceted approach, community engagement efforts, and global impact underscore their significance in promoting peace, understanding, and security on a global scale.

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