This man could have been a terrorist; instead he rehabilitates them
November 18, 2013 LEISHA ORR West Australian Today Noor Huda Ismail's roommate at boarding school went on to play a vital role in the 2002 Bali bombings- and had things been slightly different for Mr Ismail, he too could have been a terrorist.
The difference between him and his friend who goes by the name Mubarok, was that he had a different frame of reference and experiences according to Mr Ismail who will be in Perth this week to speak at a conference on extremism.
Fadlullah Hasan who is known by most as Mubarok is now serving a life sentence for helping transport explosives to Bali which were later used in the bombings at the Sari Club and Paddy's Bar where 202 people, including 88 Australians, died.
Mr Ismail now works with terrorists to reincorporate them into society as productive members of their communities.
He is set to talk about his work at Curtin University's Countering Violent Extremism Symposium 2013 which will be held on November 21 and 22.
Mr Ismail said the thought that he could have taken a path to extremism was "very scary." "I think if I didn't have enough critical thinking... I could've gone and fought in Afghanistan." While the schools he attended as a primary and secondary student are now known for harbouring radical views, he said he was not aware of this at the time and his parents did not realise. "You cannot tell from looking at it from the outside," Mr Ismail said. After graduation, Mubarok went to Pakistan for further education, an opportunity Mr Ismail also almost took up. Instead, Mr Ismail remained in Indonesia to study and Mubarok's further education in Pakistan ended up taking him down the a path that involved military training. Mr Ismail went on to work as a journalist and while working in this field covered the 2002 Bali bombings. "Working as a journalist [covering the Bali bombing] I saw lots of dead people," he said. "I thought 'what type of person has the ability to do this?' "Two months later I saw it was my roommate from school." Mr Ismail described this as "a turning point" in his life. He said it was that revelation that motivated him to travel the world learning about what drives terrorism in different countries. Mr Ismail said it was about a person's experiences and what they had been exposed to. "That's what I love about my mum, she encouraged me to ask questions and don't take it for granted," he said. "Part of the reason people become extremists is because of their narrow mindedness, they do not have critical thinking skills, they take for granted what teachers say is true, what is written in books, without questioning anything. "My friend, he was very narrow minded, while I was exposed to a more secular way of thinking."
Mr Ismail said not everyone understood what he was doing by working with former terrorists. "Some people think I'm trying to revive their network," he said. Mr Ismail said the program he has put together as part of his work, which has so far seen 10 former terrorists graduate from it, required compassion. "You have to win their heart and their trust," he said. "I visit them in jail and talk to them to understand what they did and why, but it is important to note that understanding is different from supporting. "After you win their heart, you give them a skill." Those involved have spent time working in the hospitality industry.
"Then you work on ideology, the work in the cafe helps question that," Mr Ismail said.
"I want to change their ideology through introducing them with different types of people from different backgrounds.
"You have to negotiate and serve in the restaurant, it's not just handing out food, you have to talk with them."
He said in many cases, those he worked with had never interacted with people from different backgrounds before spending time working in hospitality.
Mr Ismail said once the participants in his program began progressing they were invited to bring their friends along who also then can benefit from similar types of exposure.
He said people needed to realise where people with extreme views were coming from in order to counter them.
"We need to have a broader understanding, rather than just- this is a lunatic guy blowing things up, I've never met a mentally ill terrorist, they are not necessarily insane."
Mr Ismail is the founding director of the Institute for International Peace Building, a Jakarta-based think tank focusing on regional conflict and security.
He will speak at CVE 2013, which is Australia's first national and international dialogue on countering violent extremism.