I clearly remember where I was on September 11, 2001.
I was working in my office in downtown Toronto, where I heard loud exclamations from the marketing office next to mine where the TV was always on.
My colleague came, grabbed my arm and said, “You have to come and see this!” As a result, I caught the horrifying images as planes crashed into the Twin Towers.
We were all in shock, but the thought came unbidden to my mind: “This is what we have been fearing …”
So although the enormity of the carnage and destruction was beyond words, for those of us who had been watching signs of growing radicalization in the Islamic world, it wasn’t entirely a surprise.
The writing had been on the wall, and in subtle ways, we had been giving warnings that something was not right with this ideology that was being projected as part of our faith.
However, we had no idea how it would manifest itself and were absolutely shocked at the extent of the damage.
September 11 certainly changed the way the world looked at Islam and Muslims and for us, as reform-minded Muslims, it changed the way we operated.
What we had been quietly discussing and debating now needed to be exposed. What we had seen as the export of the violent ideology from the sands of Arabia to the West now needed to be openly challenged.
So we did! We formed our organization Muslims Facing Tomorrow to challenge, among other things, the narrative of the Islamists. We partnered with those doing similar work, realizing very clearly that the major change has to come from within the Islamic world, and that nothing short of an Islamic reform is required.
This is how I find myself on this 9/11 in Herzliya, Israel attending the the Interdisciplinary Center’s (IDC) international conference on counter terrorism titled, “Understand the Present – Prepare for the Future.”
I am a speaker at this conference which hosts more than 1,200 people from all over the world and offers 30 lectures and workshops with experts from 65 countries. These include people from diverse backgrounds and faiths, including many Muslims on the front lines of the battle against extremism who are essential to the cause.
Although the conference goes on till September 12, I’ve already attended sessions which are mind blowing to say the least.
Among the opening speakers was Michele Coninsx, assistant secretary general and executive director of the Counter Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) of the UN Security Council. She spoke about the urgent need for partnerships between the public and private sectors and community engagement.
What stood out for me on the first day of the conference was the keynote session given from the perspective of law enforcement. Here we heard from Commissioner Saad Amrani, the policy advisor to the federal police in Belgium, who spoke passionately about the need for a global strategy to be locally implemented.
Also presenting at this session was Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu from the UK Metropolitan police, who spoke about the need to work at prevention rather than put out fires as they happen. This ties in perfectly with Clarion Project’s Preventing Violent Extremism project.
I was also impressed to meet members of the Nigerian army (including their general) who are fighting Boko Haram and other militant groups across Africa. There are delegations here from the Philippines, Spain, Argentina, Portugal, Albania, Italy, Singapore, Romania and of course the USA and UK.
The IDC in Herzliya has launched a project called “ENOUGH – CHANGE THE NARRATIVE,” which took me back to the thought that here we are in 2019 discussing issues and options that our group has been talking about for over three decades.
One speaker did say that Western leaders have been slow to implement hard-hitting policies against terrorism and radicalization due to political correctness and a certain amount of naivety on their part — essentially the discussions that should have taken place in the week after 9/11 are taking place now more than a decade later.
But it’s better late than never, as I see from the dedication and passion of the people present here. I hope to make my contribution in the hope that we will find some common global solutions to a global problem.