The 9/11 attacks of 2001 against the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC that claimed more than three thousand lives led to a widespread recognition of the threat of terrorism. All nations have realized that they are not spared from this threat that can reach them anytime, causing substantial havoc. Accordingly, the US and other countries promptly took emergency measures against critical threats. They enacted counter-terrorism laws, established special counter-terrorism security agencies, and waged war in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The 9/11 attacks resulted in hostility towards Muslims, giving rise to Islamophobic attitudes, alienation or persecution by Western communities. To this end, Jason Hartley, Lecturer in Criminology at Griffith University, Australia, wrote Counter-Terrorism Community Engagement: Pitfalls and Opportunities published by Routledge, as comprehensive research aiming at rebuilding trust in Muslim communities through community engagement in a climate of counter-terrorism.
The book highlights the counter-terrorism community engagement, focusing on Muslim communities in the state of Queensland, northeastern Australia. It investigates the trust rebuilt between the Queensland Police Service and Muslim communities, which in turn leads to successful counter-terrorism community engagement. It also examines the reasons behind the distrust that stands in the way of achieving proactive engagement, especially by Muslim communities.
Even though many studies discussed counter-terrorism policies and how they have fueled a wider climate of suspicion, they, unlike this book, overlooked how to fix the situation to help to integrate Muslim communities into the larger global community in the fight against such destructive threat.
Hartley was appointed State Islamic Liaison Coordinator and was tasked the role of gathering intelligence on Muslim communities, which made him understand the disrupted relations between the two parties. In order to avoid personal bias and stereotypes of Muslims, he spent a year in Hebron, Palestine in an effort to blend into the Muslim community, delve deep into their culture, objectively conduct this research based on purely scientific grounds.
The book tackles several topics related to the Muslim communities’ counter-terrorism engagement. Hartley interviewed Muslim community members in Queensland and serving Queensland Police Service staff in order to form a clear vision of counter-terrorism policies, trust-building, and community engagement. The book reviews the Muslim perspective regarding relations with counter-terrorism police, the implications, trust-building instructions, as well as a cultural analysis of the nature of those relations.
The book consists of six chapters: the first is an introduction outlining the significance and purpose of the topic, and the research methodology; the second discusses the uncertainty amongst Muslim communities to proactively engage in countering terrorism; the third demonstrates the cultural perspective regarding trust; the fourth emphasizes the role the Islamic leadership plays in supporting police forces; the fifth discusses the outcomes of the study; the sixth includes a conclusion and key recommendations the author provides.
Chapter one starts with the purpose of the book, which is measuring the capacity of police agencies to engage Muslim communities within the context of counter-terrorism, and how important that is. Working with Muslim communities remains a priority for Western countries since they are no longer fully occupied with the violent tendencies of extremist Islamic groups. Moreover, they are no longer driven by a fear from the engagement of Muslims only in terrorist crimes, at a time when efforts are geared towards fighting right-wing extremism. The pressing threat of right-wing extremism and bias-motivated violence (hate crimes) have prompted a renewed attention towards trust-building with Muslim communities, who are probably the target of far-right hate and violence, like the 2019 mass shooting that occurred at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Hartley defends the “hearts and minds” approach adopted by the police to improve relations with Muslims, develop a better understanding of their ideology, interests, and cultural nuances. Before addressing this approach, the author highlights the changes in Muslim communities after the 9/11 events, and the violent strategies undertaken by governments against Muslims under the pretext of counter-terrorism in Australia and most Western countries. This resulted in a hostile backlash against Muslims that lasted for years with yet persisting impact, as well as negative stereotyping propagated by Australian and Western media over the years.
These events are particularly important in demonstrating the societal factors that had a negative impact on Muslim communities and undermined trust relations between them and law enforcement authorities in Australia and other countries. These practices were perceived as inherently unjust, or rather oppressive and exclusionary, by Muslim communities. The situation resulted in deeper implications manifested in judging entire communities based on crimes committed by few individuals and small groupings, and even judging Islam itself and its adherents, who exceed 1.5 billion people around the world.
True Islamic teachings advocate tolerance and peaceful coexistence with all humankind—individually and collectively—and warn that perpetrators of such crimes shall be doomed in this world and the hereafter. However, Muslim communities have received mixed signals from counter-terrorism authorities; on the one hand, they have repeatedly affirmed the need for Muslims to gather intelligence on extremists who plan terrorist attacks, as well as the importance of their collaboration in fighting terrorist propaganda and new recruitment methods. On the other hand, Muslims were treated violently by the police, new laws and legislations were enacted, and harsh policies and practices were adopted against them. Hartley, as a source of information on such interactions who was ex officio in charge of gathering intelligence on Australian Muslims, outlined the reasons behind the deteriorating relationships between the Queensland Police and Muslim communities.
You can read more about this topic in Issue 35 of Book Reviews.