Noor Huda Ismail

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2013


This profile was prepared when Noor Huda Ismail was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013.
The New Idea
Noor Huda, by understanding that in the terrorist network there are different groups with different roles, focuses on 80 percent of the potential and existing terrorist groups, which includes three main groups: control groups that consist of young students in pesantrens (Islamic boarding schools), “cheerleaders,” those who operate on the fringes of the network, and the operators themselves. The remaining 20 percent are made up of the ideologues, considered the most extreme, and usually, unreachable. The network is based primarily on social interactions in which individuals are tied to each other through their kinship, discipleship (teachers/supervisors), worship, and friendship. By breaking down these bonds, Noor Huda tries to shift their existing alliances.

In reaching out to them, Noor Huda is developing different processes in accordance to where these groups are in the terrorist scouting process, such as the consecutive stages of pre-detention, detention, or post-detention. In the pre-detention process, Noor Huda develops a tracking system in which he learns from the dossier, by monitoring the court, by studying the integration, and by cross checking with the level of pre-detainees former network. Noor Huda further observes their level of engagement in the network and creates a “heart connection” at the detention stage. This allows him to influence the former detainees and to change their network at the post-detention stage. As an early detection system and to develop a counter-narrative against the ideologues, Noor Huda reaches out to young people at the pesantren, the secular high schools, and the Rohis (student Islam group). Through different activities including journalism, training, and civic education, Noor Huda is promoting critical thinking and character building, especially for malleable young students who can be easily swept into the terrorist network by radicals.

Noor Huda is building a more humane, alternative model to rehabilitate ex-detainees by attempting to reintegrate them into society. This stands in contrast to the current government’s security-based approach, where upon their release ex-detainees are monitored by intelligence officers and are required to periodically report back to the authorities. Noor Huda applies a Jesuit approach learned during his schooling, to win their hearts, hands (welfare) and heads (ideology). He is introducing meaningful employment for the ex-detainees at different levels, which range from being cooks in kitchens to managers at offices. These outlets, which are led by the ex-detainees, employ young people who are dropouts, orphans, or economically disadvantaged. In the terrorist networks, this group has the potential to be a different kind of cheerleader. In Islam, caring for orphans and the poor is important, which appeals to the ex-detainees. Furthermore, it allows social interaction with a wide array of customers and a sense of responsibility for others. Gradually, the ex-detainees open up to different values, new perspectives, and new networks.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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