“Terrify the disbelievers in their own homes and make their streets run with their blood.” Abu Sa’d at-Trinidadi
“Goat doh make sheep.” Trinidadian Proverb (Children turn out like their parents)
Behind back is ‘Dog’, before face is “Mr. Dog.” Trinidadian Proverb
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in paradise? And, what if you lived in paradise, but you imagined a better one, so you moved there, only to find that it was closer to what you imagined hell to be like. That short epithet sets the stage for this week’s edition of “More than Meets the Eye.”
I’ve been as excited as a little kid at a fair, to write to you this week about a small country called, Trinidad & Tobago. Many of you may not have even heard of it. Trinidad and Tobago, officially the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, is the southernmost island country in the Caribbean and is known for its fossil-fuel wealth. It has the third-highest per capita GDP of any country in the western hemisphere, trailing only the USA and Canada.
Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago is roughly 1600 miles from Miami, about a 3.5-hour flight. Trinidad and Tobago is well known for its African and Indian cultures, reflected in its large and famous Carnival, Diwali, and Hosay celebrations, as well as being the birthplace of steelpan, the limbo, and music styles such as calypso, soca, rapso, parang, chutney, and chutney soca. There are more than 223,639 Trinbagonian Americans living in the United States.
Why is the Caribbean paradise of Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) on our radar screen this week? Interestingly, it not only presents a set of oil-rich, Caribbean paradise islands, but it also holds the place as the highest contributor of soldiers, (men, women, and children) to the Islamic State, otherwise known as, ISIS. This little country, more readily associated with calypso and carnival than the “caliphate,” is also the largest per capita home of Muslims, who are determined to see the terrorist organization, ISIS become successful in its goals of establishing an Islamic state, ruled by an Islamic clergy/judge under the authority of Shari’a law.
Let’s briefly review how the facts above could possibly be true, and see how the contribution of Trinidad & Tobago to ISIS is unique, regarding its demographic make-up. We will also discover the distinctiveness concerning the mobilization of fighters and family members.
The issue of ISIS fighters from Trinidad has been chronicled by newspaper and magazine writers, who expressed alarm that this tropical island, known as the birthplace of steel drums and calypso, could produce such a high number of radicalized killers.
According to the T&T government, 130 Trinis (Trinidadians) left the country between 2013 and 2015 to join the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. This may sound like a trifling number, a mere ripple among the 41,000 or so international citizens from 80 countries who joined the Islamic State, but it easily places Trinidad, with a population of 1.3 million, including around 100,000 Muslims, at the top of the list of Western countries with the highest rates of Islamic State recruitment. To put this into context, the figure of 130, amounts to 96 individuals per million—a rate that is roughly double that of Belgium, which, according to some estimates, has the highest per-capita rate of foreign fighters in the Western world. Yet 130 is almost certainly a gross underestimate. Based on recent discussions with several national security sources in Trinidad, the true figure is likely to be in the region of 240 to 400. It is by far the largest recruitment hub in the Western Hemisphere, about a four-and-a-half-hour flight from the U.S. capital.
Who are these individuals? In a recent article published in the journal of International Affairs, here is demographic data on 70 of them:
- Thirty-four percent are adult men, 23 percent are adult women and 43 percent are minors.
- Of the adults, the ratio of males to females is 60:40. This places T&T at the top of the list of Western countries for female Islamic State migrants.
- The average age at the time of departure across all 40 of adults is 34. This is unusual compared to age averages found for all other Western Islamic State contingents; travelers from other countries are, on average, nearly a decade younger.
- Nearly all the adult men were employed at the time they departed to join the Islamic State. The vast majority—90 percent—can be categorized as middle class, while only 10 percent can be categorized as lower class.
- Among the men, nearly 80 percent were married at the time of leaving, while among the women all were married, with the sole exception of an 18-year-old who left with her family. So, among the Trini individuals for whom there is data, there were no “jihadi brides,” and while in the European and North American context the norm was, “bunches of guys” leaving; in Trinidad, it was, “bunches of families” leaving, of which there were at least 26.
- Forty-three percent are converts, which, though high, doesn’t deviate from the pattern in other Western Islamic State mobilizations, where converts are also over-represented.
- Thirty percent had a criminal record or had been involved in criminal activities prior to their departure, which is also broadly in line with research on European foreign fighters.
- Finally, the vast majority of those who left, comes from three areas in Trinidad: Rio Claro in the southeast, Chaguanas in west-central Trinidad, and Diego Martin in the northwest. The majority—nearly 70 percent—lived in Rio Claro on, or near the Boos Settlement Muslim community led by Imam Nazim Mohammed. The name, Nazim Mohammed continues to come up over and over again. Somebody will figure out soon, that there is more than meets the eye concerning this cleric.
- Many attended Salafi mosques (of which there are fewer than five, out of a total of 85 mosques in T&T; Salafi-Muslims in T&T are a tiny minority within a minority).
A nine-month investigation by the Caribbean Investigative Journalism Network has for the first time revealed that:
- For unknown reasons, local authorities have yet to arrest or charge anyone who has sent recruits to the terror network.
- The Trinidadians who traveled to Syria did so as families; there were no individuals.
- One of the key cyber planners for ISIS was from Trinidad and Tobago.
In a recent paper in the journal, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, John McCoy and W. Andy Knight posit that between 89-125 Trinidadians—or Trinis, to use the standard T&T idiom—have joined ISIS. Roodal Moonilal, an opposition Member of Parliament in T&T, insists that the total number is considerably higher, claiming that, according to a leaked security document passed on to him, over 400 have left since 2013. Even the figure of 125 would easily place Trinidad, with a population of 1.3 million, including 104,000 Muslims, at the top of the list of Western countries with the highest rates of foreign-fighter radicalization.
However, studies are still inconclusive in determining the push and pull reasons for why Muslims from Trinidad and Tobago choose to become foreign terrorist fighters. While there have been no local studies on the motivation behind Trinidad and Tobago’s Muslims and their eagerness to travel to join ISIS fighters, it is possible that the generally glorified ideal of the caliphate has prompted enlistment.
The leader of the Waajihatul Islaamiyyah, Umar Abdullah, who is constantly monitored by an officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service Special Branch, identified some characteristics of the Trinidadians and Tobagonians attracted to ISIS. He noted that those who were recruited by ISIS were arrogant, lacked patience, could not live among non-Muslims, had marital problems, and firmly believed they were being marginalized as Muslims. JAM has a number of offshoots which include: Wajihatul Islamiyyah (Islamic Front), Jamaat al-Murabiteen (the Almoravids), and Jammat al-Islami al-Karibi (Caribbean Islamic Group). Like Jamaat al-Muslimeen, each of the offshoots are distinctly Afro-Trinidadian in character.
There is a lot to digest in this last study. Look at the possible indicators. Those who were recruited by ISIS were said to be arrogant, lacked patience, could not live among non-Muslims, had marital problems, and firmly believed they were being marginalized as Muslims. This is a list compiled by an officer of the T&T Service Special Branch of the Police Force. A lot could be said of any one of these tendencies.
The bottom line is this: T&T has a significant problem. There are registered in the al-Hol Prisoner Camp in Syria with over 100 T&T citizens. Basically, the T&T government has said, We don’t want them back, we have no resources for rehabilitating them. Keep them. From an international standpoint denying citizens entry to their home country is technically and at best, bad form. It is taking the responsibility of its citizens and pushing it off onto another country. This is basically what T&T has done at this point. This will be a two-edged sword in the end.
The development of communities without the marginalization of its minorities is a key factor in preventing these kinds of situations. In T&T there are approximately 104,000 Muslims. It is important to point out that if 400 have packed up and shipped off to Syria to help create a “caliphate” by force, then it must be considered that there are also 103,600 who have not taken these draconian steps. Even considering the unusually large per capita numbers, it is always important to keep the reality in the forefront of our minds, that there are still significant numbers that are not so discontent that they devolve into this base form of existence.
What about us? What will we do with those who have journeyed off to Syria to join the Islamic State? What will we do when they want to come home? How will we respond? What laws will we as a country, as a society, put in place so that those who make this decision to go and fight will have to face very clear consequences upon their return?
I fear that this is where many of the possibilities will break down. Legislators will fail to pass clear laws for their citizens, so that when they decide to run off and fulfill a personal passion, that they will do so with a very clear understanding of the consequences, should they decide to return.
The existence of a legal corpus of rules is important for any society. A common problem in many developed countries is the decline of civics education in their schools. Most could not even tell you what a “Civics Class” is anymore. Just so you know, “Civics” is the study of the rights and duties of citizenship. It used to be a common core requirement in high schools. It is not generally required to graduate anymore.
In our own country, most would not know the legal consequences of going off to fight in Syria. Just so you know, should you or anyone you know want to join ISIS, here is the U.S. law he/she will be breaking. He will be charged with conspiring to provide, providing, and attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a designated foreign terrorist organization, and receiving training from ISIS, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2339B and 2339D.
Be a community builder. Get to know those in your neighborhood. I never cease to be amazed when young people commit heinous or terrorist acts, that their neighbors didn’t even know they were living in their neighborhood. So many of our problems could be mitigated by living with a greater sense of community.
Know the laws of our states and cities. Then, let’s teach them to our children.
Take a Civics class…I discovered a great, free online Civics course offered by Harvard University. There are other free online courses as well. https://online-learning.harvard.edu/course/Introduction-to-American-Civics-Presented-by-Zero-L?delta=0
Why take a Civics course? To understand what it means to be a U.S. Citizen and what responsibilities come with it.
- Understand the design of the U.S. government and the distinctive roles of the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches.
- Grasp the major sources of U.S. law: constitutions, statutes, regulations, and court decisions.
- Appreciate what is distinctive about the modern “administrative state” and the important role administrative agencies play in the modern U.S. government.
- Distinguish the roles of federal and state law in the U.S. legal system.
- Recognize the centrality of the U.S. Constitution to the operation of our political and legal system, including major moments in U.S. constitutional history.
For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org