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Noor Huda Ismail: changemaker

noor-huda-ismailNoor Huda Ismail (MLitt International Security Studies 2006) is a peacebuilder, writer and filmmaker specialising in de-radicalisation and counter-terrorism. He founded theInstitute of International Peace Building to develop the means to reform former terrorists and reintegrate them back into mainstream Indonesian society through research, arts and civil society initiatives.

In recognition of this work, Huda has been featured in a recent photography exhibition in London called Changemakers: 35 visions of global leadership . The exhibition celebrates 35 leaders determined to overcome humanity’s most pressing problems, within the context of the international ties forged through the UK Government’sChevening Scholarships programme .

Each image is accompanied by the sitter’s reflections on their time spent studying in the UK.

We asked Huda to reflect on the time he spent studying at St Andrews, and how it has prepared him for his current role.

Impact of studying at St Andrews

As an Indonesian who had never studied or lived overseas, coming to the University of St Andrews to study prepared me for my current role by nurturing my curiosity and giving me access to current research about my chosen area of study: why people joined, stayed within and left terrorist networks.

My research at St Andrews suggested that terrorists are made − not born − and that many of those who have joined terrorist or violent groups want to leave and begin a new chapter of their lives. This is the premise on which my work today is based.

In addition, the friendly, supportive and international environment at St Andrews expanded my horizons by giving me the opportunity to meet students and scholars from all over the world – many of whom I’m still in touch with today. They provided me with an invaluable sounding board and support network when I returned to Indonesia from St Andrews to set up the Institute for International Peace Building.

On a personal level, I experienced what it was like to become part of a minority group living in a non-Muslim community, as opposed to being a practising Muslim in a Muslim-majority country. Fortunately, many initiatives have been set up in St Andrews to create understanding between the West and Islam, and it was in this context that I was able to practise my faith – including praying and fasting during Ramadhan – mainly without question or interference.


I was very lucky that Dr John Horgan − an Irish professor who writes extensively on the terrorism issue − was supervising my thesis. His work inspired me to travel to Northern Ireland to meet with individuals who had previously been involved in terrorism. As part of this field research, I visited a small NGO that tries to rehabilitate former terrorists and helps them to integrate back into society. While I was there, I had an epiphany! I told myself that if these people (who had been involved in a conflict that stretched back hundreds of years) could be integrated back into the community, then I could try to do the same in my country when I completed my studies.

Founding the Institute of International Peace Building

I discussed my idea with my friends, especially those who worked at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at that time. They were supportive of the plan but weren’t sure how I would implement it. I told them that I didn’t know either, but that I was going to try anyway! So I did just that, set up the Institute of International Peace Building in 2008 and learned from my mistakes along the way.


My advice to anyone wanting to go into the field of peace-building and counter-terrorism is that you need passion, creativity and an ability to think outside the box and beyond stereotypes (such as gender) to succeed. It’s a fascinating world. Don’t be afraid to try – or to learn from your mistakes!

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