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START Intern’s Unique Perspective Brings Fresh Understanding of Counterterrorism Efforts


START Intern’s Unique Perspective Brings Fresh Understanding of Counterterrorism Efforts

November 20, 2014Charlotte Taylor

START Intern Charles Turner’s undergraduate experiences led him to a new career path, a new sense of spirituality and unexpected involvement with the FBI.

Turner attended Virginia Commonwealth University through 2011, and majored in Political Science. Like many millennials, Turner felt that 9/11 had impacted him personally, and he wanted to learn more about the role of government in international affairs.  

Turner, who was not particularly religious growing up, also had a budding interest in the Islamic faith. One of his roommates was Muslim and invited Turner to a Muslim Student Association meeting.

“All of the members were completely comfortable hanging out despite not sharing the same religion. It was their hospitality and genuine care for others that made me consider being Muslim. Once I had converted, I became active in the organization and felt a responsibility towards it, which continues to this day,” Turner said.

Turner’s experiences with counterterrorism efforts became personal when he found out that a mutual friend had left the United States for Pakistan, where the acquaintance tried to join an Al Qaida training camp.

“My friends and I were in denial. We just couldn’t believe that one of our friends had such a radical ideology. We struggled to both condemn his actions and yet acknowledge him as a friend that we cared about,” Turner said.

Turner and his friends were interviewed by the FBI during the investigation, and the Muslim community at VCU was impressed by how delicately the situation was handled, according to Turner. Turner’s interactions with the FBI were surprisingly positive, despite the jarring situation.

Today, Turner is working towards a master’s in political science at George Mason University (GMU) and interning at START. Turner believes that his faith and interest in politics will be forever linked, and that this perspective gives him insight into U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

By comparison, Turner observes “The main critique of the United States is that its military policy lacks an understanding of Islam.”  Turner is a firm believer that by enhancing its understanding of Islam, as well as different cultures throughout the Muslim world, U.S. foreign policy can improve.

“It’s hard to avoid talking about faith without discussing politics. It is interesting to note that the Prophet Muhammad was a political leader during his prophecy,” Turner said. As he continues his studies at GMU, Turner hopes to gain a better understanding of the conceptual framework for Islamic governance.

In the meantime, Turner volunteers at the Islamic Center of Virginia (ICVA) in Richmond and advises the MSA at VCU. He has found that the community at ICVA is more conservative and interested in ritual acts of worship, whereas the university students are more open to wrestling with different theological ideas. Turner ultimately hopes to go into academia, where he can continue to learn and to educate others on policy, religion, and the ties that bind the two together.