Visiting scholar: International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding, July to August 2012
- strategy and warfare
- future conflict
- British defence policy
- British weapons acquisition policy
Warren Chin joined the International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding as a visiting scholar during July and August 2012. He teaches international politics, war, strategy, defence economics and military history in the Defence Studies Department of King’s College, London. His current research focuses on terrorism and counterinsurgency and he is writing a book on the UK’s strategy and operations in the war on terror.
In 2010 I was invited to a conference organised by the International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding. The conference was titled ‘Postcolonialism in the age of the war on terror’ and, although the war on terror falls entirely within my own areas of specialisation and research, what really struck me during the conference was that there was also a distinct association with postcolonial studies.
That cross-fertilisation of ideas and the intellectual stimulation that you gain from attending a good conference made me realise that there was an opportunity to build a connection between what I do and the work of the centre. That realisation was cemented during a presentation given by Professor Sayyid in which he managed in just 40 minutes to enhance my understanding of political Islam in the contemporary setting more than anything I had read! He managed to make sense of ideas and concepts that, until that point, I’d been struggling to get to grips with.
The biggest impediment to me coming out to Australia as a visiting scholar was actually finding the time! My job in the UK is quite busy and doesn’t have periods of lesser activity during the year that I could have taken advantage of. So it was really quite a complex sequence of activities even to leave home in the first place. However, what is now very clear to me is that my physical presence here, unencumbered by many of the trivialities and responsibilities of life ‘back home’, gives me the time and the focus to concentrate on a specific task over an extended period. I haven’t had that luxury that since I did my PhD. And that has made a huge difference. If I had tried to do this in the UK, it would’ve taken me two to three times as long, simply because when people know you’re in your office they phone you or email you or drop past or you’ll have to go to meetings and it is inevitable that your day just gets sucked away without you actually realising it.
For me, from the perspective of self-interest, there are huge benefits to being a visiting scholar, some of which could have been anticipated, others that have appeared serendipitously. First and foremost, this visit is giving me time to finish my book, which looks at culture and conflict in the war on terror.
Another major component of my visit is to facilitate a workshop titled ‘Culture and conflict in the war on terror’ in collaboration with the International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation. The workshop aims to achieve a better understanding of why culture has become such an important ‘force multiplier’ in the prosecution of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations and evaluate its success in facilitating winning ‘the hearts and minds campaign’. I hope that the papers and the discussions from the workshop can be used in a special edition of a defence or security related refereed academic journal, and will also provide the foundation for a larger international conference during 2013.
Being at the centre each day has also provided me with the opportunity to interact with the PhD students. I’ve been attending their weekly seminars, and having informal conversations that invariably lead to the generation of ideas and the possibilities of trying out different approaches. This has been a real value-added component to my visit, and I think the benefits of just being a part of this milieu are enormous.