For many adults, the 1990 coup d’etat in the small island nation of Trinidad and Tobago is an often-forgotten moment in history. But for journalist Nazim Baksh, the temporary seizure of power that came only three months into his career at the Canadian Broadcasting Company was transformative.
As a low-level editorial assistant at the CBC, Baksh’s editors tasked him with monitoring the reports from the wire journalism services to gain insight into what was happening in the Caribbean.
“The wire spit out an update that the leader of the coup was a Muslim man, an Imam named Yasin Abu Bakr,” Baksh said. “I read that, and I felt a pit in my stomach. I knew him personally. I had met him several times.”
That was the moment when Baksh realized that what every media agency was reporting to be a coup, “was really a Jihad,” or, in other words, a religiously motivated campaign, he said.
During a talk at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs on Wednesday, Baksh, who is now a lead investigative producer at the CBC, used this story along with several other anecdotes from his professional career to illustrate his process for investigating and reporting on jihad. He also discussed his particular struggles as a devout Muslim man covering violence perpetrated in the name of Islam.
Following the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center, Baksh was assigned his first major project — a yearlong investigative piece for the CBC show “The Fifth Estate” that would examine the origins and causes of the spread of terrorism.
Baksh recalled the meticulous approach he took in his research, including embedding himself within different Muslim communities and various Mosques to get closer to sources. For the piece, Baksh also traveled to Sudan to attend what he described as a convention for the “who’s who of Jihadists.” At the convention, he was able to interview jihadi leaders that had never before spoken to Western media outlets.
“For me, one of the real takeaways is that, at this moment of fake news and questioning what the truth is, that the journalistic enterprise is a difficult enterprise that requires slow-and-steady effort, and I think, when covering stories like this that are so emotive, that kind of care is needed,” said Abdul-Rehman Malik, a Yale Greenberg World Fellow and long-time friend of Baksh who helped organize the event. “And the fact that that care is not taken today, since we live in an era of fast news that is high on analysis and low on evidence, is really low is very problematic.”
Baksh also reflected on his time researching the story of a Canadian family who, posing as charity workers, funneled money into jihad efforts in Afghanistan and sent their two sons to that country to train as jihadis. Before the CBC ran this story, it came to light that the father of this family was the fifth-highest-ranking member in the al-Qaida hierarchy. The story became incredibly important in the Canadian narrative of terror, Baksh said.
Beyond recounting his professional experience, Baksh also discussed the difficulties he has faced as a Muslim covering jihadis. After one of his stories was published, Baksh said that several Muslims approached his dad and called him “not a real Muslim.” He recalled being denounced as an Israeli spy and a traitor by members of his community after conducting an interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Baksh also shared his thoughts on the role of the Muslim community in stopping jihad.
“I thought it was really interesting to hear his perspective as a Muslim who has been covering these things for so long, especially his perspective … on Muslim communities,” Ali Bauman ’21 said. “There’s this whole idea that you need to police your community and that that is your job. And I think it was really interesting how he was saying that many Muslims just want to go to Mosque to worship on their own and that Imams are not trained to stop these things, so I think that is something that we need to keep in mind before we assign blame on these communities.”
The Jackson Institute was founded in 2010 to promote global affairs education at the University.
Jesse Nadel | firstname.lastname@example.org