A couple of weekends ago I was watching CNN’s new show called CNN: Special Investigations Unit. It seems like any other special report they do, but somehow it’s different and special now. Good thing they chose my girl Christiane Amanpour to do the first one, cuz otherwise I wouldn’t have even bothered. Her report was “The War Within” about how Islamic extremists and moderates both are trying to win the hearts and minds of young Muslims.
She starts out talking about and to Anjem Choudary, an extremist who thinks that someday Britain and all the world will bow under the heel of Sharia law. We see shots of him preaching ‘hate’ on the street mixed with her interview of him and some other bits of him officiating a wedding and yelling at some moderate guy on a panel.
“I happen to be in an ideological and political war,” Choudary said. “My brothers in al Qaeda and other Mujahedeen are involved in a military campaign.”
Then she mentions the moderates who struggle to wrest their religion from the extremists.
These people… actually think if you kill children, if you kill a woman, you will go to heaven. You have no chance in hell! … I’d like to say that this is not an ideology, it’s a mental illness.
(8:59 in this video)
Those words, typed out like that, seem, to most of us, correct. But watch the video. Check out the body language on that guy. Listen to his tone. And, I don’t know if the editors did this knowingly or are just damn fools, but immediately after he says “mental illness” there’s a shot of the audience clapping – and they’re all white. Then, after we see this (apparently) all white audience applauding that guy, we get a shot of the extremists on the panel looking sullen and, possibly, defeated. Or maybe angry. All the while Christine is agreeing with the statement and saying how this mental illness has to be stopped.
Next we start hearing from those reaching out to the youth. She focuses on a youth worker named H. Qadir who runs a youth center. He is, by far, the most sensible person in this documentary because he seems to get it. When talking about the (white) UK Home Secretary’s visit to Walthamstow to warn Muslim parents against ‘fanatics’ who will come to ‘brainwash’ their children that was interrupted by one such fanatic, he comments:
“(The fanatic ran) in there and he’s shouting and everybody’s thinking ‘Yes, this guy’s up against the system.’ They’re considered to be heroes for the younger guys. He’s tellin’ ’em like it is.”
This Qadir guy is trying to get the mosque elders to communicate with the younger generation. Christiane literally says of these elders “they are stuck in the past.” Yes, yes they are. Because they’re old people! Then she shows some footage of one of these reach out and communicate sessions. (3:45 in this video) What follows is so sad as to be funny:
Elder: I would like to ask these young people: which young man has come into the mosque and the mosque refuse him?
Youth: (this may or may not actually be the answer to his question, it just may have been edited to seem this way) How many times have you tried to engage with us, the youths? I wanna know.
Elder: (suddenly angry and agitated) Sometimes you young people come into the mosque and the older people are praying and you disturb the prayer! We know about you young people and what you do!
Seriously. That’s seriously what he said. Could he be any more stereotypical old man? Why would any young man go to the mosque when he’s faced with mosque officials who literally tell him that ALL young people come in and disturb the prayers? And the craziness of the initial question of when has the mosque refused the young men – seems like he just did it! Jesus!
Seeing this, I’m really starting to understand why young Muslim men turn to extremists instead of the moderates. We have young men who feel threatened by US foreign policy, are made to feel like ‘terrorists’ simply because they look a certain way or practice a certain religion, and are justifiably angry about these things. The young men don’t appear to have a solid grounding in less extreme forms of Islam because every time they try to go to the mosque there’s some old man there yelling at them for disturbing the prayers. Elders don’t reach out to young men because they’ve already written them off. But these are the same men who bemoan the rise of extremists and fanatics.
Then you look at the ‘moderates’ who tell the young men that extremists are ‘mentally ill’. But folks don’t have a lot of reason to listen to the moderates because they don’t seem to be speaking truth to power. They seem to be trying to suck up to the white man. Of course blowing up people is wrong. But that message does not address the anger these young men feel. Only the extremists are addressing it. And even though the young men may not be inclined to do violence, they can be driven to it by guys who listen and who get angry with them. As Qadir says, “Every young man wants a cause.”
I see a parallel to this with American black folks. Whenever I hear or read something John McWhorter has to say I immediately write it off. Bill Cosby? He needs to have a Coke and a smile and shut up. Even though both of these men may have something valuable to say about the condition of black folks in America, their embarrassing Uncle Tom shuffling immediately makes everything they have to say invalid for some. Who are the ‘some’? Black folks who are angry.
McWhorter and Cosby basically tell us to get over our anger. There’s no reason to be angry anymore. Anger solves nothing. That’s a lovely sentiment, but is completely useless in the real world. When you invalidate my anger, I stop listening to you. When someone comes along and actually addresses my anger and works toward eliminating the things that make me angry, then I respect them.
I think that’s what’s going on with these young Muslim men. Except that, here in America, the folks addressing our anger aren’t telling us to bomb things for Allah. The difference is in the tone and tenor of the addressors. Realizing that makes me feel so sad for young Muslim men. Because I know how annoying and painful it is to feel invalidated. But to turn to such hate and extremism (which I do not think will lead to anything they hope for) not only harms the people they harm, but harms their community, and other Muslims all over the world. It probably makes Allah cry, too.
There need to be more men like Qadir in the world. Not only does he care about these young men and about stopping extremism, he doesn’t try to solve the problem with shuffling and empty words. He sees exactly why fanatics are so appealing and can combat that directly. But he can only do so much. He is only one man.
Tags: Christiane Amanpour, CNN, Special Investigations Unit, The War Within, Muslim, Islam, Muslim Youth, Extremist, Extremism, Fanatics, Martyrs, London, Suicide Bomber