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Young radicals wooed by false picture of jihad

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The great Martin Luther King Jr. once said: "When you are right you cannot be too radical ..."

How true and profound.

But wielded by the wrong people, these words can be dangerous.

Who would've ever thought there would come a time in Canada when the proverbial "boy next door" could end up as a radicalized militant, headed for "jihad" overseas?

Last week a video surfaced in which Timmins, Ont., native, Andre Poulin -- who became radicalized and died in Syria while fighting for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) -- says at first he "was a normal Canadian" and then later in the video he condemns everything about Canada, calling it a "land of disbelief."

It sparks the question: What exactly drives these young Canadian men to discard their identities and turn into extremists? What was it, that made Poulin and Damian Clairmont, another Canadian who died fighting in Syria, turn against their Canadian values toward radicalized militancy?

In reality, radicalization is less about ideology, than demographics. The ideology can vary, but usually the demographic remains constant.

For example, Timothy McVeigh's cause was not religious-based, but socio-political. However, like Clairmont, who died at 22 fighting overseas, McVeigh became deeply radicalized early and was only 27 when he committed the infamous Oklahoma City bombing. Similarly, Justin Bourque, was only 24 years old during his recent killing spree against RCMP officers in Moncton, N.B.

The common factor in all these scenarios is the key ingredients of an unstable youth and discontent with society while looking for a greater cause.

But those who fall into Islamic radicalization, end up there due to a combination of their own susceptibility, as well as the cunningness of their recruiters.

These manipulative recruiters understand these young men are, at their core, good at heart and that Islam's good qualities have attracted them to the point where whatever else is packaged alongside the good, is readily accepted.

C.S. Lewis once said: "It is great men, potential saints, not little men, who become merciless fanatics. Those who are readiest to die for a cause may easily become those who are readiest to kill for it."

Often people who fall into radicalization are good people who were just vulnerable and were manipulated.

Aaron Yoon, for example, one of the three young men from London, Ont., thought to have gone to Algeria for jihad, was described as a nice boy by high school peers. When he became Muslim, his family was actually pleased, stating that Aaron "changed into a better, more positive light after that..."

In a modern, multicultural, multi-faith society, we know better than to consider Islam a monolithic force for evil. The fact is, Islam has countless good qualities that endear it to people looking for God and spirituality. The same is true for Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism and pretty much every major religion. That's why lots of people enter these faiths every year. Essentially, they all provide a means for spiritual uplift, which attracts people.

Thus, Muslim converts -- and devout Muslim youth -- often become more religious to find inner peace.

But when they're in a malleable state is where the danger lies.

These recruiters understand the psychology of these young men, glorifying and romanticizing the concept of a violent jihad that, while wholly alien to Islam, appeals to these wide-eyed, impressionable youth who long for a greater cause.

But if these young Muslims knew how false a picture of "jihad" these radicals portray, we could nip radicalization in the bud.

Muslims in the west must really make it known within their communities, especially amongst the youth, that what these radicals teach is not jihad.

Not as the Qur'an teaches it; not as the Prophet lived it.

In reality, jihad means an ultimate struggle within oneself to purify the mind and soul and thereby elevate oneself to a higher spiritual status; the refinement of morals through good deeds, prayer, and service to mankind. As the Prophet himself remarked, the greatest jihad was that of reforming one's self and that "the greater of those who carry out jihad is he who strives against himself most."

As an Ahmadi Muslim who has worked with many Muslim youth for years, I can tell you that in order to stem the growing tide of radicalization, it is critical to ingrain Muslim youth with the correct concept of jihad, and imbue them with a spirit of serving mankind.

As Ali, the fourth Caliph of Islam, once said: "Surely the heart of the youth is like the uncultivated ground -- it will accept whatever you throw upon it."

Ahmed Sahi is a Toronto-based writer and

journalist. He can be reached at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 18, 2014 A11

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