Meet 'Average Mohamed,' a gas station manager who's using cartoons to fight ISIS recruitment

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Marco Werman: A gas station owner in Minneapolis has gotten involved; Somali-American, Mohamed Ahmed has started a website called Average Mohamed.  It uses animation to dissuade young Muslim-Americans from joining groups like Isis.  Ahmed says that his goal is to challege extremist idiology in a way that's already familiar to young people.

 

Mohamed Ahmed: This generation that's growing up right now has grown up with animation, whether you're talking about Family Guy or the Simpsons.  And we are used to seeing cartoons; so the message can be made quicker, faster, more effectively, with less production cost.

 

Werman: Right.  I mean, you mentioned Family Guy and the Simpsons.  The colors in the animation are a little similar; nice primary colors, very easy on the eyes.  Let's hear a bit of one of your cartoons.  This is called "The Islamic State Job Description".

 

Cartoon Clip: "What do you think your job description is, when you join Islamic State?  Your job description is to commit genocide against Muslims, Christians, Yazidi and Jews.  To terrorize innocent women, men and children like your family into blind obedience.  To behead unarmed, innocent people.

 

Werman: That's pretty graphic stuff there, although I have to say, the visuals are not as bad as Family Guy.  What are you trying to get across?

 

Amed: The concept of peace, and the concept of anti-extremism, and Democratic values.  These are three values that we hold very dear, and very sacred, and the goal is to say, "Look, these values of anti-extremism, of peace- they exist within the faith of Islam, and you should stand with Democracy.  Stand with peace.  And stand with anti-extremism.  And that has to be made across to the kids between the age of eight, to sixteen.

 

Werman: Right.  So you're focused mainly on that eight to sixteen year old group of youths.  Where are these cartoons being aired?  Is it-  I mean, I saw them on YouTube.  Is it just online?

 

Amed: I have a website called AverageMohamed.com, and I put them up on YouTube too.  It has been shown, almost globally, because I've been getting a global response.  Emails, from Mogadishu to Tel Aviv.

 

Werman: Wow...

 

Amed: People are sending the emails saying, "Thank you." and "Please do more." 

 

Werman: Are they saying-  Are those parents who are writing you, who said their kids had seen your videos and the lesson seemed to have sunk in?

 

Amed: An Imam told me that!  An Imam in the Twin Cities actually told me, "I use your cartoons, to show to my sons and daughters the value of peace, and the value of anti-extremism."  It doesn't get much better than that; when a clergyman actually notices you.

 

Werman: It's interesting - Isis has successfully recruited young people from the Twin Cities.  Is that why this is happening there?  Is that why you specifically wanted to start this?

 

Amed: The local reactions have been happening all over; Boko Haram is trying to recruit people here.  Al Qaeda, and Arabia, and Tunisia is trying to recruit people here.  They have a marketing department.  Hundreds of extremists who create problems; videos talking to our kids, and now I'm saying, "Let's compete."

 

Werman: Mhmm..

 

Ahmed: This is America; we love competition.

 

Werman: [Laughs]

 

Ahmed: Now, it takes an idea to oppose an idea, and as an American I'm saying, "Let me compete."

 

Werman: Now, in your pilot video you say it takes an average Mohamed to recruit extremists.  You also say it takes an average Mohamed to prevent it.  So, on the prevention side of it...  We spoke with a man yesterday on The World, who said it is very hard to de-radicalize young people because it's hard to know what the motivation is to join in the first place.  Don't you think it takes more than an average Mohamed to turn things around?

 

Ahmed: Of course.  It would take thousands of average Mohameds!  But just hold on.  Also, it would take law enforcement, and our government.  It would take youth groups, or youth activists.  It would take a lot, but it doesn't take one bullet-  There's not one bullet that extremists can say, "Here, use this bullet.  It will end the problem."

 

Werman: Do you use fire to fight fire?  I mean, like, are there Isis recruiting strategies that you're using to kinda prevent recruitment?

 

Ahmed: Of course!  Isis uses glory.  They say, "Come to us.  Join us, you'll get an afterlife in Heaven."  We say, "No.  If you go commit a suicide bombing, you are going to Hell, based on the teachings of Prophet Muhammad."  [?? 00:03:59 - 00:04:01 (cannot understand)]  What we're seeing is; look, they're using the religion, and religion is a part of...component of this.  But that's not the only area where we can hit them hard.  We can hit them on the couch, we can hit them on customs, we can hit them on politics; we can target them on all of these areas to take away the glory.  The second part is "victim ideology'.  They say that Islam is under attack; that you should rise up, and defend Islam, and join them.  We say, "No.  You are attacking Islam.  You are killing Muslims.  And we don't want that idea in our children's heads, and we don't want you recruiting our children.  And we will fight for that; we will compete.

 

Werman: Mohamed Ahmed, a Somali-American in Minneapolis.  He runs a gas station by day, and by night he is Average Mohamed; a series of cartoons aimed at young Muslim-Americans, to discourage them from being enticed to join the Islamic State.  Mohamed Ahmed, great to meet you.  Thank you.

 

Ahmed: Thank you, Marco Werman