Anti-Muslim views rise across Europe


Europe’s relationship with its Muslim minority has long been fraught. Over the past year, it seems to have become worse.


A wave of migrants and refugees from Muslim-majority nations have inflamed the debate about immigration on the continent, fueling the rise of far-right parties and probably contributing to Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. At the same time, groups claiming to be inspired by an extremist version of Islam have carried out devastating attacks in France and Belgium.


Now a poll released Monday by the Pew Research Center shows that in several European nations, unfavorable views of Muslims seem to have surged in 2016.


In Britain, the figure jumped nine percentage points to 28 percent. In Spain and Italy, unfavorable views jumped eight percentage points each, to 50 percent and 69 percent, respectively. In Greece, unfavorable views were found in 65 percent of the country — a jump of 12 percentage points from 2014, the last time the question was asked.


Across the 10 European countries surveyed, a median of 59 percent felt that an increase in refugees would increase the likelihood of terrorism in a country — a figure higher than it is for concerns about the economic effect or crime in most countries.


In Britain, 80 percent of those with an unfavorable view of Muslims felt that refugees presented a terror threat. Only 40 percent of those with a favorable view of Muslims made the same link. A similar gap of 24 to 40 percentage points could be seen in all other countries surveyed.


Pew’s research also found notable splits in views on Muslims and refugees. Generally, those on the right had more negative views of both, with supporters of far-right or populist parties such as the U.K. Independence Party and France’s National Front having the most negative views. Old people and those with lower levels of education also tended to have more negative views across most countries, while young people and the highly educated were more positive about Muslims. Those with high levels of education were also more likely to believe that diversity of races, ethnic groups and nationalities in their country was a positive, as contrasted with less-educated peers, who were more likely to see it as a negative.


H.A. Hellyer, a senior nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council and the Royal United Services Institute in London and author of “Muslims of Europe: The ‘Other’ Europeans,” says the broad results of the poll aren’t surprising. “You’ve seen a mainstreaming of anti-Muslim sentiment into the political arena over the past few years, if not the past decade,” he said Monday.


Hellyer said that while much of that discourse comes from the right, Europe’s left has struggled to counter it. “The left will need to think creatively about how they address the issue of immigration, without falling into populism but addressing the emotional concerns” of much of the public, he said.


Sara Silvestri, a specialist on religion and politics with a focus on Islam and the European Union based between City University London and Cambridge University, says that while she hasn’t noticed a change in anti-Muslim rhetoric in political discourse over the past year, she says the “behavior seems to have worsened,” with organizations such as Britain’s Faith Matters collecting data that appears to show an increase in hate crimes and discrimination.

‘RIP the Republic’: debate over postponing French Muslim students’ exams for religious holiday

Ile-de-France region’s decision to allow those celebrating the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr to postpone graduation exams has sparked controversy. Critics of the move say France is ignoring the principles of secularism.

The measure was proposed by Maison des Examens, which manages the bac in the Ile-de-France region.

This year one of Islam’s most important holidays, Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, is celebrated on July 6. This coincides with the bac exams in France.

On June 30, a directive was sent to head teachers of high schools in Paris, Versailles and Créteil to change the exam schedule for Muslim students if they request it.

Muslim students who opt to celebrate the holiday may skip the exam on Wednesday and request to take it on Thursday or Friday instead, Vincent Goudet, director of the House of Examinations in Ile-de-France, confirmed to AFP on Monday.

The move was immediately slammed by many French officials who say non-Muslim students are being discriminated against. They added that such a precedent would create problems in the French education system.

According to Philippe Tournier, the general secretary of the National Union of management staff of Education (SNPDEN), the idea is “inconceivable.”

“This kind of decision can create a … mess, especially since it contains a lot unsaid things,” he said. “And if all the students say ‘yes’ [to postponing the bac exams because of the holiday], because they prefer to have one more day to review, what will we do?”

Nicolas Cadène, general rapporteur of the Observatory of secularism, told BFMTV that “there is no need for the House of Examination to propose any adaptation, which distinguishes students according to their religious practices.”

A member of the National Assembly of France, Eric Ciotti, wrote an open letter to the national Assembly, calling on Education Minister Najat Belkacem and Prime Minister Manuel Valls to explain the decision. He said it was “unacceptable.”
Social media also blasted the move, saying that postponing exams for Muslims because of religious holidays was the end of the French republic as a secular entity.

“Of course, all France knows whether or not they have their bac and then you have Ile-de-France who has to wait,” one Twitter user wrote, while another user sarcastically added: “It’s a great secular Republic.”

“So Muslim pupils got their bac tests postponed until the end of Ramadan. RIP the Republic,” another user wrote.

Eid al-Fitr, or ‘festival of breaking of the fast’, is celebrated on the first day of the 10th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It begins when a new moon is sighted in the sky. After morning celebrations, worshipers return home and continue the festivities with their families, neighbors and friends.

Saudi funded mosque opens in Nice after 15-year struggle

A Saudi-funded mosque in Nice opened its doors for the first time on Saturday, after a 15-year struggle with the local town hall.

The Nicois En-nour Institute mosque received authorization to open early on Saturday from the local prefect, substituting for town mayor Philippe Pradal, who recently took over from Christian Estrosi.

Estrosi was opposed to the construction of the mosque and in April had secured the green light to sue the French state in a bid to block its opening in the southern city.

He had accused the building’s owner, Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Affairs Minister Sheikh Saleh bin Abdulaziz, of “advocating sharia” and wanting to “destroy all of the churches on the Arabian peninsula”.

Estrosi, mayor since 2008, said that the project, which was initiated under his predecessor in 2002, was unauthorized.

People in Nice had shown their support for the mosque, with a petition for it garnering over 2,000 signatures.

It’s no surprise that the mosque is popular. Practicing Muslims in the Riviera city have so far only had one smallish downtown option at which to pray, where worshippers can spill out on the street at peak praying times.

The mosque’s opening was described as “a real joy” by Ouassini Mebarek, lawyer and head of a local religious association.

“But there is no smug triumphalism,” he said. “This is recognition of the law, and a right to freely practise one’s religion in France in accordance with the values of French Republic.”

Ten Muslim faithful entered the mosque’s basement, which can hold 880 worshippers, for evening prayers.

“A Muslim prefers the house of God to his own home, provided it is beautiful,” said Abdelaziz, one of the worshippers who came to pray with his son Mohamed.

In the room reserved for women, Amaria, a mother from neighboring Moulins said: “Today we are happy. Happy and relieved to have found this place. … We are tired of hiding ourselves, we aren’t mice.”

The construction of the mosque began in 2003 in a building in an office district.

July 2, 2016

Original Source:

The luxurious lifestyle of some Muslim leaders in France

Mohamed Louizi, a longtime leader of a local branch of the Union of Muslim Organizations of France and author of Why I Left the Muslim Brotherhood, has once again raised eyebrows with a recent blog post in which he alleged that Hassan Iquioussen, known as the “preacher of the cités,” also has an impressive property portfolio in Hauts-de-France.

When Muslims give zakat at the end of Ramadan Louizi writes that he finds it odd that “they cannot have access to those donations relative to the assets or the lifestyles of Islamist leaders and other Muslim religious leaders, notably those responsible for collecting money in mosques.” He suggested that the CFCM, in partnership with the State, “should maybe think about requiring religious leaders, and imams too, to declare their assets before and after assuming their roles.”

Mohamed Louizi writes that the “preacher of the cités” is an “uninhibited anti semite” who has stated that “the Zionists worked with Hitler.” He adds that Hassan Iquioussen, along with Alain Soral, believe that “Hamas and its armed forces do good work.”

The preacher runs three organizations: the SCI Smolin, with his sons Soufiane et Locqmane, the SCI Sainte Reine, and the SCI IMMO59, with his wife. He was recently poised to acquire real estate in Escaudain and Liévin. “It’s not normal that we ignore the ways of life of religious leaders, lesson givers, and the sanctimonious, while certain among them amass, through the Muslim religion, protected and hidden assets and property.” He argues that the case of Hassan Iquioussen is hardly unique in France, citing several national UOIF leaders, who also mix “preaching and business.”

July 6, 2016


Senators critique an ‘Islam of France’ under foreign influence

The Senate report is concerned with France’s dependence on Algeria, Morocco, Turkey, and Tunisia for certain religious affairs. It lists the domains where their influence remains strong: financing mosques, providing and sending imams overseas to France, and determining the structure of the Islamic federations. However, according to the figures provided in the report, the funds from foreign countries are less than we might think: six  million each year from Morocco and no more than 4 million from Saudi Arabia.

The report argues that the resources exist in France, notably from donations from worshippers. “An imam confirmed…that zakat received during Ramadan increased more than 1 million,” said senator Nathalie Goulet. The report is not opposed to foreign funding but rather hopes to increase transparency. To do that the senators hope to relaunch the Foundation for Islam in France, created in the mid 2000s but never truly inaugurated. It would collect and redistribute funds.

July 6, 2016




Theresa May forced to defend views on Sharia Law as she prepares to enter No 10

May sparked controversy when she spoke out in support of the Islamic courts operating in the country, telling the nation they could “benefit a great deal” from Sharia teachings.

The future Tory leader made the comments as she ordered a review into the system which are accused of ordering women to stay with abusive partners.

Mrs May, said she is worried the courts are “misused” and “exploited” to discriminate against Muslim women, but defended their place in society.

Sharia is Islam’s legal system derived from both the Koran, Islam’s central text, and fatwas – the rulings of Islamic scholars.

There are thought to be around 100 Sharia Law courts operating throughout the UK, dispensing Islamic justice outside the remit of our own legal system.

Judgements handed down by the informal courts have no legal basis, but there are fears their presence means many Muslim women are not getting access to the justice they deserve.

Now, before she takes over Number 10, May has been forced to restate her position on Sharia Law.


A debate on the Quran between Mouhanad Khorchide and Hamad Abdel-Samad

Two controversial contributors

In a new book – Zur Freiheit gehört, den Koran zu kritisieren: Ein Streitgespräch (It is a part of freedom to criticise the Qur’an: A disputation) – two of the most prominent voices on Islam in Germany, Hamed Abdel-Samad and Mouhanad Khorchide, debate the nature of the Quran and of the Islamic faith. The publication has sparked considerable public interest, also because its two authors have been at loggerheads on many issues of theological and political significance.

In recent years, Abdel-Samad has emerged as a reformed former Muslim Brother and a self-styled critic of Islam, publishing a salvo of controversial popular books imputing a fascist predisposition to Islam and presenting the Prophet Muhammad as a maniacal proto-terrorist. While these books have earned Abdel-Samad public notoriety, journalistic and especially scholarly observers have widely dismissed his theses as exceedingly crude.

In contrast to that Mouhanad Khorchide, Professor for Islamic Theology at Münster University, has published widely on his understanding of Islam as a religion of mercy. His reliance on theological positions and historical-critical methodology have been ostracised by a range of Muslim associations in Germany; and after receiving death threats from conservative radicals, Khorchide has been under police protection.

Attempting a serious debate

In a discussion of the book and its theses on the ZDF’s Forum am Freitag TV show ((, the authors nevertheless manage to engage each other in a serious conversation beyond mere polemics. Both authors show themselves desirous of activating what they refer to as ‘Islam’s silent majority’ and to equip this majority with the necessary theological tools to defend their faith against the depravations of jihadist interpretations. Moreover, they decry the tendency of contemporary theological debate to degenerate into a shouting match in which the opposing sides bombard each other with competing quotations from the Quran, each party eager to have its preferred textual passage count as a piece of ‘evidence’ demonstrating the – peaceful or violent, democratic or authoritarian – essence of Islam.

Whilst viewers of the TV debate could be impressed by the willingness of Abdel-Samad and Khorchide to enter into such an ambitious dialogue, it was also difficult to avoid the feeling that, as their discussion wore on, they began to fall into the very trap they had sought to avoid: beginning with a series of Abdel-Samad’s interventions, both discussants gradually came to rely rather heavily on quotations from the Qur’an; and both sought to use shreds of the text to prove their respective arguments about the true nature of Islam as a religion.

Abdel-Samad, for instance, alleged that the term ‘man’ occurs 61 times in the Qur’an; “and in all of these 61 verses, ‘man’ comes away negatively”. From this assertion, Abdel-Samad derived the assertion that “young people who ask themselves: ‘what does God want from me?’ are ultimately led to death, not to life” by the Qur’anic text. In Abdel-Samad’s view, the only ray of hope is the fact that most Muslims don’t read the Qur’an, or (if they do read it) don’t understand its message – also because the Quran is, according to Abdel-Samad, not only a violent but also incomprehensible and primitive book.

Sustaining nuance in the current political climate

At least in the TV debate of the book’s theses, the rhetorical prowess of Abdel-Samad has a certain edge of the quiet Khorchide: the discussion has Khorchide struggling to defend his perspective on the Quran against Abdel-Samad’s assault. Khorchide manages to make a number of memorable points – presenting, for instance, his view of how the Quran as a text of ongoing divine communication might be read in a meaningful way by Muslims today. Yet the viewer is still left with an overall sense that nuance is difficult to sustain in a public debate that pits an eloquently presented black and white narrative à la Abdel-Samad against the more complex analysis that Khorchide seeks to put forward.

The book form of the debate might be somewhat more suited to Khorchide, insofar as it might enable him to deploy a well-thought out answer to Abdel-Samad’s stark attacks. Nevertheless, the difficulties in developing an ambitious and theologically serious argument about the Quran faced by Khorchide are emblematic of the current state of the public debate in Germany and Europe. In fact, as his critics have noted, Abdel-Samad shares the fundamentalist Salafi understanding of Islam that he claims to fight; the sole difference being that he castigates what the Salafis find admirable. Neither of them can actually accommodate a more nuanced understanding of Islam as a lived religion or of its foundational texts.

In this respect, one of Khorchide’s points from the TV discussion rings true: the message that readers derive from the Quran tell us far more about the nature of the interpreter in question than about the nature of the Quran. The fundamentalist “must ask himself: ‘with what eyes of hate do I actually read the Quran?’” Perhaps Hamed Abdel-Samad, too, ought to take this question seriously.

German hijab debate: court vetoes current restrictions on the hijab in the Bavarian justice system – with a caveat

New case brought by an aspiring lawyer

A 25-year-old junior lawyer, Aqilah Sandhu, won a court case against the Bavarian state regarding her right to wear her headscarf while at work (( In July 2014, the Munich Higher Regional Court had denied Sandhu, at the time a legal intern at the court, the right to wear a hijab while hearing a witness or while participating in court proceedings as judge or prosecutor.

When questioned by Sandhu, her superiors justified this move by pointing to the need for the judiciary to remain religiously and ideologically neutral. The ensuing restrictions not only had an adverse impact on Sandhu’s training but also dimmed her prospects of finding employment in the judicial sector. The Augsburg Administrative Court ruled that the demand that Sandhu remove her hijab had been unlawful.

Debate on the hijab still not settled

However, the reason given for the verdict in Sandhu’s favour were above all formal: when prohibiting the legal intern to wear a hijab, her employer had acted on the basis of customary practice and of an administrative order from the Bavarian Ministry of Justice – not on the basis of a formal law debated and enacted by the Bavarian parliament. Yet it is such a law that would be necessary in order to legitimise any restriction placed on the freedom of religion and the freedom of education, or so the Administrative Court argued.

Thus, the ruling is only a further chapter in the German hijab debate rather than the debate’s conclusion: the Bavarian Ministry of Justice already announced that it would seek to overturn the verdict. And even if future court decisions are again in Sandhu’s favour, the ruling of the administrative court still leaves the Bavarian state the possibility to formally ban religious symbols from the judicial system through the enactment of a new law – a law that the conservative majority in the Bavarian state parliament might very well be willing to pass.

Constitutional question marks

In fact, the state of Berlin opted for such a legislative route: in the capital, a ‘neutrality law’ bans all religious symbols from public institutions. In April 2016, a Muslim teacher, who had sued the authorities after they prohibited her from working in primary school with her hijab, had her case rejected by the Berlin Labour Court: the court argued that the relevant Berlin law treats all religions equally, and that claims of religious discrimination were therefore unfounded ((

But even the Berlin case is not clear-cut, since its relationship to a March 2015 judgement by the German Constitutional Court remains ambiguous: the country’s supreme court had argued in 2015 that teachers at public schools had to be allowed to wear a headscarf – unless the hijab causes ‘major disturbances’ in the school’s daily operation, a somewhat vague addendum ((

However, the supreme court’s verdict was passed in response to a specific ‘hijab ban’ in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. In contrast to the North Rhine-Westphalian law, Berllin’s ‘neutrality law’ does not single out Muslim symbols for prohibition and thus does not privilege Judeo-Christian or any other religious worldviews. The judges at the Labour Court took this to be a decisive difference that legitimised their rejection of the Muslim teacher’s case.

Accepting the hijab or turning towards laicism?

At least current Bavarian practice does not appear to follow a Berlin-style ‘neutrality’, however: one of Aqilah Sandhu’s fellow law students was quoted in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper as saying that “I always were a cross necklace, also when I’m working. The cross has always been visible and no one ever said anything. That’s just unfair.” ((

Thus, legislators in traditionally strongly Catholic Bavaria may soon have to decide whether their objections to the visibility of the hijab are so strong that legislators are willing to enact a kind of ‘laic’ neutrality law that also curbs not just the public expression of Muslim religiosity but also the state’s Catholic heritage.

Religiosity, integration, participation: new survey on the attitudes and experiences of citizens of Turkish descent in Germany

A research unit dedicated to the study of the interaction of religion and politics at the University of Münster has published the results of a survey in which a sample Germany’s population of Turkish descent was asked to assess their own situation in the country. ((A brief overview of the study’s main findings (in English): The full results of the study (in German): 40 per cent of respondents were born in Germany; 36 per cent hold German citizenship. The survey reveals a general trend towards more participation and success in German society while also highlighting generational divergences, as well as tensions surrounding issues of social acceptance and religiosity.

Empirical findings: social participation and the perception of religiosity

While 90 per cent of the 1200 respondents assert that they feel at home in Germany, more than half do not feel socially accepted. However, this feeling cannot be traced back to material or socioeconomic factors: 44 per cent of respondents are of the opinion that they ‘receive their fair share’ compared to their fellow citizens – a percentage equal to that of West Germans and higher than the level of satisfaction in the former East, where more citizens feel disadvantaged. Indeed, numerous social and economic indicators point to higher participation levels of the second and third generation: only 13 per cent of the later generations have no secondary school qualifications (compared to 40 per cent of their parents), 94 per cent attest themselves a high level of fluency in the German language (compared to 47 per cent). A large majority of second- and third-generation (Muslim) Turks has contact with Christians and Germans on a regular basis, in contrast to their parental generation.

What is lacking even among the later generations, the head of the survey team, Detlef Pollack, notes, is “the feeling of being welcomed and accepted”. This is closely connected to the drastically diverging views on Islam held by persons of Turkish descent and by the rest of the German population. While two thirds of the former assert that Islam ‘fits’ into the Western world, close to three quarters of the overall German population think the opposite. Turkish respondents perceive Islam as peaceable (65 per cent), tolerant (56 per cent), respectful of human rights (57 per cent), and solidary (53 per cent). In the general population, only 5 to 8 per cent of respondents associate Islam with such positive qualities; yet 82 per cent of the German public sees Islam as connected to the oppression of women, 72 per cent as related to fanaticism, and 64 per cent as linked to a propensity to use violence. Among Turkish respondents, only 20, 18, and 12 per cent connect Islam with these negative characteristics. Interestingly, Turkish respondents had an equally high opinion of Christianity as they did of Islam. In this last respect, they mirror the positive picture the overall German population has of the Christian faith.

The research team at the University of Münster thus argues that “the problems of integration can mostly be found at the level of perception and acceptance. It is as important that the population treats immigrants with appreciation as it is [for immigrants] to find an apartment and job.” Since from the perspective of the Muslim minority Islam is a religion that is under assault and that needs to be safeguarded from injury and prejudice, a protective reflex appears to be especially strong among members of the second and third generations: only 52 per cent think that they ought to adapt to German culture (compared to 72 per cent of their parents). Conversely, 86 per cent of the successor generations believe that they ought to stand by their origins – a higher degree of self-assertion than among their parents (67 per cent). Among the second and third generation, Islam has become a prime marker of identity and belonging: their levels of religious observance are lower – they are less likely to go to the mosque or to engage in personal daily prayer than their parents. Yet nevertheless, the later generations see themselves as more religious than do their parents (72 compared to 62 per cent).

The question of ‘fundamentalism’ and the reception of the study in the media

However, the study also warns that attitudes and views indebted to a ‘fundamentalist’ understanding of Islam are widespread, with half of respondents asserting that ‘there is only one true religion’, and with 47 per cent among them deeming it more important to abide by the commands of Islam than by the laws of the state. 36 per cent are convinced that only Islam can solve the demanding problems of our era, and a third believes that Muslims ought to return to the social order of the time of the Prophet. However, the survey again reveals a generational divergence, with 18 per cent of first-generation respondents espousing a firm fundamentalist worldview according to the study’s criteria, compared to only 9 per cent of their children and grand-children. It also appears that the study might not be fully immune from criticism with respect to its classification of ‘fundamentalism’ – many ‘moderate’ Christian believers would surely think it more important to abide by the (moral) commands of their faith than by the laws of the state, to take just one example. In any case, it would remain to be seen what Muslim/ Turkish respondents deem to be the relevant ‘commands of Islam’ that it is worth forsaking the state’s legal framework for.

Almost as interesting as the actual results of the survey were the ways in which different voices in the media chose to present the survey responses. The university’s own press release opened with the header ‘Half of people of Turkish descent do not feel accepted’; and the liberal left-leaning Die Zeit followed this interpretation by titling ‘German Turks feel integrated but on the sidelines’ (( In contrast to that, the headline of the conservative daily Die Welt stressed the finding that ‘Nearly Half [of Turkish immigrants] think that the commands of Islam are above the law’ (( Focus magazine titled ‘Those of Turkish descent closely connected to FRG, Islam more important than laws of the state’ ((, and Der Spiegel opened with the title ‘Study: Young Turkish-Germans behave more and more religiously’ (( The Bavarian public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk opted for an even more brisk yet sensationalist tone by titling: ‘Qur’an instead of Basic Law’ (( Most media outlets did then go on to present the more nuanced findings in the body of their articles; yet their initial framing of the topic was predominantly threatening and negative.

This does not bode well for the university researchers’ appeal that state and civil society institutions ought to foster more contacts between Muslims and non-Muslims. Whilst Muslims need to address the hard-line tendencies within their own communities, they ought to receive support for their quest and understanding for their often difficult position, or so Detlef Pollack argued. The fact that his survey has given “a more positive picture of the personal circumstances of persons of Turkish descent living in Germany than one would expect given the prevailing state of the discussion on questions of integration” does perhaps offer some rays of hope.

‘I am fed up with this evil’: How an American went from Ivy League student to disillusioned ISIS fighter

Washington Post:

In late October 2014, the FBI received an unusual email from a young man named Mohimanul Alam Bhuiya.

Bhuiya, then 25, had joined the Islamic State. Now the longtime Brooklyn resident was desperate and looking for a way out. He wanted the FBI to rescue him.

“I am an American who’s trying to get back home from Syria,” he wrote in his email, according to federal court documents unsealed last month. “I just want to get back home. All I want is this extraction, complete exoneration thereafter, and have everything back to normal with me and my family.”

He added: “I am fed up with this evil.”

The FBI was still verifying his identity when Bhuiya managed to escape about a week later. He returned to the United States, where he was promptly arrested and charged with providing material support and receiving military training from the Islamic State.

In a closed courtroom in Brooklyn, he pleaded guilty to both counts on Nov. 26, 2014, according to the court filings. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

Bhuiya’s name is redacted in the documents, but several U.S. law enforcement officials confirmed his identity. His lawyer did not return a message, and efforts to reach his family were unsuccessful.

Prosecutors told the judge that redacting his name was “necessary to protect the integrity of the ongoing government investigations and the safety of the defendant and his family.” But NBC News in May ran an interview with Bhuiya, with cooperation from the Justice Department, in which he appeared under the name “Mo” with his face completely unobscured.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn declined to comment.

Bhuiya was not your average wayward Islamic State recruit. Unlike many of the people the Justice Department has charged in connection with the terrorist group, Bhuiya appeared to have a bright future. He attended Columbia University before he fell under the sway of the Islamic State.

“A young man from an Ivy League school challenges the conventional wisdom of a typical American ISIS recruit,” said Seamus Hughes, the deputy director at the program on extremism at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber & Homeland Security and a former National Counterterrorism Center staffer.

Bhuiya went to high school in Brooklyn. He seemed to be a well-adjusted student who took a serious interest in Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, according to a 2008 essay he wrote for the school newspaper entitled “Sample College Essay: My Superhero.”

He praised President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, who “fought a worldwide battle against the evil supervillain Adolf Hitler.”

In the essay, he said he wanted to major in psychology. He concluded: “I believe that I have greatness in me,” he wrote. “I want to be a superhero.”

According to a Columbia University spokesman, Bhuiya attended the School of General Studies. He was enrolled for one semester from January to May 2013 and did not earn a degree.

Bhuiya had come to the attention of the FBI before he traveled to Syria. According to court documents, investigators with the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York learned in June 2014 that the young man might be planning to travel to Syria.

When authorities interviewed Bhuiya at his home in Brooklyn, he told investigators that he was interested in events in Syria and supported “rebel groups.” But he claimed he lacked the money to travel to Syria and “did not know what he would do if he got there.”

Days later, he flew to Istanbul and then managed to enter Syria. He had little interest in fighting.

He implored Islamic State commanders not to “send me off to the front lines because I can be useful in other ways,” according to the NBC interview. “It seemed to me that it would, you know, save my skin.”

Bhuiya said he quickly became disillusioned and described the Islamic State as “dystopia.”

“You could see madness in their eyes,” he recalled. Bhuiya decided to flee. In the email to the FBI, he said he did not have a passport because the Islamic State had taken it. He asked if someone could pick him up at the border.

“Please help me get home,” he told the FBI.

According to court documents, Bhuiya managed to escape across the border into Turkey and make his way to a U.S. State Department outpost in Adana, which is in the southern part of the country.

He admitted that he had joined and worked for the Islamic State. He said he carried a weapon but had never been involved in fighting.

It is not clear where Bhuiya is being held as he awaits sentencing.

Court documents indicate that prosecutors, at Bhuiya’s request, had been exploring the possibility of going public with his story.


Washington Post: