Defusing the lure of militant Islam, despite death threats

These days, Dounia Bouzar doesn’t go anywhere without her three bodyguards. The French Muslim anthropologist has received death threats for unveiling the tactics of Islamist recruiters. I meet her in a cafe along Paris’ Boulevard St. Germain, where Bouzar is enjoying an ice cream sundae in the back while her security contingent, provided by the French government, sits at a table out front, eyes on the entrance.

Bouzar’s book, Defusing Radical Islam, was published in 2014, a year before the rest of the country woke up to the threat of homegrown radicalization. That moment came in January 2015, when radical Islamist gunmen attacked the Paris offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, killing 17 people.

“When it was published, hundreds of parents of radicalized kids came looking for me,” says Bouzar. “Because they recognized themselves and their children in my book.”

After the book came out, Bouzar began working with 300 parents to develop ways to deal with the problem. One of the fathers was a policeman and showed the others how to bug their kids’ phones and computers. Bouzar says they were then able to witness how the recruiters worked.

“They set out to break every emotional, social and historical tie in the kids’ lives,” says Bouzar. “The recruiters had them drop their friends, who [they said] were complicit with a corrupt society; their teachers, who [they said] were being paid to indoctrinate them; and eventually, even break from their parents, who [they said] were nonbelievers even if they were Muslim,” she says.

Bouzar says the young people also stopped taking part in sports and music. And when they were stripped of their identity and there was nothing left, ISIS took them over and they became part of the group.

In early 2015, Bouzar’s organization, the Center for the Prevention of Sectarian Excesses Linked to Islam, won a government contract to help parents who had called a national anti-radicalization hotline that had recently been put in place. Bouzar traveled the country training teams of psychologists, police and other experts to deal with the phenomenon of radicalization and parents’ concerns.

One of the parents who reached out to Bouzar for help was Celine, a mother from a small Normandy town whose 19-year-old son had converted to Islam. Celine doesn’t want to give her last name because of fears for her family.

She says it wasn’t her son’s conversion to Islam that bothered her, but the way he began to cut himself off from the world. “All of a sudden, he refused to eat pork or listen to music,” she says. “And his grades plummeted. He had an empty look in his eyes and it was like he didn’t think for himself anymore. He became sort of like a robot. And he was always, always on the phone.”

Celine discovered her son had opened a second Facebook account — and on it, he was discussing going to Syria.

According to the French Interior Ministry, more young people from France have radicalized and gone to war zones in Syria and Iraq than from any other European country. About 1,500 French citizens have gone or tried to go. Approximately 700 are still there. Celine wanted to make sure her son would not be among them.

Bouzar says that ISIS, unlike al-Qaida, tailors its radicalization tactics to individual profiles. For example, girls are particularly attracted to the idea of taking care of children hurt by the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad or finding a God-fearing and faithful Muslim husband. Recruiters play to these desires. They even have different videos geared to speak to the different motivations for wanting to join ISIS.

“For girls, there’s a kind of myth of a Daesh-[ISIS-]land utopia where no one will be cold or hungry and everything runs on divine law,” says Bouzar. “The recruiters make them believe they can become a nurse and be running a hospital wing in just a couple of months.”

One of Bouzar’s methods for treating young people seduced by ISIS involves re-establishing links between radicalized individuals and their former lives. She counsels parents to try to bring them back in touch with their childhood — through old pictures and videos or food.

Celine tried this with her son and had little success at first, but she persevered.

“I made all his favorite meals that he loved as a child,” she says. “And I took him to places he liked when he was young. I did everything to reconnect him with his childhood.” Eventually, she noticed he was becoming more open to discussion. He took an interest in school again. The empty look vanished from his eyes.

Bouzar says a person can only be brought back with the help of someone close, like a parent or other family member — or by a reformed jihadist himself.

She has used allegedly reformed jihadists in counseling sessions to try to break through to some of the young people who are radicalizing. “We get them together without the young person realizing who this person is,” says Bouzar. “But then they begin to recognize their own story out of the mouth of the reformed jihadist, because he was lured for some of the same reasons. And slowly, doubt begins to set in.”

Bouzar says there is no such thing as a radicalized youth who wants to be de-radicalized. “He thinks he’s been picked by God and he sees things no one else does, because [everybody else is] indoctrinated,” she says.

Bouzar’s methods have been controversial. Some say her use of allegedly reformed jihadists is dangerous. (In some cases, it can be challenging to ascertain whether they’ve really reformed or are pretending.) Others accuse her of self-promotion. Many more say treating radicalization as purely brainwashing is to underestimate geopolitical and social factors, and the role that radical Islam plays.

Benjamin Erbibou, who works with an organization called Entr’Autres (Among Others), a group that works with radicalization issues in the southern city of Nice, thinks only a small percentage of radicalization cases are linked to brainwashing.

“Mostly,” he says, “it’s linked to a complete rupture and rejection of French society and Western values.”

But Marik Fetouh, deputy mayor of Bordeaux and head of the city’s de-radicalization center, says it’s easy to criticize efforts to deal with radicalization because it’s a poorly understood new phenomenon.

“Bouzar came forward with real ideas to fight this complex phenomenon when pretty much no one else had a clue what to do,” he says.

Although her contract with the French government is over, Bouzar’s association still counsels families affected by radicalization. Bouzar and her teams have counseled more than 1,000 young people and their parents — from Muslim, Catholic and atheist backgrounds.

Normandy mother Celine credits Bouzar’s methods with saving her son’s life. She says he’s still a Muslim, but now he’s begun to think for himself. And most important, she says, he no longer wants to go to Syria.

More than just a Muslim punk band

Since setting up their band, The Kominas have come under fire from all sides: some punks say they aren’t real punks, while conservatives are critical of their politics. But who decides what punk is anyway? Isn’t the very essence of punk to push boundaries and upset the status quo? According to Richard Marcus, despite feeling ostracised by the white indie/punk scene and being the focus of media articles for reasons completely outside their control, the Kominas just keep on speaking their minds and making great music

Like any other creed, punk rock is widely open to personal interpretation. British punk of the 1970s was wildly different from American punk of the same period; New York punk was different from California punk, while Toronto’s punk scene was a sort of mash-up of all three. After nearly 40 years of listening to punk, the only generalisation I’m willing to make on the subject is that it’s more of an attitude than a style of music. Punk is a willingness to speak your mind and live with the consequences; it’s about taking chances and not accepting the status quo.

So using a catch-all phrase like “punk Islam” or Taqwacore (a name derived from the book of the same name by American author Michael Muhammad Knight) won’t give you an idea of a band’s nature, save that the members might share the same religious background. While using this term also seems to be fairly insulting (after all, how many “Christian punk” or “white punk” bands do you know of?), that hasn’t stopped the labelling from happening.

This is part of an overall syndrome that the band The Kominas was railing against in a recent post on their Facebook page: “There’s a lot of publicity that comes with Muslims performing normalcy for the West. ‘Oh wow, look at these Muslims who skateboard and are totally average,’ ‘hey, look at these Muslims who listen to & make music,’ ‘wow, this Muslim is just a normal shithead (just like me!)’. You can call it whatever you want (we would say tatti, but it’s your choice), we just wanted to say fuck that. We are more than a label. Fuck your binaries. Fuck all of them, fuck American:Muslim, Male:Female, white:other…” (Kominas Facebook page, 13 June 2015)

The Kominas have been associated with Taqwacore through both their association with Knight and with a documentary movie they were featured in, Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam. The movie was split between documenting “Islamic” punk bands touring together with Knight on an old school bus around America and a trip by Knight to Pakistan where he visited various Sufi shrines, the madrassa he had attended and the Kominas, who were in the midst of a two year sojourn in the country.

Breaking the mould

This was when I first ran into the band and over the years, I’ve stumbled across them on the Internet and been impressed by their music and what they have to say about it: why they perform and what punk means to them. Founding members Basim Usmani (bass) and Shahjehan Khan (guitar) started the band in 2005 when they met up at university in Boston. Karna Ray soon joined as drummer, and over the years, the rest of the band’s membership has shifted and evolved to where the original trio is now, augmented by Hassin Ali Malik.

While they have only released a couple of full-length CDs (Kominas and Wild Nights In Guantanamo Bay), a couple of singles (“BariyaN Ashiq Mizaj AkhaN TeriaN” and “Sharia Law in the U.S.A.”) and a six-song CD (Escape To Blackout Beach), they have garnered a great deal of attention. Some of it has obviously been from American media trying to get their heads around the fact young Muslims are in a popular music band, but mostly it is because of their appeal to people both in America and in South-East Asia. With songs written in English, Urdu and Punjabi, they can cross cultural boundaries few American-based groups even know exist.

However, that doesn’t mean they are universally popular. In fact, they come under fire from all ends of the political, musical and religious spectrum. In an interview given to Vanyaland, a Boston-based music magazine, Usmani touches on this when he mentions how they get flak from anti-religion Pakistani punks for being identified as Muslim and from Indonesian punks who say they aren’t real Muslim punks.

Of course, their politics – and maybe their existence – also upset conservatives of all types (political, religious and musical) at home. As evident from the quote above, they have strong opinions, which they don’t hesitate to express. However, that’s what a punk band is supposed to do – upset the status quo. Sure, there are punks out there who claim The Kominas aren’t punk enough because they play more than three chords and experiment with different styles and genres of music, but their approach to music and their lyrical content is pure punk. As definitive a figure as John Lydon (Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols) has said the whole idea of a punk orthodoxy – that you can only listen to or play certain types of music to be punk – is ridiculous.

 

Can a Muslim be a punk?

Unfortunately there’s also the issue of colour: brown-skinned people from South-East Asia aren’t supposed to thrash about on stage with guitars and drums and their hair spiked up in Mohawks. They’re supposed to play sitars and other ethnic instruments. In an interview on the MTV website given earlier this year, Malik responded to a question about how being Muslim has impacted on the way the music community has treated them by saying he felt they were ostracised by the white indie/punk scene – as much as that scene even exists anymore.

The hardest thing for The Kominas is being treated like any other band. In reply to the same question above, Usmani said the press only seems to be interested in them when Islamophobia is in the news or as a token for an article about assimilation. Yes, they began life as a supposed Muslim punk band, (drummer Ray is a secular Hindu born in the States to academic parents) but they’re more than that. Not only are they breaking down stereotypes by playing music people of colour aren’t “supposed” to play, they are playing really good music.

The irony of an article like this one, of course, is that it only perpetuates the problem of them being treated like any other band. However, hopefully the release of their new album, Stereotype, later this year will garner them the attention they deserve as a band, not just as the Islamic punks from Boston. True to their punk natures, it will be released on their own label – most likely as a digital download from their website. Wherever you are, and whoever you are, make sure to grab a copy.

UK Far Right groups holds Islamophobic demonstration

At least 30 people were arrested Saturday night following a demonstration by a far-right group against a planned mosque construction in the small English town of Dudley. The protest was led by the English Defense League or EDL that saw participation of up to 1,000 of its members amid a heavy police presence.

“I have never seen so many policemen here,” said Maria Mina, owner of the only cafe shop that was open on what supposed to have been the busiest day for business in the small town. Extra police force was deployed in Dudley since early hours of Saturday and entrance to the town center was restricted for vehicles as hundreds of fascist EDL members came to the town by cars, coaches and trains.
EDL members were allowed to march to Priory Road where they made harsh anti-Islam speeches, carried Islamophobic banners and English flags in front of the Dudley Council. “Islam go to hell” and “More Islam less freedom” read some of the banners.

In a counter demonstration organized by United Against Fascism approximately 50 meters away from the Dudley Central Mosque at Castle Street, Dudley’s local people repeatedly gave out the messages of unity and togetherness. “Love music, hate racism” was the main slogan of the gathering that hosted about 300 people.

X-Factor Sensation Jordi to jihadist camp

Jordi, who seven years ago participated in X Factor is in prison, suspected of taking part in a terrorist-training in Syria.
Once Jordi dreamed of becoming a star. But he converted to Islam, became an orthodox Muslim and a career in music was no longer an option.

By his neighbours he was seen as a friendly neighbour. When his neighbour teased him, calling him ‘Bin Laden’, Jordi would just wave friendly.

But in 2013 he went to Syria, leaving his wife and son. Three months later Jordi returns. Parents ask information about their sons and daughters who went to Syria and his neighbours don’t want him anymore. He friendly avoids talking to journalists. He wants peace. And he goes living secretly in Rotterdam.

Is It Nation of Islam Time Again in Hip-Hop?

July 19, 2014

A revival of the Nation of Islam connection—if it avoids repeating some of the errors of the past—could signal a new era of consciousness in commercial hip-hop.

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, a wave of commercial hip-hop artists, like Public Enemy, Poor Righteous Teachers, Brand Nubian, Eric B. & Rakim, Paris, Gang Starr, Ice Cube and MC Ren, used their platform to promote political awareness, community uplift and cultural self-determination. They drew their inspiration in part from Islam—as culture, ideology and religion—influenced primarily by the Nation of Islam and its offshoot the Nation of Gods and Earths, or Five Percenters.

As movements, both the NOI and NGE actively engaged hip-hop artists and the communities in which the artists and their audiences lived. The NOI organized anti-crime patrols, established drug-prevention programs and negotiated gang truces. The NGE’s cipher gatherings rewarded those most skilled in wordplay. The theologies of the NOI, and the NGE in particular, proclaimed the black man “God,” and while contested by other Muslim traditions, this fit perfectly within the hip-hop tradition of the superlative boast (who, after all, could top God) and placed black men at the center of hip-hop’s universe.

For Electronica, the NOI is much more than stage props or costumes: He has sampled Elijah Muhammad on his tracks; and in his freestyle remix of Drake’s “We Made It” with Jay Z, he declares the Muslim “shahada”—the testimony of faith that “there is no god but Allah”—in Arabic and proclaims himself “the Farrakhan of rap.” In the days since his performance, Electronica has tweeted and Facebooked even more references to the NOI and its leadership. He’s clearly committed to asserting the presence of the NOI and NGE more broadly in hip-hop music and culture.

And he’s not alone in this NOI revival in hip-hop, and in black culture more broadly. Earlier this year, R&B artist Raheem DeVaughn collaborated with Chicago rapper Rhymefest to release “Final Call (Saviours’ Day).” The song’s title references both the NOI’s annual Saviours’ Day convention and itsFinal Call newspaper, sold by the FOI, who are also featured prominently in the music video.

The Fruit of Islam seem well suited for this role. When Jay Elect stepped to the stage with FOI in tow, he seemed to be channeling a moment from 25 years ago when Public Enemy took to the streets of Brooklyn, also with FOI, to film the Spike Lee-directed video for their anthem, “Fight the Power.” More than an entourage, the FOI’s military like presence conveys a charismatic power onto whomever they secure, a level of real-world seriousness: “They treated him like he was Barack Obama,” remarked one observer of the FOI guarding Jay Z at the festival.

Music Mix: Spirituality and Protest: ‘Rebel Music,’ by Hisham D. Aidi

The subject matter of “Rebel Music: Race, Empire and the New Muslim Youth Culture” could not be more far-reaching unless its author, Hisham D. Aidi, had unearthed data about youth culture and musical influences on other planets. As far as Earth goes, his highly original and ambitious book has got it covered.

“Rebel Music” exhibits a breathtaking familiarity with different forms of radicalizing music and the widely different ways it is understood in different cultures, with a special emphasis on Islamic youth. Mr. Aidi starts his book simply in the South Bronx, an epicenter of young Muslims’ hip-hop obsession.

Mr. Aidi goes there, in part, because he hopes to talk to the French rap crew 3ème Oeil (Third Eye) from Marseille. They are equally glad to meet him when he tells them he’s from Columbia, mistaking the university (where he is a lecturer) with the record company. No matter. He has the illuminating experience of finding a French D.J. who says he has dreamed of visiting the Bronx his whole life, because his role model is the Bronx D.J. Afrika Bambaataa. Mr. Aidi meets others there who are simply searching for a Muslim-friendly environment. If this book has a unifying theme, it is the eagerness of young Muslims in every culture to find musical expression that feels honest and a safe haven in an endlessly combative world.

“Rebel Music” has no chance of ending on a note of peaceful resolution. But it does lay out an array of fascinating conflicts, taking on a subject that has rarely been addressed in book form. Its most tender chapter describes Judeo-Arabic music, which flowered in Algeria in the 1960s but later became a lightning rod for controversy. Like every topic brought up by Mr. Aidi’s jampacked compendium, it deserves a closer look.

Government intervenes at school ‘taken over’ by Muslim radicals

March 22, 2014

 

The Birmingham school at the centre of an alleged campaign of “Islamisation” by Muslim radicals is to be placed in “special measures” by the Government’s education watchdog in a move that could see its head teacher and governors removed. Park View, previously rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, will be downgraded to “inadequate”, the lowest possible score, in the category of leadership and management, senior education sources said. This enables Ofsted to place the school in special measures, allowing the watchdog, if it wishes, to remove the school’s entire leadership.

The move, described as “seismic” by senior educational sources, follows a highly unusual two Ofsted inspections in the past three weeks at the school, the alleged victim of a campaign by Islamists called a “Trojan Horse” to remove secular head teachers and install Islamic practices in Birmingham state schools. The disclosure comes as parents and school governors and staff describe in detail how the campaign has destabilised and undermined successful schools.

At the supposedly non-religious primary school, Oldknow, anti-Christian chanting has been reportedly led by one of their teachers at assembly, as well as conducting weekly Friday prayers, school trips to Mecca subsidised from public funds and Oldknow like Nansen Primary has the requirement that all pupils learn Arabic (this is almost unheard of at primary level). Oldknow’s highly successful non-Muslim head teacher has been driven from her post for resisting the “Islamising agenda”. At another successful primary school, Springfield, the head teacher received death threats, had his car tyres slashed and is under “non-stop attack” by radical governors.

Several sources said their schools had repeatedly appealed to Birmingham city council and the education inspectorate Ofsted for help, but were ignored.

According to the Telegraph one of the alleged leaders of the Trojan Horse plot is Tahir Alam, an Ofsted inspector and a “specialist in school governance” at Birmingham city council. Mr Alam says the plot is a fabrication and denies any involvement. Officials from the Department for Education were sent to three of the schools allegedly targeted: Park View, Golden Hillock and Nansen Primary. All three state schools are run by Park View Education Trust, whose chairman is Mr Alam. The deputy head of Nansen Razwan Faraz is the brother of a convicted terrorist and is the administrator of an organisation called “Educational Activists” dedicated to pursuing what has been called an “Islamising agenda” in Birmingham schools.

The Department of Education confirmed that its officials were sent into Park View as part of an “ongoing investigation” into “serious allegations”. Officials are also expected to carry out a snap inspection at Nansen and Golden Hillock.

Hard-line teachers were recruited with some of the teachers telling pupils that music was sinful and as a consequence the children started to refuse to take the music lesson even though it is compulsory on the National Curriculum.

 

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10716855/Government-intervenes-at-school-taken-over-by-Muslim-radicals.html

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-birmingham-26482599

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/mar/07/alleged-plot-birmingham-schools-islamic-principles

Katy Perry accused of ‘portraying blasphemy’ with Dark Horse video

February 28, 2014

 

An online petition demanding Katy Perry’s Dark Horse video be taken off YouTube has attracted about 65,000 signatures. According to the petitioners at Change.org, the video is guilty of “portraying blasphemy”, because of the video’s use of a pendant reportedly inscribed with the word Allah.

Katy Perry’s Dark Horse clip, which premiered on 20 February, has already attracted more than 30 million views. A phantasmagorical riff on Egyptian mythology, it features Perry as a magical queen who transforms suitors into sand. One of these suitors, a man wearing an “Allah” pendant is struck by lightning and disintegrates into sand.

“At 01:15 into the video … a man is shown being burned whilst wearing a pendant (also burned) forming the word ‘Allah’, which is the Arabic word for God,” wrote the man who launched the petition, Shazad Iqbal, from Bradford. “Blasphemy is clearly conveyed in the video, since Katy Perry (who appears to be representing an [opponent] of [Allah]) engulfs the believer and the word God in flames. People from different walks of life, different religions and from different parts of the world [will agree], using the name of God in an irrelevant and distasteful manner would be considered inappropriate by any religion.”

“The fact that Islam didn’t even exist in ancient Egypt is what really confuses me, Why [did] they [feel] the need to have anything to do with Islam in this video?” added a signatory from High Wycombe.

While the music video has not been pulled in its entirety, the pendant has been cut so that only a plain gold chain can now be seen. It remains unclear whether YouTube edited the video or was told to by the singer’s record company as both parties have yet to comment.

Dark Horse is currently at number six on the UK singles chart and more than 37 million people have viewed the video on YouTube since it was uploaded on 20 February.

 

The Independent

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/katy-perry-causes-offence-by-burning-allah-pendant-in-dark-horse-music-video-9153998.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/katy-perry-takes-break-from-offending-muslims-to-deliver-friends-baby-its-been-a-miracle-day-9157332.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/katy-perry-dark-horse-music-video-edited-after-causing-muslims-offence-9159660.html

 

The Guardian

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/feb/26/katy-perry-petition-islam-blasphemy-allah-dark-horse-video

A Controversial opening act at the famed Sanremo Music Festival

February 19, 2014

 

Souad Sbai, a former MP and president of the Community Association of Moroccan Women in Italy (ACMID Woman) expressed her outrage at the choice of Cat Steven to open the famed Sanremo music festival. In a note Sbai said “I’m sorry I have to note once again the inability of state television to act as a public service. I find it shameful that the Parliamentary Oversight Committee at Rai television did not intervene to avoid hosting a controversial celebrity for the opening of the Sanremo music festival” Sbai is against the British singer-songwriter Cat Stevens, because in the “in the 1970s converted to Islam and now goes by the name Yusuf Islam” and “ he continues to be on the blacklist for traveling to the United States.” Sbai then points out that “in 2006, here in Italy, the pop star was the subject of a parliamentary panel led by the Minister of the Interior, Giuliano Amato, for an interview in which he spoke about Islamic propaganda.”

 

Andkronos: http://www.adnkronos.com/IGN/News/Spettacolo/Sanremo-Souad-Sbai-Cat-Stevens-in-lista-nera-Usa-era-meglio-non-farlo-esibire_321244456940.html

Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) to Open Sanremo 2014

February 15, 2014

 

Yusuf Islam was announced as the international guest for Sanremo (the large music competition held in Italy every year). In a press conference, held last Monday Fabio Fazio announced that Yusuf Islam, who for all connoisseurs of his music will always be Cat Stevens, will be the international guest on the first evening of the festival, scheduled for February 18.

The British singer-songwriter became popular in the London of the sixties beginning his career in the pop genre. Since completely changing his lifestyle, Yusuf Islam still looks himself by continuing to have an unshaven look while shouldering an acoustic guitar. In his latest album, Islam echoes the Mediterranean in his tracks with especially intimate lyrics focusing on the cultural and social scene in Britain, increasingly divided by economic differences.

 

Soundsblog: http://www.soundsblog.it/post/249915/sanremo-2014-yusuf-islam-cat-stevens-ospite-internazionale

Musical News: http://www.musicalnews.com/articolo.php?codice=27016&sz=6

Today: http://www.today.it/media/sanremo-2014/cat-stevens-ospite.html