Back in September, when the gruesome ISIS propaganda war was in full force, Bob talked with the creator of Abdullah-X, a home-grown cartoon character who is the face of a grassroots approach to anti-extremism.
BOB: US intelligence officials have estimated that 34-hundred westerners have flocked to Syria to join ISIS - almost 200 of them Americans. In Britain the number of recruits is around 700. And in Britain, a home-grown cartoon character named Abdullah-X challenges his peers to consider what Islam really espouses. We spoke to the creator of Abdullah X (who asked to remain anonymous) last September, when he told us that his character confronts the young men who are most vulnerable to the ISIS message.
Creator of Abdullah X: We call someone like him at that stage, a jih-hobbyist or a keyboard warrior someone who is online, offline, discussing stuff in fast food outlets and college canteens.
Voice 1: Its like the matrix and t’ing, they got us on lock, making us believe we free but we robots.
Voice 2: Exactly my brother...listen to the cause. To the call, of revolution.
Creator of Abdullah X: The particular journey we're talking about Abdullah X ends up realizing that some of the rhetoric, narrative, ideology, the anger espoused Islamism is in direct contradiction to the core teachings of Islam. And so he reverses the radicalization process by coming to realization.
BOB: And what you do is take Koranic language that has been abused by extremists and try to reframe in the proper perspective.
Creator of Abdullah X: Yes, the whole Abdullah X platform is about not trying to recontextualize the classic doctrine, but trying to give it the context that befits it in the 21st century.
BOB: And you're not afraid to be kind of harsh on the subjects of this kind of appeal. You talk about how their lives are disappointing them. They're seeking greater meeting. And somehow they let themselves invest meaning in what is really just mindless violence and random hatred.
CLIP: Have you asked yourself sincerely what your actual magass is. Objective is. And if this is actually anything to do with Islam or protecting other people. If you have, then have you not to fund more constructive ways to support the innocent people of Syria compared to trying go out there and fight to simulate some video game that you feel you have reenact in real life.
Creator of Abdullah X: There is an element there that needs to be brought to the attention of these keyboard warriors who then live out the call of duty mantra which is, they're quite frustrated just playing the Playstation or the X-Box. And they believe that going out to somewhere like Syria actually fulfills that duty in a physical sense. So this camaraderie, this adventurism, this thrill seeking needs to be contextualized. You have to look at some of the drivers and forces might compel someone to do that. And unless you're going to attract their attention through talking directly to them, it's a hopeless task.
BOB: Now this is not mere guest work on your part. It's not the result of focus group data. You've been there.
Creator of Abdullah X: Yeah. Yeah. I've been there. I thankfully never got to the stage where I needed to act upon the anger and hate that had been created in me. But the truth about this is, yes from...uhh - the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the mid-to-late 80s to Bosnia to Chechnya, to Kashmir to Iran/Iraq, Afghanistan. I've lived through those, I understand what drives people to adopt this very harsh, literalist interpretation of Islam. So, yeah, when you're talking about why would you talk to people a certain way, it's only because I've bought the T-shirt and got a refund.
BOB: You were kind of pre-radicalized for the convenience of whoever was trying to recruit you. But they didn't quite succeed. What happened?
Creator of Abdullah X: The same thing desperately hoping happens to a lot of young people around the world who are at the moment typing strange things into Google search engine like 'how to go to Syria for jihad.' What happened to me was I saw through the motives, the legitimacy of the authority of the leaders of these groups. I saw that they were willing to send other people children off to death while they sit comfortably and survey these things from the rear. Secondly, was that I had to offset some of the vitriolic rhetoric, the hate and the anger that literalism and Islamism often espouses by finally coming to terms what does Islam say about things like the treatment of non-Muslims and Muslims. What does Islam say about my relationship as a British Muslim living in a secular country that is run by democracy. What rights do I have. What obligations do I have. Is it really as simple as saying there is no manmade law that I can accept unless we impose God's law physically and potentially violently we can never rest. Is it all as simple as this narrative. And obviously after 1400 years of development, it's not that simple. And the last thing that happened as a result of that journey of critical questioning was that I finally managed to come to turn with my own sense of identity, my own sense of belonging, my own sense of loyalty and duty. What I didn't believe in any more was just this narrative and what this narrative was making people do.
BOB: Unlike, let's say, Catholicism, where the Pope represents a central authority, there is no central theological authority in Islam. Is there any way for a third party to fill that yawning gap of authoritative interpretation to undermine these perversions of Islamic law at the source?
Creator of Abdullah X: For many years now, there have been amazing efforts by mainstream Muslim organizations, individuals, imams and clerics, to make sure that Muslim communities themselves are resilient, they understand what Islam's core message is, and they understand how to live in non-Muslim societies, for example. The biggest problem we have when we talk about who speaks for Islam, it is often Western media's almost now Islamophobic diatribe that does not highlight the grassroots efforts of mainstream, law-abiding Muslim communities and those in authority over them. It doesn't highlight that work. And even in the United States there are incredible efforts at the community level always going on. It's just that for some reason we like to show the monsters. And that's why Abdullah X was born.
BOB: I must ask. Are you funded directly or indirectly with I don't know MI6 or any UK agency?
Creator of Abdullah X: Abdullah X is a self-funded project of myself and a few like-minded people. I'd like it to remain that way. Abdullah X is a brother, Bob, who's just had some interesting experiences and what he's trying to do is he wants to show people that listen -- whether you're a US solider or whether you're out there in Racca somewhere or on the border between Syria and Iraq. You know, you need to think twice sometime about your motives. What your intentions are. And who you really think you're doing this for. Abdullah X is a citizen of the world. God willing, he's not trying to toe any particular line. He's saying that at the end of the day, if a Muslim believes that a Muslim's life is governed by sanctity then the prophetic position is also that a non-Muslims is governed by the same sanctity as well.
BOB: Ahmed, thank you very much.
Creator of Abdullah X: Thank you very much, Bob.
BOB: Ahmed -- whose actual name is something else -- is the creator of Abdullah X an anti-extremist cartoon series. We will link to it on our website.