Confronting the Portland bomber's demons

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: Africa, South Africa, Terrorism Channel: Opinion Views: 3739

So what should we make of Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who spoke brightly of committing mass murder at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland? No hardscrabble ghetto background for Mohamud. His father was an engineer who moved his family to suburban Oregon.

No clear thread of alienation running through his adolescence. Studious, a mother's pride, a basketball fan; he smiled at girls and enjoyed college nightlife. "He was just like everyone else," a shocked fellow student at Oregon State University said.

No influential uncle in the jihad who lured him in, no 'group of guys' with regulation-size beards who recruited him after jumma prayers at the neighborhood mosque. Neighbors described the family as quiet and friendly. "Osman (the father) was very sophisticated," said a staff member at the Christian social service agency that helped resettle the family when they arrived from Somalia.

There will be no shortage of theories offered in the coming weeks. Much of it will be stupid and simplistic - the yowls from the 'Islam made him do it' industry, the grunts from the 'Get American troops off Muslim lands' tribe.

My own sense? Let me tell you a story.

A few weeks ago, I ran into Ebrahim Rasool at an event in Washington DC. Now South Africa's Ambassador to the United States, Rasool along with other Muslims in South Africa helped found the Call of Islam, a group that played a key role in the struggle against apartheid.

I remember the surge of pride I felt when I first read about the Call as a searching young Muslim man. The Muslims of the Struggle represented a proud and powerful Islam, a faith that viewed itself as a shaper of history not a victim of it, a tradition that based its identity on how it elevated others not how it dominated them.

Growing up I was always told that my faith mattered, but I was never told what it meant. Community leaders presented Islam as a private affair for the prayer hall, something to be quiet about in the world.

But as I got older, I wanted more. Other people I knew were publicly proud of being black or Jewish or Mexican. It gave them an identity, a way of being, a sense of belonging. When, as a graduate student at Oxford, I started to explore what Islam meant for my life in the world, I was lucky to have mentors who pointed me in the direction of Islam's heroes.

The Muslims of Rwanda who protected Tutsis in their homes and their mosques from the marauding Interhamwe militia during the genocide; Badshah Khan who worked closely with Gandhi in the peace movement that liberated South Asia from colonial rule; Albania's Muslims who saved countless Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust; and, of course, those Muslim heroes in South Africa.

These are the examples that shaped my understanding of what it means to be Muslim in the world.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud was not so lucky. His search for identity took him online, where he watched videos and read articles by Islam's villains, shadowy men sending messages from the mountains of Pakistan and the deserts of Yemen. The story they sell impressionable young men is so simple: Muslims were once a magnificent nation, but we have been made victims by this group and that group. You must defend the Muslim nation. Your actions will return us to glory.

It would be perfectly understandable if, in this time of Muslim terrorism and Islamophobia, everyday Muslims tried to slink into the shadows, to hide in the mosque. But it would be a huge mistake. Now more than ever, we need Muslim community leaders to be loud and proud about Islam's glories, to inspire a new generation to follow in the footsteps of the Muslim heroes who bent the arc of the universe towards justice.

If Muslim leaders don't offer an understanding of Islam that inspires young people to be bridges of cooperation, we forfeit them into the arms of those waiting to make them bombs of destruction.

Source: AltMuslim - Eboo Patel is the founder of the Interfaith Youth Core and the author of the award-winning book Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. This piece was originally published at Washington Post/OnFaith.


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  6 Comments   Comment

  1. mark mcgary from us

    This was a well written article, of which is light in a dark time.

    This is a reflection of the Quoran as I have understood it, and more....you are the author Osam jr needed......and missed.

  2. Muslim from UK

    The article says "There will be no shortage of theories offered in the coming weeks. Much of it will be stupid and simplistic - the yowls from the 'Islam made him do it' industry, the grunts from the 'Get American troops off Muslim lands' tribe." & then goes onto supply its own "My own sense? Let me tell you a story."

    Considering the rather supercilious tone,does the article support US troops in Muslim lands & how about about the converse situation? The article provides facile emotive comments, but does not engage in stating why these are wrong on rational grounds. The "return to glory" recruitment is an unproven assumption, over-egging the pudding. As to defending the nation, it works both ways. Why does the article pick on the weaker party & not condemn similar appeals to jingoistic glory & militarisation among the stronger nation, & the fellow American society too? One-sided emotive sneering is partisan & does not encourage constructive engagement. It sounds like the self-preservation society, or worse useful idiots & imperial apologists.

    AJ Mohammad gives a more balance view, judging actions not rhetoric, without fear or favour. Missile Bombing,Homocide Bombing, Ecocide Bombing, Paedocide Bombing on a mass industrial scale is surely not that different from bombs delivered by a man in the actual outcome are they? Let us not be Mir Jafars.

  3. dalal from Saudi Arabia

    Wa Salaam- Perhaps Muslims should not pass judgement on this young man. He most likely was coersed into this act. There was a man who took shahada, when I was in US. He attended all of the haliqas and get togethers in the local mosque; after 2 years he apologized and said he was sent undercover to the mosque. This happened 8 years ago.It is difficult to believe anything in the news...Allah knows best!

  4. AJ Mohammad from US

    I meant to use the word "unislamic" in the second to the last sentence not Islamic.

  5. AJ Mohammad from US

    As-salaamu alaikum- The only thing I have to say is that we as muslims have to careful on what we say. First of all, how do we know he wasn't put there by the government to create a problem. As long as I've been muslim, about 20years, plus being an outspoken muslim, I've never run into someone wanting to do harm to the american public. When i look at the news they seemed to be everywhere. I don't see but they find them everywhere. I don't know any so-called "jihadist", which by the way isn't even a word, websites, but the media and the government finds them all over the place. Second, if he was a muslim we have to teach our young muslims about the government tricks and deceptions on how they set up muslims. In all of these so-called terrorist stories the common denominator is the US government setting them up. So tell them to tell someone if someone, anyone, approaches them with any type of Islamic scheme so that they can be exposed. That will be the way to confront these problems.

  6. Mazhar Islam from Pakistan

    AOA

    I understand your last comments as meaning well.

    I think we Should we also give same type of lecture to those who kills in thousand from

    air or land, ie,

    "If Western leaders don't offer an understanding of Islam that inspires young people to

    be bridges of cooperation, they forfeit them into the arms of those waiting to make

    them who simply hates islam and muslims."

    I am not at all saying those whom bomb are admirable....however if one does not

    balance the equation and not call on western powers and muslims alike to stop this

    madness and respect each other religion and values...then I believe the youth that you

    speak of will always considered themselves the one to be condemned, hence, will always

    fall in the wrong hands.

    I live in Pakistan...and just like the heroes you mentioned...every pakistani every day pay

    the price of resisting and standing up against the extremist both western and muslim

    alike...It is just that the media does not give the entire picture..TOO ME EVERY PAKISTANI

    IS A MUSLIM HERO BY STANDING UP TO THE ALL KIND OF PEOPLE WHO SIMPLY TAKES

    MATTERS IN THEIR HAND BECAUSE THEY HAVE THE POWER TO DO SO

    I wonder if we put the suicide bombers and aerial bombers face to face, which one is

    worse or are they just the same

    Wassalam