Mohamed Amin Ahmed is the Executive Director of Average Mohamed, a Minneapolis based orgnization dedicated to fighting extremist ideas through animated videos. He immigrated to the United States 20 years ago and has played numerous roles in both civic and corporate worlds. After 9/11 Mohamed joined the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism, and has since been the Chapter President for Minnesota.
His counter terrorism mantra is: "It takes an idea, to defeat an idea". He currently works as a Manager for a local gas company and lives in Minneapolis with his wife and four children.
He graciously agreed to speak with Clarion Project Dialogue Coordinator Elliot Friedland about Average Mohamed and how popular culture can be used to defeat extremism.
Clarion Project: Why did you start making cartoons to challenge Islamism?
Mohamed Ahmed: Fed up with a coherent counter narrative to talk plainly to Muslims, especially kids. The extremists are having their conversation with our youth. No parent talks to their kids about extremism because no parent believes their child can become one.
Average Mohamed is about bridging that gap, getting that conversation by guiding it.
Clarion: What do you think resonates about your message where government efforts have failed?
Ahmed: Simplicity, no put ups or airs. Just average folks talking. We quote our scriptures, something we never want our government to do, since there's a separation of state and mosque. Average mohamed speaks plainly with easy to understand easy to get, use and even easier to disseminate talking points.
Our government is doing a lot of things right but in fighting extremism they need to incorporate more every day people.
That is exactly what Average Mohamed does.
Clarion: You've spoken about the importance of being comfortable with multiple identities. Why do you think identity is so important in countering extremism?
Ahmed: In past recruitments they extremists ask? Are you an American or a Muslim? As if the two are incompatible.
The extremists use identity as a recruitment tool. The more they can get an individual to deny their identities the easier to mold them into a puritanical nut who is at war with their other identities.
In our democracy we accept an individual can have multiple identities as a treasure trove of our diversity. One identity supplements the next and they are transition-able.
It is important we pass on this knowledge of one being comfortable in their identities. That it is normal and part of life.
Clarion: Can you describe some of the counter-radicalization work you do with your local community for our readers?
Ahmed: We have been hard at work. We have reached over 5,000 kids in face to face messaging in outreach.
We go to schools, mosques and Madrassa ( Islamic schooling). We do events where we host kids and have conversations. We go to events like the Somali Independence Festival where we distributed 3,000 pamphlets to kids directly on solely the issue of extremism.
Those pamphlets were paid for by high school kids who raised money by doing a Hena event. We distributed over 5,00 bottles of water donated by Halal Stores.
So we are a grass roots based organization. Yet we have over 250,000 views on our messages on social media. The viewership is global.
Clarion: What's the biggest thing you think people who are fighting extremism get wrong?
Ahmed: Taking the average Muslim for granted. Looking at the average Muslim as a problem and not an asset waiting to do their part. Given a choice overwhelming majority of Muslims value democracy, peace and anti-extremism. Three principles that average mohamed is taking on to pass on to our youths age 8-16 year old.
We are here ready to do our part for we are no longer bystanders. The question is are they, are those fighting extremism willing to give us space, time and access to resources to do this work?
Time will tell. We are not waiting anymore. We are engaging our youth.