(Associated Press) — In the war for young people’s hearts and minds, Mohamed Ahmed hopes to use cartoons to dissuade a generation raised on “The Simpsons” and “South Park” from taking up arms for the Islamic State group and other extremist causes.
Ahmed, a Somali-American convenience store manager from Minneapolis, has launched AverageMohamed.com, a website offering homemade videos aimed at countering the messages and images terrorists use to lure disaffected youths.
“I don’t want my children fighting this war. Let’s end this in my generation,” said Ahmed, a married father of four young children.
Sitting in his sparsely furnished recording studio, Ahmed, 39, said he started his videos out of frustration.
“I’ve decided to take on one value at a time, one item at a time, to shoot down extremist ideology and philosophy,” he said. He took the moniker “Average Mohamed” because of the worldwide popularity among Muslims of the Prophet Mohammed’s name.
Ahmed is operating out of an urban area that has been a target of Islamic terror recruiters. Minnesota is home to the largest Muslim Somali population in the US. Since 2007, an estimated 20 to 25 young Muslim Minnesotans have traveled to Somalia to take up arms with al-Shabab, a terrorist group linked to al-Qaida. Authorities say a handful of Minnesota residents have traveled to Syria to fight with militants within the last year.
Ahmed, who shows his videos at community centers or mosques, uses bright, simple cartoons aimed at kids ages 8 to 16. “Easy to use, easy to understand, easy to tell others,” he said.
Ahmed records voiceovers with the help of an engineer and has a friend in Southeast Asia create the animation. Each video costs up to $4,000 to make. His website features seven cartoons — in English, Somali and Swahili — that have drawn more than 11,800 views in the last six months and also can be found on YouTube. Ahmed said he hopes to get funding from a government agency to allow him to produce many more videos in the next two years. He’d also like to hire a social media expert to spread the messages rather than relying on word of mouth.
In response to “Flames of War” — a slickly produced, 55-minute extremist propaganda video featuring images of exploding tanks and wounded US soldiers — Ahmed released a minute-long video, “Flames of Hell,” showing a cartoon masked gunman shooting bound captives in the desert.
“How many innocent children, women and men has Islamic State killed just today? Do you want to save mankind or kill mankind? That is your choice,” the voice of Average Mohamed intones between gunshots.
Omar Jamal, a local Somali community activist, said he thinks the Average Mohamed videos, which incorporate citations from the Quran and the sayings of Mohammed, counter the core message of extremists that Allah (god) is on their side against infidels. He said a recent presentation of Average Mohamed videos at a community center in Minneapolis triggered an “amazing” discussion among young people who need to hear the anti-terrorism message.
“It’s another resource that we need, that we can say, ‘OK, why don’t you watch this video, instead of watching videos that are misleading you?'” said Abdirahman Mukhtar, a youth coordinator at Brian Coyle Community Center in Minneapolis.
Ahmed wants to make creating anti-terrorism videos his life’s work.
“One thing I know is that an [Islamic] extremist is not made. They are not born that way. Somebody trained them to become an extremist,” he said. “And somebody has to train people to become non-extremists. And that is my job. That is officially my job now.”
From an Associated Press report published at YNet News on Jan. 9. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from the AP.
1. Who is Mohamed Ahmed?
2. What is AverageMohamed .com – what is the aim of the website?
3. Why did Mr. Ahmed launch this website?
4. How is Mr. Ahmed countering the terrorist ideology of ISIS and other Islamist terrorist groups?
5. Why does he think his videos are effective?
6. Mr. Ahmed shows his videos at community centers and mosques and wants to make creating anti-terrorism videos his life’s work. He said: “One thing I know is that an [Islamic] extremist is not made. They are not born that way. Somebody trained them to become an extremist,” he said. “And somebody has to train people to become non-extremists. And that is my job. That is officially my job now.”
What was your initial reaction to Ahmed Mohamed’s idea for countering terrorist recruiting videos? (surprise, disbelief, skepticism…) Explain your answer.
7. Watch the video under “Resources” and/or visit the website to watch the others.
a) How effective do you think Mr. Mohamed’s efforts will be?
b) USA Today reported that Mr. Ahmed has thus far used his own money to create the videos, that “Ahmed has already poured thousands of dollars of his own money over the last six months into producing a series of animated cartoon messages to rebut the extremist group’s messaging.” Each video costs up to $4,000 to make. He he hopes to get funding from a government agency to allow him to produce many more videos in the next two years. He’d also like to hire a social media expert to spread the messages rather than relying on word of mouth.
Do you think the government should fund Mr. Ahmed’s project? Explain your answer.
Daily “Answers” emails are provided for Daily News Articles, Tuesday’s World Events and Friday’s News Quiz.