Somali refugee uses online persona to fight Islamic extremism

Islamic Extremism

A refugee who has lived in the U.S. for two decades has made it his mission to counter radical Islamic ideology. He calls himself ‘Average Mohamed.’

CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy has his story.

Mohamed Ahmed is a soldier in the war against radical extremism, but not in the way you might think. Several years ago, Ahmed’s 19-year-old niece joined ISIL. He asked her mother if it could have been prevented.

“She said one word, what is social media? She didn’t understand what it meant,” he said. That’s when his life changed, and when “Average Mohamed” began.

He started a nonprofit group based on the premise that ‘average’ guys recruit young people online to join their extremist causes. He figured an ‘average’ guy could also help block those efforts.

“The goal is to go ahead and create values and principles which we believe in and promote them as counter-ideology against the values of ISIS, Al Qaeda or Boko Haram or Al-Shabaab, whatever name they go by,” Ahmed explained

“Average Mohamed” uses short cartoons to spread positive messages about Islam and life to a target audience between 8 and 16 years of age.

Counter-narratives are also shared in discussion groups. Ahmed said he’s reached 50,000 kids in the past four years.

Ahmed has lived in Minnesota for the past 20 years. The state has a large Somali community, and according to one U.S. congressional report, more Minnesotans have joined ISIL than any other state.

Although ISIL may be on the run in Iraq and Syria, Ahmed said extremist groups of all kinds continue to pose a real threat in the U.S. He’s doing battle in the social media space using pictures and words. He’s talked kids out of joining ISIL and wants to reach even more.

“We have to try the dialogue part and that is very important because the message is as important in this war as the bullet, and is as important in this war as the bomb,” Ahmed said.

This immigrant, former gas station manager, now a student and married father of four says a less fanatical, more hopeful vision of the world is what “Average Mohamed” offers.