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Website launched to fight extremism through cartoons

Storyline:National News

ST. PAUL Minnesota: 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 convenience store manager from Minneapolis has launched 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 Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) name.

Ahmed is operating out of an urban area that has been a target of terror recruiters. Minnesota is home to the largest Somali population in the US. Since 2007 an estimated 20 to 25 young Minnesotans have traveled to Somalia to take up arms with Al-Shabab. 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 4000 to make. His website features seven cartoons in English Somali and Swahili that have drawn more than 11800 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 Qur’an and the sayings of Muhammad (pbuh) counter the core message of extremists that 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.

‘One thing I know is that an 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.’

Source: Arab News