You are hereThe Star: Ex-skinhead, former Islamic radical open summit against extremism

The Star: Ex-skinhead, former Islamic radical open summit against extremism

-By Michelle Shephard

June 28, 2011- DUBLIN—There was a time when Maajid Nawaz and T.J. Leyden would have never been in the same room, let alone share a stage and handshake.

Nawaz was a British leader of the Hizb ul-Tahrir, a radical Islamic organization that recently made headlines for its alleged infiltration of Pakistan’s army.

Leyden was an American neo-Nazi skinhead by the time he was 14 and member of a racist transnational gang.

Together, they kicked off an unusual conference Monday morning — the Google-sponsored “Summit Against Violent Extremism” — which aims to uncover the roots of radicalization.

Among the 250 guests in the eclectic crowd were former extremists, victims of terrorist attacks, academics, analysts and intelligence specialists.

Aicha el-Wafi, the mother of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called “20th hijacker” sat at a table near Carie Lemack, whose mother died on American Airlines Flight 11 when it crashed into New York’s World Trade Center.

A former member of the Indonesian-based Darul Islam described how he reformed his ways to become a restaurateur.

“I transferred from fighting with an AK-47 to frying crispy duck,” Noor Huda Ismail said in an interview, laughing.

Most panelists said there was no one event, or epiphany, which made them abandon their violent extremist groups, or join in the first place.

And they agreed that it is the early process of recruitment, when potential members are young and looking for acceptance, that should be the focus on figuring out how to steer the next generation away from criminal or terrorist organizations.

“Too often we don’t focus on that youth aspect. It’s because we’re used to seeing violent extremism broken up into different silos — this is a gang issue, this is religious extremist issue, this is a violent nationalist issue, this is a violent right wing extremist issue,” said Jared Cohen, the 29-year-old founder of Google Ideas, a new “think tank / do tank” and main organizer of the summit.

Cohen had worked with the U.S. State Department under the Bush and Obama administrations on issues of radicalization and urged the group to view the threat of extremism “holistically.”



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