Understanding The Lure For Radical Muslim Youth Recruits What fuels Islamic extremism? Many point to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro talks with Yasir Qadhi of Rhodes College about how to discourage Americans from joining ISIS.

Understanding The Lure For Radical Muslim Youth Recruits

Understanding The Lure For Radical Muslim Youth Recruits

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What fuels Islamic extremism? Many point to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro talks with Yasir Qadhi of Rhodes College about how to discourage Americans from joining ISIS.


One of the Islamic State's achievements is luring young recruits from the West. But how to deter young Muslims with radical sympathies from making that choice? Yasir Qadhi, an Islamic scholar at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., believes we need to address this anger head on, and he joins me now. Thanks for being with us.

YASIR QADHI: Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you've had conversations with young Muslims who've contemplated joining ISIS. What are those conversations like?

QADHI: Well, in order to contextualize - in order to understand - one really needs to take a step backwards. From their perspective, they view the insurgents, the people like ISIS and whatnot, as a type of freedom fighters defending the rights of those who are oppressed. And if, in that defense, they have to sometimes go beyond what is reasonable, that is excusable in light of what's happened to them.

So the main point of contention revolves around political grievances that they feel America in particular has inflicted on the Muslim world and the fact that nobody else seems to be even acknowledging those grievances, much less actively working to change them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what do you tell them when they say that they're angry at U.S. policies in the Middle East?

QADHI: Well, I tell them that these policies can be changed from within the system, that these policies are a direct result of many other factors and that not to be so simplistic as to buy into the narrative that these are religious wars. I believe that these wars are more economic-based. They're more power-based. They're more a war of resources than they are of etiologies and theologies. The fact of the matter is it has a lot more to do with oil than it has to do with God.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've said that Muslim leaders have to do more to counter extremism. They have to be involved in the political debate. How did you come to that?

QADHI: The fact of the matter is when we're not going to respond to accusations of unethical foreign policy, to effects of drones, to sanctions, to the war on terror, when we're not going to talk about the impact that these foreign policies have on thousands and hundreds of thousands of people, the only people that are actually talking about the impact are the radicals. So American Muslim leaders by and large - and I was one of them - are actually extremely apolitical. They've actually shunned criticism of American foreign policy because there is a stigma attached to criticizing American foreign policy.

And that stigma is you're somehow supporting the terrorists and radicals. And nothing could be further from the truth. By criticizing specific aspects of foreign policy, we want to make America more moral, more upright, more just. We love this country, and we want it to be on the right track. That doesn't mean we're supportive of the terrorists.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But I think the question - the broader question here is if you are telling people to vent their anger, if you are talking about these issues and if there is a place for them to go to do this - I mean, how do you know that you're not actually encouraging young Muslims to go out into the world and commit acts that you say you don't want them to have - that you don't want them to commit?

QADHI: So (laughter) you're saying that expressing criticism will automatically lead to killing people? In that case, we should all be quiet about anything that we have any problem with.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: No, I'm not saying that. I'm asking the question. I'm not...

QADHI: No, so of course that's not the point. The point is to allow them to express their anger, to vent it out and then to cause a change through public policy, through education. You see, from the perspective of this young man, he thinks he's going to go defend innocence by going over to the other side. And he's going to justify any brutality that they do because our brutality is much worse.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mr. Qadhi, what you're saying is simply by having a Muslim leader, like yourself, say these things, will help channel some of this anger away from radicalization?

QADHI: I don't have a simple and easy solution. What I am saying, definitely one of the primary barriers that will act as a prevention for radicals that are thinking of going over to the other side is you give them opportunity here, to show them, you know what, you can be useful over here.

You're angry? Become politically motivated or become a journalist. Go into media. Start spreading awareness. Talk about what's happening in an academic manner, not in an emotional, angry, raw manner that's just going to cause more harm and more terrorism.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yasir Qadhi is a professor of Islamic studies at Rhodes College. Thank you so very much for being with us.

QADHI: Thank you for having me. It was my pleasure.

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