Taking On The Appeal Of ISIS, With Cartoons "We need an average guy espousing the values of majority Muslims," says the creator of Average Mohamed, a cartoon that's spreading an anti-ISIS message.
NPR logo

Taking On The Appeal Of ISIS, With Cartoons

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/467501423/467547222" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Taking On The Appeal Of ISIS, With Cartoons

Taking On The Appeal Of ISIS, With Cartoons

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/467501423/467547222" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to now introduce you to one American Muslim man who is on his own personal mission to undermine ISIS. His name is Mohamed Ahmed, and he's a gas station manager in Minneapolis. He is also the creator and voice of a cartoon character he calls Average Mohamed.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "THE BULLET OR THE BALLOT")

MOHAMED AHMED: (As Average Mohamed, rapping) The bullet, the bomb, the knife or the ballot - misery is all they bring. Slavery, they have brought back. Woman's rights, they have destroyed.

MARTIN: ISIS has had a lot of success recruiting young men in the Somali community in Minnesota. So for the past four years, Mohamed Ahmed has been producing these online cartoons to try to counter the ISIS message. Ahmed, who came to the U.S. from Somalia 20 years ago, is betting that plain speaking Average Mohamed can help stem the flow. Mohamed Ahmed joins us now from the studios of Minnesota Public Radio.

Thanks so much for being with us.

AHMED: Thank you for the opportunity.

MARTIN: How'd you come up with this character, Average Mohamed?

AHMED: Well, it's simple. I'm an average guy with four children, a wife, a car note and a mortgage. And what is it that the average people know that basically can help in this process? - because it is average people recruiting each other and becoming extremists. So we felt like it's the same way. We need an average guy espousing the values of majority Muslims. So Average Mohamed was a no-brainer because Mohamed is the most common name in the world.

MARTIN: And what is his message? We heard a little clip there. But is it about giving people something else to live for? Is it just about talking about the negative aspects of life with ISIS? What is he saying?

AHMED: Well, it's counter-ideology. The whole platform is a counter-ideology platform. And the message is about the values - three principles. One is peace. Second one is democracy, and the third one is anti-extremism. So it is a way to talk to the youth without veils, and we try connect with them.

MARTIN: You post these videos on YouTube and your website AverageMohamed.com. What kind of response are you getting?

AHMED: Enormous amount of support across faiths, gender, race.

MARTIN: But how do you know if you're reaching people who are really fragile - who might be vulnerable to the propaganda being put out by ISIS?

AHMED: Well, I've actually accomplished that, where a kid comes up to me and says - like, for example, the concept suicide bombing - they say well, suicide bombers go to heaven. I say no. Go back to your teachings. Who has to be lying? Is it the teachings of the prophet himself who's lying? Or is it the teachings of Islamic State, al-Qaida and whoever these outfits are? And - it - that's bothering them.

These people are curious because I do outreach with the kids. I actually go to schools, mosques, madrasas. And the kids - they're looking at Syria. These are mostly Minnesota Sunni Muslims, and they have a side they support. And they're wondering - how can we do something about that? Well, I tell them - you don't have to pack your bags and go join with ISIS. Well, you can join the U.N. club. You can write to your senator. You can start a food drive. You can - I mean, we give them options. And we say, look - this is within democracy. These are the powers and the choices you have, and we drill down that message. We drill it down by speaking plainly. What world do we want? I want a world without extremism. And I'm willing to work on it. I'm willing to talk about it. I'm willing to put my money on it. So there's a clear and present choice between the voice of democracy and the voice of extremism. And democracy should stand up on its values, and that's what I believe in.

MARTIN: Mohamed Ahamed, he is the voice and creator of the videos around the character Average Mohamed. He's based in Minneapolis.

Thanks so much for talking with us.

AHMED: Pleasure talking to you.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.