The British Muslim group that was praised by US President Barack Obama at the United Nations is headed by an ex-jihadist who wants to prevent impressionable young minds from swaying towards radicalism through whatever means possible.
In his speech at the United Nations, Obama highlighted the Active Change Foundation's popular #notinmyname social media campaign which includes a video of young Muslims speaking out against the Islamic State group.
Advertisement"Look at the young British Muslims who responded to terrorist propaganda by starting the Not in My Name campaign declaring: 'ISIL is hiding behind a false Islam,'" Obama said Wednesday in comments seeking to highlight growing opposition to Islamic State (IS) jihadists from within the Muslim community.
The foundation's director Hanif Qadir told AFP in an interview that he himself was once won over by extremist ideology -- like the estimated 500 British jihadists believed to be fighting in IS group ranks in Iraq and Syria.
"I was involved with violent extremist groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Taliban in 2001 and 2002 and I travelled to go to Afghanistan in 2002 -- a similar situation we face now with our young men," he said.
"I have a full understanding of what it feels like, what the drivers are, but I have also an understanding of what the realities are when you arrive on the ground," said Qadir, who set up his anti-extremism group in 2003.
"The reality is that you are given a different picture when you are here and when you arrive there... What I saw there is the people I wanted to help were actually part of the problem," he said, referring to Afghanistan.
"I wanted to help remove the suffering, not be part of the suffering."
- 'No compassion' -
Active Change's video, which has been watched more than 170,000 times on YouTube, begins with a young woman in a colourful headscarf saying: "ISIS do not represent Islam or any Muslim."
It follows with responses from a variety of young people including one man in a suit and tie saying, "Because what you're doing is inhumane," and another man in a T-shirt saying, "Because they're killing innocent people."
"Because you have no compassion," Qadir himself says.
The video was shot in the association's offices next to a mosque in Walthamstow in northeast London where young people regularly meet up for a game of pool or a heated conversation about Middle East politics.
Trying to convince young Muslims not to go and fight is a daily struggle for Qadir, who during a visit by AFP was meeting with a father whose son had gone to Syria.
Qadir said the man's son had been "brainwashed" and the boy's mother had subsequently left the father "because she now believes that he's not a good enough Muslim".
Qadir said Islamic State fighters had shown themselves to be "barbarians", adding: "The people who are doing this in the name of Islam, they are representing themselves and their own objective."
But he admitted they had been successful at persuading angry young Muslims to join them.
"They are attracting young minds that are angry. They are attracting young Muslim men who want to get involved to kill," he said.
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