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Reading about the Canadian shooter, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, and his arrest for robbery and repeat drug arrests (http://bit.ly/1FFzlxc) reminds one of the Tsarnaev brothers’ lifestyle (http://bit.ly/1sawemq) and also the 9/11 hijackers’ porn/alcohol binge right before the terrorist attacks (http://bit.ly/10pVsYG). It’s not religion that drove these people over the edge; first came alienation, nihilism, and desperation. Add drugs to the mix, and it becomes easy to fall for the seductiveness of an extremist version of Islam.
Will efforts such as these reach the next Michael Zehauf-Bibeau before he or she goes over the edge? We can’t be sure. But we know that building Islamic literacy is the best defense we have against the horrifying aberrations of extremism. ING and similar organizations cannot, by ourselves, keep youth from alienation and despair. But we can and do act to counter the ignorance of genuine Islam that makes individuals susceptible to the blandishments of extremists.
The education we provide about Islam is important not only for the community at large but for American Muslims themselves, who often have only a tenuous grasp of the true riches of their faith. It is because of this that ING has launched INGYouth, providing American Muslim youth with a solid foundation in their religion and a sense of community in their faith and culture. INGYouth workshops are scheduled over the next three months in various locations around the San Francisco Bay area and in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Orlando, Florida. And through our regular presentations, we put violence inspired by extremist distortions of Islam in context, contrasting it with the kindness called forth by authentic faith.