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What drives Muslim youths to radicalization in Kenya?

UREPORT
By suleiman hassan | January 30th 2017
There is no contradiction between being Muslim and being a Christian, Hindu, or even a pagan. My religion is as much as part of my identity as being a Somali, a proud Kenyan son.

Faith aside, I probably have more in common with a Kenyan in Kenya than with a Somali in Somalia. To me and other Somali Muslims like me, our identity is clear in Kenya's soil.

But for many younger people, an identity crisis isn’t uncommon, regardless of their religion. Some teenagers react by rebelling; others, more extreme, will turn to crime and gangs.

Many second- and third-generation Muslim children may be raised believing that their heritage is of one or both of their parents.

Sometimes when these children visit their villages of their parents, they find they are teased because they don’t fit in society.

That yearning for a clear identity can leave them facing a personal crisis, vulnerable to radical exploitation in person or online. In the simplest sense, Islam teaches us that our lives are a struggle, or jihad, to live a good life and refrain from bad deeds.

At the end of our lives, we will be judged on whether the good deeds outweigh the bad. Those who seek to radicalize scare these young people by saying they can’t win that struggle while living in “decadent” modern Western culture.

 The radicalizers’ anger the youths by showing them propaganda and images of Muslims being killed by Western forces in Middle Eastern conflicts. Then they convince them that there is a shortcut to paradise by taking revenge in the name of God.

We know this is nonsense. But a scared and mistaken identity of Kenyan son to terrorists by Kenyan security organs in dilemma crisis may not be so sure.

Tackling radicalization requires a great deal of work at the local level. More mosques can give sermons in the local language, giving younger people the confidence to live as Muslims in a modern Western society and respond with tolerance to anyone who may offend them.

Islam isn’t a hierarchical religion. The relationship that matters is between the individual and God. Mosques and imams guide us on the texts so that we can interpret them in a modern age.

 They shouldn’t be afraid to teach us that the world has changed and our interpretation of Islam must fit into today’s world and not a world long past.

Most important, parents shouldn’t be afraid to show their children that identity is a complex issue and encourage them to mix with people of all backgrounds.

The threat is not only from well-organized networks, but also from loners radicalized online. We can take action against propaganda that incites violence, but tackling the problem at its root involves sending kids out to mix with other kids of all religions and none.

If we seek to segregate ourselves from each other, the identity crisis will only become more acute.

Our religious leaders must also be vigilant. The imam at my local mosque in Garissa, recently preached that if a cartoon offends us, our response should be to say “peace”.

There will always be unscrupulous people who prey on the vulnerable. Those who do so must feel the full force of our laws.

Yet the root of radicalization isn’t Islam. It’s an extreme, violent interpretation that provides lost young men with the security of an identity but results in a security risk for our society.
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