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April 7, 2015

Somali filmmaker counters terrorist propaganda with cartoons

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A Minnesota filmmaker is countering propaganda from terrorist groups with a series of videos aimed at young Somali Muslims who could be targets for recruitment.

Mohamed Amin Ahmed has created eight videos and the website AverageMohamed.com to challenge extremist videos that glorify violence.

“My goal is to compete, to take the values of the majority of the Muslims and go after the kids between the age of 8 and 16 and compete for their mind-space,” he said.

At least 30,000 Somalis live in Minnesota, the largest Somali community in the U.S. Up to 40 young men from Minnesota have recently traveled to Somalia and Syria, where militant groups al-Shabab and the Islamic State are based.

Ahmed said he is offended that these groups claim his faith and aims to show Islam in a different light.

Ahmed screens the videos for local students, who say they face daily prejudice because of their Somali heritage and faith. Some students report that they have been called “terrorists” for wearing traditional clothing.

It is important for young Somali men to feel connected to the larger community and to see different portrayals of Islam than those by militant groups, explained Abdi Samatar, a professor at the University of Minnesota.

Ahmed said he has received a largely positive response from the public. He hopes to produce more cartoons and videos in Arabic and Urdu for non-English speakers.


Warm up questions
  1. What is propaganda?
  2. How are cartoons used to communicate political or social messages?
  3. How do militant groups find new members?
Critical thinking questions
  1. Why would young people in the Somali community in Minnesota feel disconnected from the surrounding culture?
  2. What are some potential effects of feeling isolated from your community? How could terrorist groups take advantage of this feeling? How could local communities work to counter harmful messaging?
  3. How do you think Ahmed’s videos will or won’t make a difference?
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