One of the fascinating Twin Cities community members featured in City Pages' People 2015 issue. Check out our entire People 2015 issue.
Mohamed Ahmed can get up in the morning, ask for a cup of coffee at the corner store in Somali, go to the clinic and speak to Somali doctors, and hail a cab and chat with a Somali cab driver. Bottom line, he says: There's a little piece of Africa in Cedar Riverside, made better because the cold tends to retain only those willing to work hard to lay down new roots.
It's that pride in the immigrant work ethic that makes Ahmed take the threat of jihadist recruitment all the more personally.
In December, 20-year-old Yusra Ismail was charged with stealing a friend's passport to travel to Syria. A month before that, FBI agents stopped 18-year-old Abdullah Yusuf from boarding a flight to Turkey and charged Abdi Nur, 20, with conspiring to join ISIS.
At home in Shingle Creek while one of his four young children sits beside him snacking on cheesy bread sticks and another crawls underfoot, Ahmed describes the flow of young Somali Americans running away to the Middle East as an ideological war between extremists abroad and Twin Cities parents over the lives of the young.
ISIS employs hundreds of extremists whose sole job is video production and social media, the kind of marketing department that could put K-Mart to shame. Google "suicide bombing" on YouTube and there are sophisticated videos trying to tap into a victim ideology proclaiming: Islam is under attack, rise up and defend it. Ahmed is racing to compete with his own set of anti-extremism videos.
His website, Average Mohamed, hosts a series of short cartoons warning young Muslims that jihadist ideology is false, the promises are false, and there's no glory at the end of the day on ISIS's side. One video breaks down the Islamic State's "genocidal" job description; another commits Boko Haram to eternal hellfire. The videos are chock full of references to the Quran, the idea being that by their teens, all kids should be able to cite dozens of scriptural reasons to turn down a recruiter.
"How do you recognize your child is becoming a terrorist? Usually too late, because this is done covertly and they keep a secret life," Ahmed says. "We're fighting the process at inception, when the ideology is the weakest, when they see their first suicide bombing video and they say that's cool. If they see another video telling them they'll go to hell for that, they'll say, 'Oh, guess it's not that cool.'"
The profile of an ISIS runaway is so broad it's hard to draw any conclusions: They're kids from educated, wealthy families, kids from broken homes, gangbangers who found religion, and confused fundamentalists. The grim threat of an omnipresent enemy keeps Ahmed churning out Average Mohamed videos at a time when other cartoonists in France have just been famously slaughtered at work.
"I don't care what religion it is, you can't blaspheme against it. It is the equivalency of wearing a swastika and doing a neo-Nazi salute in Tel Aviv, and it's offensive," Ahmed says. "But in the end, it is freedom of speech and we stand with that right for you to blaspheme us."
He points to Muslim cop Ahmed Merabet, who was executed defending Charlie Hebdo. "That is the Islamic way. That gives me hope."