Above Image: A crowd of Black Muslims applaud during Elijah Muhammad’s annual Saviors’ Day message in Chicago in 1974.
In respond to my recently posting a story on Facebook about an ISIS supporter in Phoenix (apparently an African-American male who had converted to Islam) who was searching for a midnight mass he could attack over Christmas, a friend asked me the following question.
“Is there a concern that black Americans, who feel marginalized in society, will be a segment of the population ISIS may try to manipulate and recruit? The Nation of Islam is still very active in the US, estimates of around 20,000 or more followers. And while I can distinguish between the Nation and ISIS, I am concerned that in our current political and social climate more African American males will be led to believe they are not valued in Western society. We have the case you have posted here, I think there was a potential plot in Miami a few months ago. I just worry if we do not address the appeal of ISIS to a disenfranchised group of vulnerable Americans, we may see more and more cases of this.”
There are many issues to consider here and I admit plainly that I am no expert on the Nation of Islam, how it indoctrinates its adherents, and the impact of black militancy or black nationalism ideology in the production of terrorists. As a result, let me address some of these points in more general terms and then tentatively theorize a bit about the details.
When I was a kid growing up in St. Augustine, I took karate lessons from the great Taekwondo Instructor Ken Durling. Even then, more than thirty years ago, the always kind and soft-spoken Mr. Durling was something of a local legend. I vaguely recall one day before class, sitting huddled with other elementary or middle school aged kids, one of the older kids telling us with great sincerity and enthusiasm of how Mr. Durling had once killed an opponent by punching through his chest, snatching his heart, and showing it to the man before he died. Needless to say, at a young age when I was more willing to entertain stories like that, I was likely a bit quicker in snapping to attention that day and promptly obeying all of Mr. Durling’s commands during class.
I have no idea where this particular myth originated. For all I know, the “showing your opponent his heart before he dies” myth probably began with Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris and then found its way to local heroes or legends like Mr. During, to be endlessly repeated by young students and fans who lionize their indestructible martial arts instructors. The myth itself might be silly, but not the respect that young students have for such instructors. Martial arts instructors are often extraordinarily important role models for kids, who look to them for guidance not only in dealing with a bully, or any sort of dangerous situation, but also more generally in terms of character and discipline.
While focusing on terrorism and the rise of the “Islamic State” over the last 18 months, I have spent a lot of time talking with a variety of interesting people with unique perspectives on the issue, including academic, military, and law enforcement experts. Yet one of the more interesting people I have come across is Evans Gumbe, who is particularly noteworthy for his life experiences.
Evans is a budding scholar, fluent in English, German, Luo, Abagusii, and Kiswahili. He also has a basic knowledge of Spanish and French and his goal is to become a history professor. To this end, he has completed a M.A. in history from Egerton University in Kenya (2011) and then completed a second master’s degree in Leadership and Management (2014) at York St John University in England, where he also worked as a Researcher and teaching assistant. His research to this point focuses on ethnicity and sex and its role in the peace making process in Kenya. His most recent publication, reflecting these interests, is “The Role of Women in Inter ethnic Peace Building in South Nyanza, Kenya, 1850-2008,” in The International Journal of Humanities and Social Studies (2015). While at York, Evans met his German wife Johanna and in 2015 they moved to her home country where he is now enrolled as a Ph.D. student in history at Bielefeld University, Germany. By all appearances he will have a great career as an academic, but it is what he has lived through up to this point that provides his greatest insights. Continue reading →
Regardless of the debate over the broader merits of the plan, when I first heard about the controversial recent deal by the U.S. and other countries with Iran, lifting sanctions on Iran in exchange for a suspension of their nuclear efforts, I immediately thought of how ISIS (e.g. “Islamic State”) might factor into this.