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Inside the mind of a former radical jihadist | Manwar Ali | TEDxExeter

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    Today I stand before you
    as a man who lives life to the full
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    in the here and now.
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    But for a long time,
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    I lived for death.
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    I was a young man who believed
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    that jihad is to be understood
    in the language of force and violence.
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    I tried to right wrongs
    through power and aggression.
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    I had deep concerns
    for the suffering of others
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    and a strong desire
    to help and bring relief to them.
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    I thought violent jihad was noble,
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    chivalrous
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    and the best way to help.
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    At a time when so many of our people --
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    young people especially --
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    are at risk of radicalization
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    through groups like al-Qaeda,
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    Islamic State and others,
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    when these groups are claiming
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    that their horrific brutality
    and violence are true jihad,
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    I want to say that their idea
    of jihad is wrong --
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    completely wrong --
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    as was mine, then.
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    Jihad means to strive to one's utmost.
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    It includes exertion and spirituality,
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    self-purification
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    and devotion.
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    It refers to positive transformation
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    through learning, wisdom
    and remembrance of God.
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    The word jihad stands
    for all those meanings as a whole.
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    Jihad may at times
    take the form of fighting,
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    but only sometimes,
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    under strict conditions,
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    within rules and limits.
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    In Islam,
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    the benefit of an act must outweigh
    the harm or hardship it entails.
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    More importantly,
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    the verses in the Koran
    that are connected to jihad or fighting
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    do not cancel out the verses
    that talk about forgiveness,
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    benevolence
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    or patience.
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    But now I believe that there are
    no circumstances on earth
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    where violent jihad is permissible,
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    because it will lead to greater harm.
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    But now the idea of jihad
    has been hijacked.
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    It has been perverted
    to mean violent struggle
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    wherever Muslims
    are undergoing difficulties,
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    and turned into terrorism
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    by fascistic Islamists like al-Qaeda,
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    Islamic State and others.
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    But I have come to understand
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    that true jihad
    means striving to the utmost
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    to strengthen and live
    those qualities which God loves:
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    honesty, trustworthiness,
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    compassion, benevolence,
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    reliability, respect,
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    truthfulness --
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    human values that so many of us share.
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    I was born in Bangladesh,
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    but grew up mostly in England.
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    And I went to school here.
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    My father was an academic,
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    and we were in the UK through his work.
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    In 1971 we were in Bangladesh
    when everything changed.
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    The War of Independence
    impacted upon us terribly,
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    pitting family against family,
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    neighbor against neighbor.
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    And at the age of 12 I experienced war,
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    destitution in my family,
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    the deaths of 22
    of my relatives in horrible ways,
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    as well as the murder of my elder brother.
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    I witnessed killing ...
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    animals feeding on corpses in the streets,
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    starvation all around me,
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    wanton, horrific violence --
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    senseless violence.
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    I was a young man,
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    teenager, fascinated by ideas.
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    I wanted to learn,
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    but I could not go to school
    for four years.
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    After the War of Independence,
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    my father was put in prison
    for two and a half years,
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    and I used to visit him
    every week in prison,
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    and homeschooled myself.
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    My father was released in 1973
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    and he fled to England as a refugee,
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    and we soon followed him.
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    I was 17.
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    So these experiences gave me
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    a sharp awareness of the atrocities
    and injustices in the world.
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    And I had a strong desire --
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    a very keen, deep desire --
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    to right wrongs
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    and help the victims of oppression.
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    While studying at college in the UK,
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    I met others who showed me
    how I could channel that desire
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    and help through my religion.
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    And I was radicalized --
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    enough to consider violence correct,
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    even a virtue under certain circumstances.
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    So I became involved
    in the jihad in Afghanistan.
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    I wanted to protect the Muslim Afghan
    population against the Soviet army.
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    And I thought that was jihad:
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    my sacred duty,
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    which would be rewarded by God.
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    I became a preacher.
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    I was one of the pioneers
    of violent jihad in the UK.
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    I recruited,
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    I raised funds, I trained.
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    I confused true jihad
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    with this perversion
    as presented by the fascist Islamists --
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    these people who use the idea of jihad
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    to justify their lust for power,
    authority and control on earth:
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    a perversion perpetuated today
    by fascist Islamist groups
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    like al-Qaeda, Islamic State and others.
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    For a period of around 15 years,
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    I fought for short periods of time
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    in Kashmir and Burma,
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    besides Afghanistan.
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    Our aim was to remove the invaders,
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    to bring relief to the oppressed victims
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    and of course to establish
    an Islamic state,
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    a caliphate for God's rule.
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    And I did this openly.
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    I didn't break any laws.
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    I was proud and grateful to be British --
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    I still am.
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    And I bore no hostility
    against this, my country,
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    nor enmity towards
    the non-Muslim citizens,
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    and I still don't.
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    During one battle in Afghanistan,
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    some British men and I
    formed a special bond
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    with a 15-year-old Afghani boy,
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    Abdullah,
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    an innocent, loving and lovable kid
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    who was always eager to please.
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    He was poor.
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    And boys like him
    did menial tasks in the camp.
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    And he seemed happy enough,
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    but I couldn't help wonder --
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    his parents must have missed him dearly.
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    And they must have dreamt
    about a better future for him.
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    A victim of circumstance
    caught up in a war,
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    cruelly thrust upon him
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    by the cruel circumstances of the time.
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    One day I picked up this unexploded
    mortar shell in a trench,
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    and I had it deposited
    in a makeshift mud hut lab.
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    And I went out on a short,
    pointless skirmish --
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    always pointless,
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    And I came back a few hours later
    to discover he was dead.
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    He had tried to recover
    explosives from that shell.
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    It exploded, and he died a violent death,
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    blown to bits by the very same device
    that had proved harmless to me.
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    So I started to question.
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    How did his death serve any purpose?
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    Why did he die and I lived?
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    I carried on.
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    I fought in Kashmir.
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    I also recruited for the Philippines,
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    Bosnia and Chechnya.
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    And the questions grew.
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    Later in Burma,
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    I came across Rohingya fighters,
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    who were barely teenagers,
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    born and brought up in the jungle,
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    carrying machine guns
    and grenade launchers.
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    I met two 13-year-olds
    with soft manners and gentle voices.
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    Looking at me,
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    they begged me
    to take them away to England.
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    They simply wanted to go to school --
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    that was their dream.
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    My family --
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    my children of the same age --
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    were living at home in the UK,
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    going to school,
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    living a safe life.
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    And I couldn't help wonder
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    how much these young boys
    must have spoken to one another
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    about their dreams for such a life.
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    Victims of circumstances:
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    these two young boys,
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    sleeping rough on the ground,
    looking up at the stars,
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    cynically exploited by their leaders
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    for their personal lust
    for glory and power.
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    I soon witnessed boys like them
    killing one another
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    in conflicts between rival groups.
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    And it was the same everywhere ...
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    Afghanistan, Kashmir, Burma,
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    Philippines, Chechnya;
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    petty warlords got the young
    and vulnerable to kill one another
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    in the name of jihad.
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    Muslims against Muslims.
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    Not protecting anyone
    against invaders or occupiers;
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    not bringing relief to the oppressed.
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    Children being used,
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    cynically exploited;
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    people dying in conflicts
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    which I was supporting
    in the name of jihad.
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    And it still carries on today.
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    Realizing that the violent jihad
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    I had engaged in abroad
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    was so different --
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    such a chasm between
    what I had experienced
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    and what I thought was sacred duty --
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    I had to reflect
    on my activities here in the UK.
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    I had to consider my preaching,
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    recruiting, fund-raising,
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    training,
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    but most importantly, radicalizing --
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    sending young people to fight and die
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    as I was doing --
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    all totally wrong.
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    So I got involved
    in violent jihad in the mid '80s,
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    starting with Afghanistan.
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    And by the time I finished
    it was in the year 2000.
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    I was completely immersed in it.
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    All around me people supported,
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    applauded,
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    even celebrated what
    we were doing in their name.
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    But by the time I learned to get out,
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    completely disillusioned in the year 2000,
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    15 years had passed.
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    So what goes wrong?
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    We were so busy talking about virtue,
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    and we were blinded by a cause.
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    And we did not give ourselves a chance
    to develop a virtuous character.
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    We told ourselves
    we were fighting for the oppressed,
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    but these were unwinnable wars.
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    We became the very instrument
    through which more deaths occurred,
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    complicit in causing further misery
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    for the selfish benefit of the cruel few.
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    So over time,
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    a very long time,
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    I opened my eyes.
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    I began to dare
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    to face the truth,
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    to think,
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    to face the hard questions.
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    I got in touch with my soul.
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    What have I learned?
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    That people who engage
    in violent jihadism,
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    that people who are drawn
    to these types of extremisms,
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    are not that different to everyone else.
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    But I believe such people can change.
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    They can regain their hearts
    and restore them
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    by filling them
    with human values that heal.
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    When we ignore the realities,
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    we discover that we accept what
    we are told without critical reflection.
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    And we ignore the gifts and advantages
    that many of us would cherish
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    even for a single moment in their lives.
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    I engaged in actions
    I thought were correct.
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    But now I began to question
    how I knew what I knew.
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    I endlessly told others
    to accept the truth,
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    but I failed to give doubt
    its rightful place.
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    This conviction that people can change
    is rooted in my experience,
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    my own journey.
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    Through wide reading,
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    reflecting,
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    contemplation, self-knowledge,
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    I discovered,
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    I realized that Islamists' world
    of us and them is false and unjust.
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    Through considering the uncertainties
    in all that we had asserted,
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    to the inviolable truths,
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    incontestable truths,
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    I developed a more nuanced understanding.
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    I realized that in a world crowded
    with variation and contradiction,
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    foolish preachers,
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    only foolish preachers
    like I used to be,
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    see no paradox in the myths and fictions
    they use to assert authenticity.
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    So I understood the vital
    importance of self-knowledge,
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    political awareness
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    and the necessity
    for a deep and wide understanding
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    of our commitments and our actions,
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    how they affect others.
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    So my plea today to everyone,
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    especially those who sincerely
    believe in Islamist jihadism ...
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    refuse dogmatic authority;
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    let go of anger, hatred and violence;
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    learn to right wrongs
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    without even attempting to justify
    cruel, unjust and futile behavior.
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    Instead create a few
    beautiful and useful things
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    that outlive us.
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    Approach the world, life,
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    with love.
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    Learn to develop
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    or cultivate your hearts
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    to see goodness, beauty and truth
    in others and in the world.
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    That way we do matter
    more to ourselves ...
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    to each other,
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    to our communities
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    and, for me, to God.
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    This is jihad --
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    my true jihad.
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    Thank you.
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    (Applause)
Title:
Inside the mind of a former radical jihadist | Manwar Ali | TEDxExeter
Description:

"For a long time, I lived for death," says Manwar Ali, a former radical jihadist who participated in violent, armed campaigns in the Middle East and Asia in the 1980s. In this moving talk, he reflects on his experience with radicalization and makes a powerful, direct appeal to anyone drawn to Islamist groups claiming that violence and brutality are noble and virtuous: let go of anger and hatred, he says, and instead cultivate your heart to see goodness, beauty and truth in others.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDxTalks
Duration:
17:04

English subtitles

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