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August 19, 2012 12:07 pm

‘Rehabilitating’ Jihadis with Cage-Fighting?

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avatar by Raymond Ibrahim

Giving up the fight. Some pictures from the European Vale Tudo / Cage Challenge in Solnahallen, Stockholm, Sweden in 2005. Photo: Stefan Tell.

UK officials have taken wishful thinking to a new level: not only are some of the most violent Islamic terrorists being released onto the streets; but in order to “rehabilitate” them, they are being trained by a former radical Muslim in one of the most violent forms of sports—cage-fighting, which even the Olympics refuses to acknowledge.

CNN’s “Cagefighter ‘cures’ terrorists,” by Nic Robertson and Paul Cruickshank, has the details. While the entire 2,300-word report is worth reading for its eye-opening (or eye-popping) qualities, the following excerpt summarizes:

In the shadow of London’s Olympic stadium, home of the Summer Games, is a hotbed of radical fundamentalism dubbed Londonistan, from where al Qaeda has already recruited for some of its most ambitious plots. In past months, dozens of convicted terrorists have been released in the UK, including onto the same London streets…. At the same time a no-holds barred fight for security is under way. It is unorthodox, but British officials say it is working, producing results which have never been seen before—and at its epicenter is a veteran Muslim cagefighter…. “Unfortunately, we know that some of those prisoners are still committed extremists who are likely to return to their terrorist activities,” Jonathan Evans, the director of British domestic intelligence service MI5, warned two years ago. The task of managing the re-integration into society of these young men has proved beyond the capabilities of most Muslim community groups. But one east Londoner, proud to be both British and Muslim, has felt religiously compelled to take on the fight. Usman Raja, the 34-year-old grandson of a Pakistani immigrant is not tall but he is built like an ox, with a close shaven head, short beard, and otherwise pure muscle….Raja is one of the UK’s most renowned cage-fighting coaches… He is also a man of deep ideas, including harnessing Islamic teaching to defeat the ideology of the terrorists. Three years ago, Raja began taking under his wing some of the most dangerous offenders being released from the highest security wings of the British prison system; men convicted of carrying out terrorism on behalf of al Qaeda in murder, assassinations, bombing, and arson plots. His aim was to rehabilitate them into mainstream society….. Raja tried a novel approach with some of the most challenging freed convicted terrorists; he coached them cage-fighting skills. Raja says it proved a remarkably effective way of breaking them out of their pro al Qaeda mentality and opening up their minds to his counter-extremist message.

Some questions:

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First, where is the proof that training violent jihadis in cage-fighting is a great success, “producing results which have never been seen before”? Indeed, the report later quotes a UK official gushing about how Raja—who “once subscribed to fundamentalist views himself, and says he came close to fighting Jihad in Bosnia in the 1990s”—is “the most successful guy out there doing this sort of work.”

Yet the closer one reads, the more it appears that the only proof for Raja’s success is that the released jihadis he is training have not (yet) been rearrested on terror charges.

Is that really proof that this approach is working? Are all jihadis like trapped animals that, once released, must instantaneously start terrorizing all and sundry? Is it inconceivable that they could still harbor the same jihadi inclinations, yet have learned to be patient, in accordance with jihad’s prescribed tactics (see taqiyya and tawriya), even as they continue sating their bloodlust through cage-fighting?

And exactly how does the specific act of cage-fighting help rehabilitate jihadis? Again, the closer one reads, the less answers one receives. Instead, it’s more of the usual: during their training, Raja “impresses on them [the released jihadis] that true Islam is spiritual, tolerant and humanistic, and not the narrow-minded, divisive message of hate peddled by self-serving radical preachers,” who exploit the fact that, in Raja’s words, “some of them [UK’s Muslims] are very angry.”

In short, this jihadi cage-fighting business is being hailed by CNN simply because it has all the ingredients to validate leftist ideas: 1) “true Islam is spiritual, tolerant, and humanistic”; 2) jihadis are simply “very angry,” presumably at Western foreign policy; 3) this pent up frustration and hostility is nothing that some good old fashioned cage-fighting won’t alleviate (apparently “art therapy” and Play Station were deemed insufficient).

On the other hand, this story can also be interpreted according to Islam’s perspective: 1) jihad is not about instantaneous terrorism but long-term preparations. Even the Muslim Brotherhood—which recently boasted “we will be masters of the world, one of these days“—showcases the word “prepare” in their logo, which comes directly from Koran 8:60, which commands Muslims to “prepare” for jihad “so that you may strike terror into the hearts of Allah’s enemies and your enemies”; 2) according to most Arabic legal manuals on jihad, combat sports—cage-fighting being ideal—are essential for jihadis in training.

Despite all this, now that the Olympics have ended without incident, no doubt those myopic UK officials who think only in the short-term and according to their leftist paradigms are now convinced that training jihadis in cage-fighting—that is, preparing them for acts of violence—is the way to go.

Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum. This article was originally published by Front Page Magazine.

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