by Mike Kimel
Spotting BS as a Mechanism for Reaching a Wide Range of Conclusions – A Case Study
I was reading up on alternative ways to deal with terrorism and stumbled on something called the Aarhus model. It seems like much of Europe, the Danish city of Aarhus (population of about 320K) had a problem with first and second generation immigrants becoming radicalized. (I may have a post about that term, but for now I’m willing to use it.) City officials in Aarhus came up with novel way to deal with the issue. Those who went off to fight for ISIS, instead of being prosecuted were welcomed back and given help finding jobs, apartments, etc. Detractors have called it “hug a terrorist” though the authorities in Aarhus claim it works.
The first article I found that mentioned the Aarhus model was this piece in NPR by Hanna Rosin dated July 15 of this year. I found this story Rosin relates interesting:
The nonviolent resistance movements of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi are the most well-known examples of this tactic. The Aarhus model is another. How did it unfold in real time? Consider the case study of a young man we call “Jamal.” Jamal is not his real name, and we don’t usually use pseudonyms, but he asked us to not use his name. He doesn’t want to be known as a person who almost became a terrorist. He wants a job and a life now. But that didn’t seem possible for a while.
Jamal was born in Somalia; his family moved to Denmark because Somalia was in the middle of a civil war. His was the only black family in the neighborhood and the only Muslim family, and his childhood wasn’t easy. Kids called him names, asked him if he had the same blood as they did, and teased him. For a long time he just would fight back, but he knew he was disappointing his father.
When he was a little older, Jamal decided to take a different tack. He tried to be the good kid. He studied and made jokes in class, and his stress eased. The teachers liked him, his classmates liked him, and he began to make Danish friends and even to feel more Danish.
Then one day in high school, his teacher organized a debate about Islam. Jamal had just been on the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, with his family, and he was infused with a newfound religious identity. And during the debate one of the girls started saying to the class that Muslims “terrorize” the West, and kill people and stone women. Jamal argued with her and eventually lost his temper, saying, “People like you should never exist.”
After that moment, Jamal’s life went off the rails. The teacher told the principal, who told the police, who questioned Jamal about being a terrorist. Jamal had to stay home from school and miss his final exams. The police cleared him, but it was too late for him to redo his exams, so he had to redo some of high school. He was furious about it. Soon after the investigation, his mother died, and he blamed her death on the stress caused by the investigation. He began to feel rejected by the West.
During that year, he ran into a group of fellow Muslims who had experienced some of the same discrimination. One of them had an apartment, and the group spent a lot of time there talking, praying and watching videos of Anwar al-Awlaki, a famous English-speaking imam. The friends talked a lot about jihad and making the trip to Syria. Two of the guys in the apartment began planning their trip.
While he was living in that apartment, Jamal got a call from Link, who had heard about his case. Jamal cursed him out and tried to hang up the phone, but then Link did something Jamal didn’t expect: He apologized, for the ordeal his fellow officers had put Jamal through. Hearing a policeman take responsibility for his life getting derailed really moved Jamal. He agreed to come into Link’s office.
When Jamal got there, Link introduced him to Erhan Kilic, one of the first official mentors hired by the program. Kilic was a fellow Muslim who had also faced discrimination in Denmark as a child. But he had taken a very different path. He had decided to embrace Denmark as his country. He now had a wife and two daughters and a successful practice as a lawyer. Kilic relayed to Jamal the main message of the Aarhus program: If he chose to, Jamal could also find his place in Denmark.
There’s more, but the part I caused my BS detector to ring so loud I couldn’t continue. It got set off by the casual use of the word “discrimination.” See, it isn’t clear to me, from the set of events described that what happened was discrimination. We heard Jamal’s side of the story. It could be that the girl with whom he argued, and perhaps those who witnessed the argument saw something different. Perhaps they felt what they saw was an actual threat, one which merited investigation.
A second red-flag was the phrase “Anwar al-Awlaki, a famous English-speaking imam.” Technically, that is an accurate description, albeit one notable for what is left out. The full sentence that included that phrase is equivalent to “Luigi learned the accident insurance business from Al Capone, a famous Italian-speaking musician.” If you don’t remember him, the famous English-speaking imam is described a bit better in this piece at the BBC .
The next story on the Aarhus model I stumbled on was by Michelle Shephard and published in the Toronto Star:
But 20-year-old Mohamed was the first on the police radar as someone vulnerable to Al Qaeda or like-minded groups. He had yelled at a woman in his class because she was criticizing Islam. And not just yelled. He said that she should be “stoned” for her comments.
“I was a young kid, without any knowledge about how to debate properly, so I threw a lot of words against them. Some of them were shocked, you know,” Mohamed says.
His outburst started a chain of events when the students contacted the principal, who contacted the police.
“The police handled it like it was an imminent threat; we have to deal with this guy as soon as possible,” Mohamed says.
They went to his home and his father, a Somali immigrant who had come to Denmark to give his children a better life, was furious.
“He called me and said, ‘Come home right now,’ ” Mohamed says. “So I ran home and he yelled at me. ‘What did you do? The police came here? They want to know something about you and you don’t even want to tell me?’ And I say, ‘I don’t even know what is.’ ”
Mohamed went to the police station the next morning and was told he was under investigation. They searched his home as neighbours looked on; he was suspended and missed his exams.
By the time he was cleared, his life was in tatters. That same summer his mother died of a sudden heart attack, and Mohamed turned to his mosque for solace. There, he befriended a devout young man who eventually took him to his apartment and introduced him to his friends.
“There were Somalis and Arabs. Then he introduced me and said, ‘This is our brother, we’d like to welcome him. He has experienced something I didn’t want to wish for my worst enemy.’ I told them my story and they were in tears and warm and they welcomed me,” says Mohamed.
So Mohamed from the Toronto Star is Jamal from NPR. Does he appear elsewhere? Why yes, he does. The next story I found him in was “How I was de-radicalised” by Tim Mansul at the BBC. It predates Rosin’s story by a year. In this one, we have Ahmed. I’ll let you read the whole born in Somalia, grew up in Denmark, trip to Mecca, etc., yourself. Let’s jump ahead:
But Ahmed’s new faith got him into trouble at school. He abandoned jeans and T-shirts and took to wearing traditional Islamic dress. He became defensive and argumentative when the subject of religion came up. He acknowledges today that he could have handled things better, but at the time, he said, he responded aggressively because he felt he had a duty to defend his religion when he was being baited by his Danish classmates.
“They would say things like, ‘You stone your women, you lash people who speak freely,’ and I felt I had to defend my religion, but I didn’t know how to debate properly and it went out not correctly.”
Here’s the bit with the cops, and Hanna Rosin’s discrimination:
“The reason you are here,” he was told, “is that your classmates are afraid, they think you are extremist and that you are capable of dangerous things. They think you have been radicalised in Saudi Arabia.”
Ahmed grins as he remembers all this. But it wasn’t funny at the time – he had a vision of being put on the next flight to Guantanamo. “I was shocked,” he says “and I had no words to defend myself.”
The police then told him they would need to search his home and that they would need the password to his email account and any other social media that he used.
“I gave them everything and they searched my house and it was very humiliating to watch. When they left I was shocked and I was angry,” he says.
It got worse. All this had happened during the last week of school, and he had missed the end of year exams. The school, he told me, refused to allow him to sit them late.
“That gave me a punch in the face, and gave me the feeling this society is total racist,” he says. “They call me a terrorist? I will give them a terrorist if they want that.”
Ahmed then told everything to his friends at the mosque. They were sympathetic, he says, and invited him home. There were long discussions about the hypocrisy of the West in its dealings with Muslims and Muslim countries. They watched a lot of jihadi videos online. Ahmed remembers in particular those that featured Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American cleric of Yemeni descent, who was killed in a drone strike in 2011.
“He would say things like, ‘We are at war with the West, the West will kill all the Muslims around the world if we don’t stand up to them,’ and I was like, OK, and my friends were saying, ‘Yeah, he’s totally right.'”
The BBC seems to describe the English speaking cleric a bit differently than NPR did, eh? The last paragraph quoted also sounds different than this from NPR:
The friends talked a lot about jihad and making the trip to Syria. Two of the guys in the apartment began planning their trip.
The BBC gives us a happy ending:
Ahmed graduated from high school and instead of going to Pakistan he went to university. He is about to graduate. He has also got married.
We also find Mohammed (to be distinguished from Mohamed the Toronto Star) in the Minnesota Star Tribune. I’ll skip ahead:
That summer, an acquaintance invited Mohammed to a gathering at an apartment in Gellerupparken, a largely immigrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Aarhus, and Denmark’s lowest-income postal code. There, young men aired grievances about Danish society and watched the YouTube sermons of Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born Al-Qaida cleric killed in a U.S. drone strike that year.
“I felt at home,” he told the Star Tribune. “These guys took me seriously.”
According to one young man’s testimony of his experience with the Aarhus model, after he had become increasingly radicalized following a family vacation to Mecca, the police contacted his family and had him brought into the station. Instead of punishing him, however, he exclaimed that the police “offered him a cup of coffee” and told him they would be assigning him a mentor who better understood his frustrations than they did. The young man, whose name was Ahmed, was successfully dissuaded from joining ISIS, and has since graduated from a Danish University and gotten married.
Anyway, this is getting long, so let’s start wrapping it up. What we learned seems to fit into a few different categories.
The first set of findings come from the hero of the story. According to whatever this guy’s name is:
1. He found religion after his father took the family on a Hajj
2. He felt his religion was being slighted and in response, he behaved toward a female classmate (and perhaps others) in a way that was perceived as threatening, and which he himself admits was at a minimum not the right way to react. One doesn’t have to read between the lines to understand he was advocating stoning women and killing infidels as this prominent Aarhus cleric suggests.
3. He was investigated by the police
4. There are an awful lot of folks at the local mosque who feel they have grievances against Denmark and are willing to act on those perceived grievances. 5. The pissed off would-be jihadis consider it to be a provocation or at least discrimination when the cops investigate them for threatening a classmate.
We also know something more about Jamal/Ahmed/Moshe/Srinivasa/Jose Maria. Most of the articles mentioning him stress how important his anonymity is to him. And yet, the amount of information about him online should be enough to identify him to someone interested enough to look.
Additionally, we learn a bit about Hanna Rosin and NPR too, namely what Hanna Rosin is willing to write and what NPR will allow to be published (or perhaps aired is a better term). Publication of this piece was not viewed as a mistake by NPR; Rosin is now one of the hosts of an NPR show. If they had an issue with her description of the world, one assumes she would not be there any more.
Finally, we learn that despite the nice statistics, the Aarhus model is pretty much worthless, at least for achieving its stated intent of reducing the threat of terrorism. (It may achieve other goals, such as keeping city officials employed and/or funneling funding to low level miscreants to keep them from committing petty crimes.) Sure, the people running the program trot out statistics that sound like progress, but the fact of the matter is this: if all you see is the same dancing bear in every act, you definitely aren’t at the Greatest Show on Earth.