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We Still Have Time Before it’s Too Late: Saving Disenfranchised Muslim Youth

January 6, 2010

I want to say first off that I almost didn’t write this post because of the sensitivities of the subject matter and the very recent events around Christmas involving the near catastrophe on the Amsterdam-Detroit flight and the planned bombing of the American Embassy in Yemen. But this blog is about personal leadership and how people need to step up to challenges and not take a back seat while others do the driving.

The catalyst for this post was oddly a movie I watched the other day: “Five Minutes of Heaven,” starring the incredible actor Liam Neeson and the impressive James Nesbitt. Briefly, this movie was based on a true story dating back to 1975 when Neeson, as a 17 year-old Northern Ireland youth, is recruited to kill Nesbitt’s (at the time an 11 year-old) older teenage brother – part of the murderous rampage that afflicted Northern Ireland for many years.

Fast forward to 2008 when, through a reconciliation effort involving the media, Neeson and Nesbitt are to be brought face-to-face. The arrangement falls through at the last minute, and the two men later on have their confrontation, which concludes in both men coming to peace with their demons.

However, what smacked me between the eyes was a part of the film in which Neeson is recounting his youth experiences for the film crew prior to the attempted encounter with Nesbitt. Neeson explains that it was natural for him, as a teenager, to want to impress his terrorist superiors by offering to murder a Catholic. Indeed, he states up front that he would have killed 11 year-old Nesbitt had he known he was the younger brother of the intended target (Nesbitt witnessed the killing).

Drawing upon his experiences as a youth being recruited by the Ulster Volunteer Force, whose aim was to destroy Irish Republican paramilitary groups but in reality targeted civilian Catholics, Neeson explains to the interviewer that today’s Muslim leaders need to express publicly their strong opposition to terrorist acts by young idealistic fanatics. Indeed.

If community leaders–those in positions of authority– do not speak out against the atrocities that are increasingly plaguing society, then who will?

Humans have a demonstrated capacity of NOT learning from their errors. Whether it’s financial crises and wars caused by hubris and arrogant attitudes or recurring government deficit problems, humans will continue to repeat their mistakes. That is a given, which seems to be ingrained in our collective DNA. Accept it; live with it.

The situation we’re now facing is not pleasant and will be with us for decades. The demographics of many of the Islamic countries point to growing numbers of young people, most of whom will face disenfranchisement from the wealthier sections of society. Like Liam Neeson’s character in 1970s Northern Ireland, these young people will only learn one way: to target and harm those who represent opposing values.

Neeson was correct in calling for senior community leaders to step up to the plate. Time is of the essence. JT

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