On a more positive note, here’s another thing I was struck by in this article on Islamism. Sometimes, the action that began to move them away from extremism was surprising, and often subtle. And it reminds all of us that sometimes our kindness can in fact change a person’s life…even someone as hardened as Usman Raja.
Usman, for one, finally stopped wanting to be a suicide bomber because of the kindness of an old white man. Usman’s mother had moved in next door to an elderly man called Tony, who was known in the neighbourhood as a spiteful, nasty grump. One day, Usman was teaching his little brother to box in the garden when he noticed the old man watching him from across the fence. “I used to box when I was in the Navy,” he said. He started to give them tips and before long, he was building a boxing ring in their shed.
Tony died not long before 9/11, and Usman was sent to help clear out his belongings. In Tony’s closet, he found a present wrapped and ready for his little brother’s birthday: a pair of boxing gloves. “And I thought – that is humanity right there. That’s an aspect of the divine that’s in every human being. How can I want to kill people like him? How can I call him kaffir?”
I love that, prior to this exchange, Tony was known as a grump. He was not only being kind to Usman; Usman and his brother were also being kind to Tony, giving his life meaning by allowing him to teach them something he knew well. (This reminded me of the movie “Gran Turino,” actually- which you really ought to see, if you haven’t already.) The simple practice of caring for one another will always be the most radical action.