Sardar Anees Ahmad remembers exactly where he was when the second plane struck on 9/11: obliviously walking with his professor, going from one class to another at his college in New York. As the tragedy unfolded, and one after another, a Muslim face and name resembling his, started flashing on TV screens worldwide, the 19-year-old Ahmad felt his blood boiling. Unable to reason, he felt as if every cell of his body was enraged, every pore sought vengeance and every breath longed for a purpose.
A year later, he found his purpose. Where? In a network of U.S. based "Jihadis."
This brings us to a 2007 NYPD report analyzing the radicalization process of American youth. It laid out the phases of pre-radicalization, self-identification, indoctrination, and "Jihadization" which turn an "unremarkable individual" into a terrorist. While everyone does not have to go through each phase, the report underscores, this sequential pattern played out perfectly in Ahmad's case, barring one huge difference.
Ahmad joined a group of "Jihadis" who emphatically rejected the notion of violence in the name of Islam. Instead they were waging a Jihad of the pen, not sword. They were letter writers, not sword fighters.
The group, "Muslim Writers Guild," was founded by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in 1936 (India), established in America in 1980 and revived after 9/11.
So back to the pattern of radicalization as the NYPD report elucidated.
Ahmad's comrades, the Jihadis of the pen, were "unremarkable individuals." But instead of gravitating towards the Salafi version of Islam during the "pre-radicalization" phase, they followed the Ahmadiyya, a peaceful Muslim sect whose founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad stated, "In this Age, it is the sword of the pen with which we are attacked... We should use our pen (not sword) to prove the truth of the religion of God".
Where the second phase of "self-identification" was a piece of cake (as Ahmad did not have an identity conflict), self-improvement was a hard nut to crack. Writing, as it turned out, was harder than fighting. And the same media outlets which lamented "Where are the moderate Muslims?" would routinely reject his tediously crafted pieces for the next four years.
Thanks to the phase of "indoctrination," requiring a spiritual sanctioner, Ahmad never gave up. When a Danish newspaper published offensive cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in 2006, the current Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community declared, "We will not launch a rally, but instead we will wage a jihad by the pen." The Jihad of the pen against the insults hurled on the Prophet had been sanctioned.
Finally, on February 17th 2006, Ahmad's first letter, analyzing the controversy, was published in the Sonoran News stating, "While we categorically denounce the foul-minded and ill-mannered actions of newspapers that published offensive caricatures of Prophet Muhammad, the irresponsible and disgusting reaction by some Muslims is equally condemnable".
Ahmad's "Jihadization" continues. He now serves as the Chairman of The Muslim Writers Guild, a group that has published over 400 Op-Eds and letters to editors over the past decade in leading newspapers, both in America and abroad. The group's membership continues to swell and guess who joined in 2011: Osama, another American teenager, who published his first op-ed after the death of Bin Laden!
With the President calling a "lone wolf attacker" the biggest U.S. threat, the need to channelize the anger of these lone wolves from gun to pen could not be greater. Add to the images of falling towers the pictures of Abu Ghraib prison abuses, videos of dead Iraqi civilians, and Islamophobic rhetoric of politicians and you have a recipe for aimless rage and vengeance. If Plato was right in saying, "Of all animals the boy is the most unmanageable, in as much as he has the fountain of reason in him not yet regulated" then one could argue that any "unremarkable individual," regardless of race, religion, or nationality, who experiences what Muslim American youth have experienced over the past decade, could turn into a lone wolf attacker.
Muslims, please do Islam a favor: Reject the notion of a violent Jihad when, in the age of reason, Islam is actually under the attack of pen. Ever heard of Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, or Daniel Pipes?
The misguided, self-proclaimed "Jihadis" of violence hijacked the last decade. Muslim writers aim to reclaim the coming decade with the Jihad of their pen.
Dr. Faheem Younus serves as an Adjunct Faculty for Religion and History at the Community College of Baltimore County.