On April 28th, Parents for Peace collaborated with the Inkblot Project from Boston University for an event featuring former white supremacist Arno Michaelis and former jihadi-sympathizer turned undercover operative Mubin Shaikh. A main focus of the discussion was explorng commonalities in the radicalization process across extremist movements. In introducing the speakers, Parents for Peace program coordinator David Phillippi made the following remarks:
The word extremism brings up some very natural negative reactions: confusion, fear, anger, disgust. After each act of violence here at home, or when we hear about people leaving behind material comforts to travel overseas to a warzone, we ask How? How could anyone do that? Why? Why would anyone believe those things?
We know that this issue is complicated, but we believe that there are answers to these questions. When we listen to the families whose loved ones took that path, when we listen to people who lived that life, and then left it behind, like the two men well hear from today, the previously incomprehensible begins to make some sense.
Now, were not making excuses for violence. But in many of these cases, before the acceptance of violence, there was a void waiting to be filled, a problem in need of a solution. Across the ideological spectrum, groups trafficking in extremist ideas exploit identity crises and other pain points in young peoples lives, by offering:
Understanding, belonging, purpose – what young person is not looking for those things?
So as we begin to see that this seemingly alien phenomenon – extremism – is not as far from our own experience as we might have thought, we can start to imagine how we might be part of the solution to this puzzle, how we might have a role to play in helping others find a healthy path through the struggles that we all inevitably face as we try to form our identities.
Here is recorded video from a live stream of the event. (The panel discussion begins around 12:30). Check back soon for more video content of Arno Michaelisand Mubin.