The Washington Post reports:
The police officer had just finished an earnest presentation on counter-extremism before an audience of 200 restless teenagers at an East London high school when a young man of Pakistani origin in a black hoodie took the stage.
“How many of you people are Muslim?” the man barked.
He grinned as nearly every hand went up.
“Guys, we can take over! Sharia law coming soon!” the man cried gleefully. “Allahu Akbar!”
The teens erupted in laughter even before the man had a chance to clarify: “I’m kidding. I’m kidding. I think I scared the white people.”
It’s the kind of knowing humor that has made 29-year-old Humza Arshad an Internet sensation, a hero to Muslim teenagers and perhaps the most potent new weapon in Britain’s arsenal as it wages an increasingly desperate campaign to counter violent Islamist extremism.
At a time when the flow of British Muslims to the war in Syria shows no sign of ebbing, Arshad has positioned himself as the anti-Jihadi John. Like Mohammed Emwazi, the scowling Islamic State executioner, Arshad is a London-raised Muslim from an immigrant family whose face has become instantly recognizable to millions of young Brits through videos uploaded online.
We need more people like this.
But where Emwazi seeks to terrify the world and seduce fresh recruits to join his bloodthirsty crusade, Arshad’s message is precisely the opposite: Laugh at extremism; don’t fall prey to it.
In his “Diary of a Bad Man” series, Arshad plays a wannabe gangster who gets beaten up by girls, peed on by a fox and endlessly ridiculed by his mother. But he also manages to save his cousin from a descent into radicalism, and uses lessons from the Koran to urge others to steer away from violence.
This spring, Arshad has taken his message directly to students through an unusual partnership with Scotland Yard in which the police sponsor him to tell jokes at London-area high schools. The program has been a hit, with schools across the city vying for his time and officials planning to take the program nationwide.
Probably more effective than several dozen community engagement panels.