Muslim reformer Shireen Qudosi: We must protect children from radicalization by extremists

As a mother and as a Muslim reformer, I see no greater threat to humanity’s potential for peace than the perversion of childhood.

As I write this, my own son is enjoying his summer vacation from school. He spends time daydreaming and building an imaginary world that he immerses himself in for hours at a time. But elsewhere, children are not so fortunate.

Summer camps in Gaza are teaching children as young as 5 how to stab Jews. Move your finger a few inches on the map and ideological fanatics are exploiting a child’s unconditional ability to love by creating dangerous co-dependency to be deployed later as child soldiers and suicide bombers.


The worth of children is not seen in their capacity for growth, but in their ability to comply and be turned into weapons of war.

This perversion is not only happening in far-flung corners of the world. It’s happening right here in America.

According to the FBI, there are active cases linking individuals to ISIS in all 50 states.

While communities are working to unpack how radicalization targets children, we also have to inoculate the next generation against vulnerability to extremism, especially as peer bullying and tech consumption now occurs at younger ages.

In 2018, Clarion Project – an organization that educates the public about radical Islam and where I am a national correspondent – broke a story about a New Mexico militant training compound that was training 11 children to be school shooters.

In Minneapolis, 45 boys and young men were recruited, trained and left the local Somali community to join ISIS or al-Shabab.

How does this happen?

It starts with the desecration of identity. Instead of seeing a child as a brilliant little human exploring a world driven by wonder and play, the child is seen as an extension of the self or the community.

This bitter cruelty snuffs out a child’s voice and sense of self. The role of identity destabilization by creating conflict and confusion is a well-documented radicalization strategy cited in the June 2018 U.S. Department of Justice paper titled “How Radicalization to Terrorism Occurs in the United States.”

However, we can trace radicalization beyond the point of the first contact with recruiters.

Long before a child is radicalized by an outside influence, he or she is often primed within the home and the community. Oppressive environments indoctrinate a child from infancy into modifying thought and behavior patterns that mirror the group versus the autonomy of the individual child.

Whether it’s a child in the Middle East conditioned to hate by community programming, or an American child at a dinner table conditioned to accept the dominant narrative, the abuse is the same. It serves as a primer that fertilizes the landscape for radicalizing elements the child will face in later years through social media, extensions of his or her community, peer pressure, and pressure cooker politics.

This abuse has no barrier between ethnicity, nationality, religious affiliation, or class. It’s not something limited to religious fanatics or unassimilated immigrant communities. It’s happening everywhere. The end result is the same: a perversion of childhood.

The radicalization impacts rich and poor alike and the methods used become blueprints for other ideologies, including white supremacists – especially in school settings and in online portals. In the last year, California has seen as at least three instances of uncontrollable, shameless, neo-Nazi rhetoric among students.

Popular memes lament “the Nazis are back,” pointing to the truth that sinister ideologies never went away; they just went underground. Generation Z is most vulnerable to both Antifa and ISIS, in part due to the way that this demographic consumes new media. In other areas, ISIS recruitment tactics are no different than those of inner-city gangs.

While communities are working to unpack how radicalization targets children, we also have to inoculate the next generation against vulnerability to extremism, especially as peer bullying and tech consumption now occurs at younger ages.

We have to nurture resilience against radicalization as a means of nurturing human dignity. We do this by protecting the raw power of human imagination and expression in the most untainted population: children.

Central to solutions is the need for everyone, including members of Congress, to understand how radicalization preys on children. The upcoming documentary “KIDS: Chasing Paradise,” and training programs to prevent violent extremism are important tools.


If we’re able to get parents, teachers, local and national leaders to understand the problem, it means we’re better able to work towards preventing it. On Thursday, Congress will hear first-hand accounts from experts and mothers like me who have experienced the radicalization of children and learn about some of these solutions.

Almost all parents I know believe their children are the greatest gift in their life. I know my child is. But children are also vulnerable. They are our future. As parents, it’s our job to protect them.