What Does It Mean Being The 2020 Citizen Diplomat of the Year By the State Department

We are an organization called Average Mohamed. I am by all accounts an average blue collar working-class American who loves his country. I was a small business owner, and I also worked for corporate America. I loved the rules of profit and loss and was very good at it. In 2016, the Super America Corporation awarded me the sole National Award for Image and Business.

Events in 2014 are what made me an activist. In that year, there was a deluge of propaganda aimed at our Muslim community in Minnesota and across the world. Our organization did surveys and on average each Muslim youth was receiving five messages on their social media in the 2014 to 2015 time frame from Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Al-Shabab.

Our government, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the Joint Terrorism Task Force were overwhelmed by the number of our youth who joined terrorist organizations. At that time Iraq and Syria were overrun by ISIS, and there was a global call for Muslims to make a “hijra” pilgrimage to join them there. There was no coordinated response to the propaganda within our global Muslim community. The terrorists were dominating the narrative with their dangerous and violent version of Islam. In response, we created the Average Mohamed Organization to do just that, counter their narrative. We would combat their terrorist ideology using Islam, culture, logic and basic democratic principles. The world seemed to love our ideas and we went viral globally with our efforts.

Middle East and North African Women Leaders IVLP

Then came the second part of this process — advocacy using global media. We have interviewed and showcased our approach to over 1,800 media outlets globally. We engaged with any media that came to learn of our effort. We engaged media from Timbuktu to Tel Aviv, Paris to Turkmenistan, and Thailand to Afghanistan. We have engaged with the press of every language that Muslims speak. In the United States we were the cover of USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. We were discussed on FOX News, CNN, and MSNBC, as well as including prestigious news programs such 60 Minutes on CBS and PBS Newshour with the late Gwen Ifill. They all carried the Average Mohamed Organization message. Global Minnesota saw our story and invited me to speak to delegates invited by the State Department International Visitor leadership Program (IVLP). We jumped at that chance because we wanted to influence as many more muslim activists, NGOs, clergy, women leaders and Foreign government officials that we could. We wanted to leverage social media and our grass roots model to spread our message.

Moroccan Youth Sports IVLP

We wanted to help these individuals and officials go out into the world and make counter narratives against terrorists so we can finally win this war of ideas. We want to make the recruitment process difficult, and arm our youth with five to ten messages against their extremist ideology based on Islam, democracy, and peace. If we succeed at this, we all win. We at Average Mohamed Organization criss crossed not only Minnesota, but all of America with our message. We spoke to over 60,000 kids in face-to-face messaging using our model. The most important outreach we ever accomplished was to the previously mentioned International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), hosted by the State Department and helped here in Minnesota by Global Minnesota.

Let me explain; when we reach youth we are reaching just them and no further. But, when we speak to IVLP delegates these are points of contact that can potentially reach millions of people. When we teach our American values of peace, liberty, freedom, justice, and opportunity to these dignitaries, we are sharing the American way of life. We are not just educating those in the room, but the millions they themselves reach out to. When we discuss the rights of democracies and explain why citizens should choose secular democracy over theocracy, dictatorships and communism, we are not only talking to these dignitaries, but they in turn speak to their constituencies. When we tell them the world is better off when we all confront hate be it Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, Racism, Homophobia and Anti-Christianity, they ask questions why? And then we tell them how it works for us in a democracy. Freedom is a God-given right, and is constitutionally guaranteed to all irrespective of race, creed, sexuality, foreign born status or any other marker. That the human spirit is one that craves independence from authoritarianism and rules that deny the existence of the other. When the other who is different from us is widely accepted as equal, this is like a breath when we breathe, and lives are better off for it. When we accept equality of others we reaffirm our own equality. If there is freedom, nothing undercuts terrorists appeal than free people globally.

West African NGO, Clergy, Activists IVLP

For every group we spoke to, they in turn took our message and spoke to millions back home. Many have asked us to help them implement our program and model in their countries. Our works are popular and widely researched by the University of Southern California, Institute of Strategic Dialogue and even Rand Corporation and shown to be effective. We are facing a National Security Paranoia that looks at us Muslims as threats rather than assets. I am hoping this changes because the truth is, none of us can save the Muslim “Ummah” Community but ourselves as Muslims. Our democracies should prefer Muslims like Average Mohamed Organization as their frontline. Resourced and let loose from leashes that stop this process because of National Security Paranoia misplaced distrust of anything Muslim led. When America is inclusive and thinks big, we always win. That is how it has always worked in America.

I am hoping to have this changed because America has always produced leaders with vision who can see further and empower folks like the Average Mohamed Organization. I am hoping this may happen as a result of this award, which is deeply humbling by itself. Resources will be helped by our venerable State Department to come our way. I am hoping this gives the green light to organizations, governments, multinational institutions, and foundations. The time is now to make your Muslims the frontlines against terrorism. We are invested in a glorious powerful country we call home, America. We work to make it difficult for Al-Qaeda, ISIS and Al-Shabab to not recruit our kids. These groups have each sent death threats to the Average Mohamed Organization, as well as me personally. We intend to continue to make it difficult for them to recruit our youth. Never in time have the decent people, governments and institutions not stood up to evil. These terrorists are evil, but the good guys are you, our venerable State Department, Global Ties and Global Minnesota.

This is why we will always make time for the most important outreach, which is the IVLP outreach program. Some folks we spoke to have reached back and are using social media and the outlines of counter narrative in their communities from Lebanon, Yemen, Sudan and even Europe. Our faith as an Average Mohamed Organization is to God and Country. We will do what we have to do for God and Country. My God is Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala and my country is the mighty United States of America. We will always help our heroes, our spies, our soldiers, our agencies and most important of all our venerable State Department diplomats. It is to the American way of life which is humane. We do this.

I may be an Immigrant, taught by the natives. In our Declaration of Independence, it states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Terrorism wants to deny that, and as long as they do, the Average Mohamed Organization has work to do. Hopefully now with help and resources by our Government, multinationals and institutions.

Let Freedom Reign. Make us American Muslims your frontline, and we ask to be against terrorism. We are ready, able and willing to go do this work. One Muslim soul at a time.

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