A Conversation with Famoro

Harlem, December 6, 2015

I am sitting in Famoro’s apartment again. We are talking about Jeliya, his profession of spiritual musicians. I am in the process of moving to Paris, France and the terrorist attacks of November 13, 2015 just occurred. I turn the conversation toward terrorism to get his opinion. My words are in italics.

Famoro: Me, I don’t want to hurt, I don’t want to hurt anybody. Because it is not on me to hurt. Jeliya is just peace and love. Peace and Love. In this world, when people see you? Respect. Before I make you mad, what’s gonna make you mad? I’m gonna start in on myself before I’m going to do that to you. If I’m gonna do something to make you mad, before I do that thing to you I have to think, what I do to Lisa, I do to myself. If Lisa do it to me, is it going to be good for me? Nah, it is not going to be good. So why am I gonna do that to Lisa?

Lisa: What is up with ISIS? How do they convince these kids to put bombs on themselves and blow people up? What are they thinking? These kids are twenty years old!

Famoro: They’re just going to say, Get Courage. Here (points to ground) is nothing. You die? It’s paradise. Everything is waiting for you there.

Lisa: And the kids believe ISIS leaders? Why do they believe them?

Famoro: Yah! They’re not Muslim! They are not Muslim. I see on Facebook, they got one guy, twenty years old. They put everything on him, everything was a bomb, then they cover him like he is going to prayer with a long boubou. And they go to pray, Allah, la la la, whatever they do, then the guy goes. He goes to a public place. The guy comes and he wants to explode [the bombs], and he do like this [Famoro stops and looks around]. There is one sick guy, lying down, and he [sees him there]. Then he looks at the little boys, they are playing, and run! The guy was like, when I do this here, they’re all gonna die! So when he do like this (Famoro looks around) he sees an old man, you know. People sitting, they need food, he stopped and he didn’t do it.

Lisa:    He didn’t do it?

Famoro: He was feeling people now! So he left, he went to another place, a big place again, the same day. He takes the button, and he wants to press it, and he sees a little girl [coming toward him] like that. He didn’t do it. He waited. The little kids play. He looks (Famoro looks around him, mimicking the guy), a big hospital. People sick inside there. The guy is confused now about what he’s gonna do. He’s like this now [confused] and goes down the street and falls down. One guy helps him to stand up. And then the guy, he just sits. He thinks about what to do, and the people [who] prepared him to do that. Because if he doesn’t do it now, they are going to kill him. So he goes straight to them. He comes back to them, yeah! He comes back and when they open the gate, he: BOOM!

The kids, when people fighting, the refugee people, the young kids, they [ISIS] get them. They grow them up, school them, they learn only criminality. They learn that. Only criminality. Kill. Kill. Kill. They have that school. So those terrorist people, they grow up there. They are there conditioned, everything, money, boof! Everything. So, missions? Nineteen, twenty years old. Like that, they prepare. So anything they say to them, they’re like: Boom (Famoro sits up straight, like an attentive listener). Teleguidé! [Brainwashed].

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Having analyzed this story that Famoro heard on Facebook, I have found, as you may have also, that it seems improbable. If the man blew himself and ISIS leaders up with the bombs, then who would be able to tell the story from his point of view? Nevertheless, I find it so inspirational that someone might have a prise de conscience like this that I dreamed of spreading the story so far that would-be ISIS joiners would hear it and that it would weigh on their consciousness.

On August 4, 2016, the New York Times published an interview with Harry Sarfo, a German man who joined, and subsequently fled, the Islamic State. On November 21, 2015, the New York Times published “ISIS Women and Enforcers in Syria Recount Collaboration, Anguish, and Escape.” There are countless stories in the news, if one searches the web, about Muslims who have backed out and escaped from terrorist organizations. Aayan Hersi Ali’s book, Infidel, certainly gave chilling accounts of a Somali-Islam immigrant population who came to Holland with their extreme beliefs mostly against women’s rights, which made her turn against the religion altogether while still calling on Muslims to reform it. At this current moment in time, I agree that there is a problem within Islam, like there was a problem of violence during the crusades, and there are still problems within Christianity today. Islam is being used too often to support violence against the supposed infidel, which can even be other Muslims, especially women. We, who are free countries of the Western World find ourselves in a difficult position: How do we take a strong stance against terrorist acts while simultaneously remaining aware that the problem lies in the misinterpretations of the Qur’an, not in the religion itself? For one, we musteducate ourselves in Islam so that we can discredit so-called Muslims who condone violence on their own terms.

I have purposely used the work jihad once in this blog series that referred to an internal struggle in my heart and mind several times. To me, and many Muslims, the jihad is an internal struggle to do the right thing against our ego’s whimsical desires. I’ve also used Insha’allah and Alhumdililah to make a point. In the Western world, things generally work well. Buses, planes, trains are usually on time, or people complain. We make appointments months and years in advance, and not showing up is an example of irresponsibility. We pay the marked price for items, and there is little or no room for negotiation. This is fine and well, and I am grateful to live in a country in which things are clear, and life runs fairly smoothly. On the down side, we tend to be intolerant at worst, or not conscious enough at best, of the role that fate, or God, or nature, or in particular our own state of mind affects the-way-things-roll. Saying “insha’allah,” (may things work well for us) reminds us that we cannot just will things to happen our way, that we have to take God, nature, other humans into consideration; and invoking “alhumdililah,” (gratefulness, humbleness) makes us acknowledge and offer thanks when things do work out to our satisfaction.

Lastly, the permission to use violence against the infidels in the Qur’an was made in a specific context in which Prophet Mohammed’s followers were given the right to defend themselves against those who persecuted them. The infidels were polytheists warring tribes that violently fought one another and also opposed the equalist and socialist message of the Prophet, which they found threatening to maintaining the status quo power hierarchies. Some five hundred years earlier, Jesus and his followers were also deemed a threat to the Romans and others in power because Jesus’ teachings undermined status quo positions of authority. In the version translated by M.A.S Abdel Haleem, the author clarifies this in his introductory explanatory notes, “In fact, the only situations where the Qur’an allows Muslims to fight are in self-defense and to defend the oppressed who call for help,” (Haleem xxii) and he refers us to line 4: 75, in The Qur’an. Like the bible, which can be misinterpreted to condone violence or oppression of women, fundamentalists misinterpret the Qu’ran to justify killing democratic and secular people, infidels. Haleem reminds us that “God does not love those who overstep the limits,” concluding that “the prevalent message of the Qur’an is one of peace and tolerance but it allows self-defense.” (Haleem xxii.)

Islam can be practiced in a reformed way and can lead practitioners to a kinder, more compassionate, more balanced state of mind, as all religions are meant to do. We had better distinguish between people based on their individual actions and not discriminate against them based on a religious group. Famoro deplores the practices of any violent movements, and particularly one that gives his religion a bad name. “They are not Muslims,” he says. Meanwhile, Famoro points out behavior that he considers inappropriate such as immodest clothing, abuse of alcohol, as well as those who run on “New York Time” (NYT), a sensibility that weighs efficiency over human-to-human relationships. Although we may or may not agree, and our positions change over time, his beliefs do not make him a terrorist.