A conversation with Imam Mohamad Jebara

Last month, 60 Days of PVE sat down with Imam Jebara to discuss radicalization and countering violent extremism. In this entry, 60 Days asked Dr. Jebara what makes a person most vulnerable to radicalization and why. Below is his insightful response on the importance of balance and healing.

“It’s a very good question, because there really is no absolute answer. When we look at demographics of people who are “radicalized”, and I say “radicalized” because even that term is quite wide, you have people who are radicalized in terms of nationalism, in terms of religion, and people who are radicalized in terms of even dietary outlooks on the world. I think perhaps a better term, instead of using the word “radicalized”, is “imbalance”. What makes a person more vulnerable to a state of imbalance? What can make them more vulnerable to things that can change their orbit of influence? Because humans are just like magnets: there are things that we are either attracted to, or things attracted to us, or we are repulsed by things, and things that repulse away from us. When we have looked at the demographics of people who have been in such states of imbalance, they come from a variety of backgrounds. But if there is one thing they all seem to have in common is a level of unfulfillment – a void. And that relates back to what would be termed as “unfinished business”, from earlier parts of life. Whether it was a trauma that they had endured, whether it was a void that they felt, with parents or siblings, or in society or the community. Or something that could have been initiated by a medical or psychological situation. But all this goes back to: how do you deal with that natural imbalance? We all have these imbalances, so in reality, every single human being is vulnerable. But the question is, how do you deal with these fractures that we have as human beings – because we all have fractures. But how you deal with them is what will determine the outcome. Are you going to deal with it in a healthy manner, and turn these voids into a beneficial part that will help you grow as a person and help your society grow? Or are you going to transform that into a method of destruction, where you destroy your society and you self-destruct. That is what I think the dialogue should be centred around, this concept of imbalance, and how you deal with fractures.

Now that being said, what all extremists and extremist organizations, movements, and – for lack of a better term – cults have in common is this view of absolutism: absolute truth and absolute evil. So, for example, “we’re the absolute truth, and that’s absolute evil.” “We’re absolutely right, they’re absolutely wrong.” “We’re absolutely the victim, and they are absolutely the victimizer.” And this thinking you will see across the board, wherever you look. That outlook, which is an imbalance itself, because you are going on one extreme, is part of the problem. So, if you want to make people less vulnerable, you have to equip them by empowering them with the tools that they will need to help themselves heal. We cannot simply put people in jail, that is not going to help the problem, because as soon as they leave, they are actually worse. The question is, how do you heal, how do you help them heal? If you look at any of these “crimes” as a disease in itself, a form of illness, it is an imbalance, and there is a void that is being filled in an unhealthy manner. Just like how the body naturally heals, the Creator made it heal on its own, if something breaks, it is going to heal. But how it heals is also important. If my arm breaks and I keep it in the form that it is broken, it is going to heal, but it is going to stay like that. So, you need someone to help you push it back in place so you can heal properly. How you do that – this is a question that has perplexed the greatest of minds. But I think if we really want to have a healthy dialogue, that is progressive, that is actually going to make a difference, we need to go back and ask: what is the root of the problem? And if you look at the root, I would say it boils down to these concepts: there is an imbalance, there is a void, and it is being dealt with in an unhealthy, unproductive manner that actually makes it worse. If you have a cut – and it could be a minor cut – but you are inflaming it, you could be allowing it to develop into something major that could lead to killing you.”

Comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Imam Mohamad Jebara is also an author, poet, athlete, reformer, and inline skater. In September 2014, as the “Cycling Cleric”, Imam Jebara became the first cleric in history to cycle and roller-blade for health, from Ottawa to Quebec City. To find out more about Imam Jebara, check out http://www.facebook.com/imammohamadjebara

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