"Pay my troops no mind; they're just on a fact-finding mission."

Rehabilitating Radical Muslims With Cagefighting

The concept of training people in martial arts to make them less violent seems counter-intuitive. Robert Humphrey mentions doing this in his book Values for A New Millennium starting in the 1960’s, so this is far from the first time it has been used.

As mentioned in Tactical Violence 1, whenever the mind perceives a serious confrontation, it drops a cocktail of stress chemicals into the bloodstream which pumps up the heartrate. The higher your heartrate gets, the harder it is for you to think logically and the more likely you will be stuck in a reactionary loop of thought. What constitutes a serious confrontation depends on the individuals acclimation to conflict. When you give them some basic effective training, you:

  • Forge bonds of brotherhood between the teacher and students. Bonds forged under stress tend to be stronger than ones brought on a whismy, physical contact is an effective way of getting to know someone compared to simply debating them. It’s easier, for example, to bond with a female partner by dancing, with “kinesthetics”, rather than just talking for hours on end.
  • As long as the teacher knows his shit and can give students results, he will be given respect. It’s an easy way of establishing a hierarchy with the teachers opinion being valued as world wise.
  • This hierarchy extends to veteran students, who then set an example for others.
  • When they are approached with a potentially violent conflict, they can handle the situation with less stress because they know how to handle themselves. Humphrey found that by teaching basic stuff he could make people less violent, because they no longer had something to prove and felt confident enough to not escalate a fight. Modern training could show them how to deescalate a fight.
  • It gives men something to achieve. Men need to be able to show that they have done something with their time on earth, it’s an inherently masculine thing. Making progress, physical or otherwise, provides this.

British officials say Raja’s approach is working. The former cagefighter has worked with 10 of the dozens of convicted terrorists released from prison and says that his approach has been successful so far in every single case.

“He’s the most successful guy out there doing this sort of work,” said a UK Home Office official, aware of Raja’s work but who did not want to be named given the sensitivity of ongoing cases. “He has that ability to inspire; that personality X-factor.”

Clarke told CNN: “Raja’s 100% success rate is based on his own skill, his acknowledged skill, his understanding of what people are motivated by but also because he has got the time, effort and commitment to spend on individual people.”

But Raja knows how to connect. Like several of them, he is also from the tough neighborhoods of east London, once subscribed to fundamentalist views himself, and says he came close to fighting Jihad in Bosnia in the 1990s.

“They see someone who is coming from the same type of background who can understand what may have brought them to the place they are in,” Raja told CNN.

Raja says they are impressed by his martial arts pedigree and sense he sincerely wants to help them.

What adds to his credibility is that he has not been beholden financially to the British government.

Almost all his work is self-financed under the auspices of the Unity Initiative, an organization which he runs with his wife and a small band of helpers. Funds have been so scarce he says he finances the work from his cage-fighting coaching and his wife’s student loans.

But theological fire-power also has a crucial role in his success.

When he and his wife Khadija founded Unity in August 2009 they created a systematic approach for working with radicalized Muslims, which they based on the teachings of Raja’s guru Sheikh Aleey Qadir, a Malaysian cleric resident in east London from a school of Islamic learning that says it traces its lineage of learning directly to the Prophet Mohammed. Link

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