Who’s Afraid of Aymann Ismail?

People Have Always Feared I’ll Become a Radical

When I met someone who actually did, I realized how America pushes young Muslims to the edge.

This video is part of “Who’s Afraid of Aymann Ismail?,” a series featuring Slate’s Aymann Ismail confronting fears about Muslims. Follow along on our Facebook page.

Like a lot of American Muslims I know, I had parents who wanted to shield their kids from aspects of Western life they found to be “un-Muslim”: sex, drugs, alcohol. Christmas. But they couldn’t shield us, not even close. So at a young age, I started to form two identities: the Muslim and the American. As I got older, I often felt like I had to choose.


What happens to young Muslims in the West who have grown used to feeling like they’re two different people? In my case, plenty of resentment and an eventual run-in with the police that challenged how I saw myself.


In this episode, I talk to Mubin Shaikh, a deradicalization expert who grew up in Toronto but “caught the jihadi bug,” as he put it, in his late teens. He spent years in a Taliban stronghold in Pakistan before renouncing his extreme views and returning to the West. I also meet with Ramzi Kassem, a civil rights attorney in New York City who knows better than anyone how fears of radicalization, and misguided attempts to prevent it, have consistently made the problem worse.

—Aymann Ismail

This series is written and produced by Aymann Ismail and Jeffrey Bloomer and edited by Aymann Ismail.

You can also watch episodes on profane Muslim comedians, why it’s so hard to stop wearing the hijab, homophobia in Islam, and Ramadan.