Tuesday 18 May 2010

Muslim rocker wields guitar in rock’n’roll jihad

HE IS a long-haired rocker who plays a mean riff and cites Led Zeppelin among his influences — and now he has been unveiled as the government’s latest weapon in the fight against Al-Qaeda.

Salman Ahmad, a Pakistani musician whose band has sold more than 30m albums, is to urge Muslim students to choose an electric guitar over extremism.

The self-proclaimed “rock’n’roll jihadist” will this week take his message to students at Oxford University, Imperial College and the London School of Economics, which all have sizeable Islamic societies.

“You counter radicalisation through telling the truth and if that comes from the power of a guitar then do that,” said Ahmad, who has worked with the Obama administration to tackle extremism on American college campuses.

The number of British students linked to terrorist plots has caused serious concern, with fears that some UK campuses have become recruitment grounds for Al-Qaeda-inspired groups. The most recent case involved Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, an engineering graduate of University College London, who is accused of trying to blow up a passenger jet over Detroit with a bomb hidden in his underpants.

“I have seen at first hand young Muslims being radicalised by the distorted message of Islam,” said Ahmad, 46, a practising Muslim who was born in Lahore but spends most of his time in New York where he is a part-time lecturer in Islamic music and poetry. “They’re fed this guilt narrative that in order to be a good Muslim you have to give up the electric guitar, or you can’t wear jeans, or you have to cut your hair.”

He said he would discredit radical interpretations of Islam by showing that it encouraged creative flair and his aim was to prevent students being brainwashed by “murderous thugs masquerading as holy men”.

Ahmad, frontman of the band Junoon, added: “Rock musicians and extremists have the same target market — the youth.” His tour of UK campuses is funded by the Home Office via the Quilliam Foundation, a think tank.

Ahmad, who has faced death threats from hardliners accusing him of being “un-Islamic”, said young Muslims who rail against perceived injustices in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine need an alternative outlet to channel their frustrations: “Talking about Islam through arts and culture [could fulfil that role] and open up minds to another point of view.”


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