Mohamed Amin Ahmed Receives the 2018 Citizen Diplomat Award (Speech Only)

They gave me 15 minutes, now I’m a
blowhard. I don’t know how that works. But the
first time they called me, Global Ties, Franziska called me up and she says
“Mohamed, we want to give you an award.” I said, “Dude, do you have the right Mohamed?” You know, there’s like half a billion of us here. So that was quite interesting. But let me get you started. What is “Average Mohamed”? Average Mohamed is a citizen-led initiative which basically goes against the counter
ideology. Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard of ISIS, you’ve heard of Al-Qaeda, you’ve heard of Boko Haram, you’ve heard of Al-Shabaab. There’s so many alphabets now it
seems like they’re growing. But what is it in this nation that affects us here in America is their propaganda. Their ability to reach us. Our enemy today is this. This is our enemy, social media. How do you compete on that? So we sat down, when my niece was 19 years old who was supposed to be a nurse, who’s a good child, joined ISIS in St. Paul. I went to the mother. She’s my aunt. I sat down with her and say to her, “Auntie, how could you don’t see this? How could you not have stopped this process? How come you are unaware of this process at all?” You know what she said? “What is social media?” She was a good girl. She went to school. She wanted to become a nurse. And the next thing we know, she
texts us from Raqqa, Syria and she says, “Now I’m a nurse. Guess to who?” What happened is we said, OK, my aunt doesn’t have ability to compete on social media because, safe to say, this
generation does not know what to do with social media. But I do. I know a little
bit. So I started creating messages whereby we use cartoons to go ahead and counter
the propaganda that is issued. And we’ve been effective, which of a million people
on social media from across the world— you name a country, I can tell you how
many thousands follow us, or have read or listen to our message. And that is just from Google Analytics. I want to show you—I don’t like telling people
what it is—but I prefer showing you so let me show you the first video what
ISIS and Al-Qaeda does. That was their message to our kids in
Minnesota. That was a message to the kids across the world. Flames of war, come join us. Become a Rambo. It’s exciting—we are fighting a war and a just cause. Here’s
my response to the video. [Video audio] “Average Mohamed here. Islamic State created a video titled
‘Flames of War’. Please—more like the flames of hell. ‘If anyone killed a person
not in retaliation, of murder or to spread mischief in the land, it would be
as if he killed all mankind. And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if
he saved the life of all mankind.’ Quran: Chapter 5, Verse 32. How many innocent
children, women and men has Islamic State killed just today? Do you want to save
mankind or kill mankind? That is your choice. Islamic State is about genocide.
Choose wisely. Remember, peace up; extremist thinking—especially Islamic State—out. This message has been brought to you by” Our mantra is simple: it takes an idea to
defeat an idea. Their’s is an ideology and our religion is not neutral. People tell
you all the time and you hear it on TV all the time. “Islam is peace.” This is not Islam. Well, we take it a step farther. We say “show me.”
What is this about Islam and peace that we’re not promoting, that the forces of
evil—and these are evil by the way—who commit genocide against communities when as Christians, anti-Semitism and things of the sort. Or even Sunnis or Muslims
like me cannot live in a society as free people. So what is it that we can use to
help our communities? Well fundamentally, peace is a value of Islam. You’ll know it
from our greetings. When we greet each other, most Muslims say “Asalaam alaikum
warahmatullahi wabarakatuh.” Peace be upon you. Peace is fundamentally a fabric of
our faith, so we promote peace. The second thing is
we promote something, because if you’re going to tell somebody to be against
something you have to tell them what they should be for. When I live in a
great democracy, in this democracy, I’ve learned from the native as an immigrant
that it’s a hand-me-down society. That means you natives hand down the values
of this democracy to me, the immigrant and also other natives, and we pursue the
same freedoms and goals where we hold these truths to be self-evident. Liberties, justice, equality,
non-discrimination, opportunity, the right to make and earn a living, to live in
dignity. These are all good things. So we promote that. We promote our
democracy because compared to their system and their ideology, ours is much
better, and only a miser would not share what’s good with them (and I’m not a
miser). So what is the third issue that we want to confront? We say well, we aren’t
extremists, we don’t like what they’re trying to do in the world. We don’t like
a new global order and we don’t feel comfortable to allow them to come to
Minnesota and recruit our youth or in California or in New York or anywhere in
the world whether it is Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, or Tel Aviv or Iraq Basra. We will compete. If it’s an ideological warfare they want, guess what? We, the
citizens, can compete because our values run deep, whether it’s democratic values, common sense, or from our own faith Islam—which
is noble and respectful—we’ve been here. So we use that methodology to come
approach and compete with them. So now the next question is “how do you go
about doing this?” Now four years ago, I managed a gas
station. 1.5 million dollar operation with 12
employees, I was working 65 hours a week. So I said what can we do? I tried making
videos—live videos—man they sucked. I mean they suck, the kids will tell me
“Mohamed this is such a cheesy production. Don’t bring this to us.” So we tried
something else. Through research and development, we came up with cartoons. Why cartoons? If I told you this five years ago, you would have laughed at me. But that’s the power of a citizen. What can a citizen do in this democracy? Well, I don’t know how to draw; I can’t even draw a stick figure. What do I do? I do what every American
corporation has done for the last 10 years: outsource. I got a guy in India who makes this cartoon and he’s a Hindu for God’s sakes. [Laughing] And the girl who does the voiceover is
actually a Christian white kid. And here I am, bringing together some Muslim kids
and people volunteers ’cause I don’t have any money to do this. I’m paying for
this out of my own pocket. And they’re volunteering and doing the
voiceovers and eventually I used my own voice because it was the cheapest source
of income, source or labor. And I spend my money more. I hate this program because
it’s competition it means no resources means no restaurants no hotels no fancy
vacations. I put it all into this because I believe in my humanity and I believe
in my country. This is a great country; let no one tell you any different. Now
what happened is, I started putting this up and then lo and behold, Global Minnesota
calls me I’m like, “Who are you?” They say “We saw your program. Can we use you?” I say, “What? What do you mean?” They say, “Well, we invite people from across the world through Global Ties. “We’ve got emerging leaders, nonprofit organizations coming from all across the world and they’re
interested in finding out how to talk to their community. I say, “Yeah, let me be there.”
So every time they called me I kept on saying “yes” because they have free coffee.
I love coffee. [Laughter] Thanks to Carol, Tim Odegard, Laurel, they’re here. These people are here. Carol’s right here. They’re the ones who made me,
because one of Matt went around the world and guess what? I’m an expert now.
I’m like, “Dude you know I’m just like an average Mohamed, right?” [Laughter] So here I am, as the expert, talking to them. We’re saying let’s talk to the kids. Let’s say do you do this on social media? I say, “yeah” on a budget of $75,000 we reach a million
people. A million people. Name a country. I’ll tell you through Google Analytics how
many thousands we got of them, and it’s only in English. Can you imagine if we
put this in every language in the world? So the question now is capacity and
resources to scale up. That’s my challenge now. Not the ideas. The ideas come easy, the ways to do this comes easy, the way to compete for our youth and
their minds comes easy. I know this because I’ve spoken to 50,000 kids in
five, in four years. I’ve been to schools, madrassas, mosques. I get invited into
mosques, because the imam wants to say something, but they’re scared. So here
I come with my cartoons and I open up the channel of conversation. And guess what? The kids—they get it. We do outtakes. Seven out of 10 kids say that these
messages are valued in their life. They can use it. And it’s important in their lives, but only
two out of 10 kids will say they will ever go look for this message, because it’s
educational. “Mohamed, it’s boring.” No matter how you make it, they’ll never search for it.” So we go out and we engage them. And we go out and we do what a citizen
does: citizen diplomacy. That in itself is not good enough, because our Jewish
community or Christian community or atheist community and the LGBT
community, they are scared of this issue of terrorism. So we go to the mosques, we
go to the churches, we go to synagogues for interfaith dialogue and we
tell them, “What you keep on hearing this is not Islam. Let me show you what it
means, not that this is not Islam. And let me tell you what you can do in terms
of supporting us and being with us and standing with us when this level of phobia
comes across us. Because we’re building that network. We’re building the society.
A citizen is a responsibility. There’s no free rides in America. That’s the first
thing I was told when I came to America. There’s no free rides. I said, “What the hell?” [Laughter]
“I thought things are gonna be easy here. You know what I mean? But to tell
you the truth, I came for the Big Mac and the Coca-Cola. [Laughter] So this is our goal: it is to Citizen Diplomats that, guess what, to the State Department, I want to say thank
you for the International Visitor Leadership Program. It works! I have a
network, that is—I know a guy from Timbuktu, Mali. Timbuktu, man. [Laughter]
How the hell is a Minnesotan supposed to know that? [Laughter] But I met them through Global Minnesota and
guess what? They want to do the same program in their country. And I tell them “Let me get
resources. I can’t find it myself right now, but as soon as I get it I’m telling
you.” And we have groups all across the world who wanna do the same thing
because this process is cheap—I’m a cheap guy And I was spending more money,
so believe me I was using the cheapest means through this and it’s effective;
it cost me seven cents to get that message into the eyes of every Muslim
kid in America. That’s a hard-to-get demographic, but when they Google the
word “jihad,” when they put in Facebook the word “suicide bomber” or when they put in the word “Al Qaeda” or “ISIS” guess what pops up? That message. [Applause] I don’t want to put you to sleep so I’m going to end this very clearly, very succinctly: What does being a citizen mean? I came
from a third-world country. I know what America means to me. I came
with a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. I have a beautiful home, a mortgage, I’m in debt
like every other American, up to my eyeballs. [Laughter] Two cars and four beautiful
children who are growing up American, who are Muslims. We’re in a country where no one ever tells us what to do and how to do it, and we can live free with liberties
and freedom. This is worth defending. This is worth promoting. This is what democracy demands of us. And I want to thank again Global Minnesota, because you made me. Global Ties, you made me. State Department,
International Visitor Leadership Program, you made me. Because of you, an average guy got a voice in the world. Thank you. [Applause]

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