The assassination of al-Qaeda second-in-command Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri reminded this reporter of his friend Dr. Tawfik Hamid who was recruited by al-Zawahiri while being a medical student at Cairo University. Few people share as an incredible biography as Dr. Hamid. His father, an orthopedic surgeon was a secular Muslim, and Tawfik grew up in a cultured environment where tolerance and openness were major features. Dr. Hamid soon discovered the evil nature of Egypt’s al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya and their closed-mindedness. He subsequently moved far away to New Zealand. He recognized the threat posed by radical Islam, and started to teach peaceful interpretations of classical Islamic core texts. Dr. Hamid earned two higher degrees, one in Internal Medicine, which includes psychiatry, and the second in Cognitive Psychology. Dr. Tawfik Hamid is a physician, educator, Islamic thinker and reformer.
Dr. Hamid’s studies, along with his experience as a former Islamic radical, enabled him to become a leading scholar on the mindset and psychology of the Jihadist phenomenon. Dr. Hamid was a consultant to the FBI on dealing with Islamic radicalism. He is the author of Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works and Why It Should Terrify Us. The book was praised by the late US Senator John McCain, former directors of the CIA James Woolsey and Porter Goss, as well as author Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Dr. Hamid has testified before the US Congress, and was invited by Israel’s President Shimon Peres to address the Future Summit. He has spoken before Pentagon officials, CIA, NSA, and the European Parliament.
Joseph Puder (JP): What significance has the demise of Ayman al-Zawahiri had on the future of Salafism?
Dr. Tawfik Hamid (TH): It will have some effect on their (Salafists) psychology as the more they are defeated the less likely people will join them. However, since Ayman al-Zawahiri was not a major player in the September 11 attack on America, the effect of his death will be less than if the US killed him immediately after the September 11.
JP: Has Egypt’s President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi been able to thwart the influence of radical Islamism, and what kind of a relationship does he have with Al Azhar Islamic University?
TH: Egypt’s President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has significantly diminished the power of the Islamic militants. He is trying to encourage religious reform and acceptance of the others (including Coptic-Christians) as equal human beings; however, the scholars of Al-Azhar are reluctant to do the needed reform. The situation is rather sensitive, since if he interferes too much in religious issues the radicals can use this to create instability. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has to balance all of this…
JP: The “Abraham Accords” have provided an example of a people-to-people peace between Arabs and Israelis. Do you foresee the Egyptian people following the Emiratis in embracing Israel, or is it a matter of generations, if at all?
TH: The level of hatred of the Jews and Israel is certainly much higher in Egypt than the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The issue is much more complicated due to several factors including past wars between Egypt and Israel. I see the acceptance of Israel at the people’s level moving very slowly. The issue is not related to time factor. It is more related to the effectiveness of education and media in countering antisemitism. So, if no change occurred, if the educational systems and the messaging via media do not improve, even after 100 generations there won’t be peace. It all depends on how we are going to solve the problem and what tactics we are going to use to deal with it. This is like as if we expected that a non-working car will work only after giving it more time without fixing it correctly.
JP: What is the current relationship between the El-Sisi government and Hamas in Gaza?
TH: I can say that it is a balanced relationship. Egypt keeps relationship with Hamas as it gives the Egyptian government leverage in solving problems and mediating between Hamas, other radical groups and Israel. In general, Egypt is against Hamas but the geographical situation and the weight of Egypt and its history in the Arab world makes it necessary sometimes to deal with Hamas. That is why some level of relationship, even a tense one, needs to exist.
JP: Can moderate Islam prevail within the Muslim World?
TH: Certainly, YES! However, it all depends on what we are going to do to achieve this. If we utilized the already rising momentum against radicalism on the internet in the Arab world, provided effective educational content, and created effective strategies to deal with the problem, we can certainly defeat Radical Islamic ideology and allow true moderate Islam to dominate the Muslim’s mind. The secret recipe for success in defeating radical Islam is simply effective use of the internet to change the masses! Other approaches and strategies can also help make the desired change faster. We are at ideological war with radical Islam, and we must win it on the mind stage, which I have called in my latest Op-Ed in the WSJ on the 20th anniversary of September 11: “Fighting Terrorism in Brainistan!”
JP: Please tell our readers about your Educational program to combat Islamic radicalism?
TH: My educational program is called “One Humanity Education.” The idea is that in addition to the ideological component of the phenomenon of Radical Islam, there is a cognitive component in the process of radicalism as well. Such a cognitive component includes ‘thinking traits’ that contributes to the development of radicalism which breeds terrorism. Such ‘thinking traits’ include Absolutism, Judgmentalism, and Literalism. One Humanity Education is a program that I developed to deal with these cognitive or ‘thinking traits.’ The program set metrics to measure radical Islam, define the ‘thinking traits’ that aggravate radicalism, and provide effective educational content via the internet to make a change in the hearts and minds of the Muslim world to combat radicalism successfully. The program uses illustrations, questions, videos, facts, and info-graphics in a unique manner that utilizes effective memory and cognitive psychology tactics to improve the educational outcome. These cognitive psychology tactics include the Generation effect (when you let the audience generate the answers instead of telling it to them), the spreading and rehearsal within the critical 30 seconds to shift the educational content to the Long-Term Memory stores. This approach ensures that the information embedded in the program becomes consolidated in the brain and minds.
One Humanity Education can be used in different ways such as online programs to defeat the ideology of Radical Islam, activity books for children’s education, TV, and ads. I started a small pilot study online, and the results are very promising. I am currently looking to take this program further to change the Muslim and Arab world’s minds, toward more Human Rights, and more acceptance of the other. I use One Humanity Education to counter what I call the ABCs of Radical Islam: Apostate killing; Barbaric treatment of women: Violence – Stoning – FGM; Calling Jews Pigs and Monkeys; Declaring war on Non Muslims; Enslavement of female war prisoners and raping them; Fighting Jews before end of days and killing all of them; Gay killing and discrimination.