Counter-terrorism police in the United Kingdom are regularly making arrests in an effort to stop the flow of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq. But they are also trying another approach to reach London's youth, who they believe are at risk of being radicalized.
In recent months, British police have partnered with Humza Arshad, a Muslim comedian with a popular YouTube channel, and asked him to tour schools around London to talk to schoolchildren. They believe that schoolchildren will identify and listen to Arshad, a 30-year-old from South London who makes jokes about jihadists and provides subtle moral messages on the true meaning of religion.
Young Muslims in Western countries are at risk of being radicalized. More than 25,000 foreign fighters from over 100 different countries have traveled to Syria and Iraq, as well as Afghanistan, Yemen and Libya, the United Nations secretary-general said in a report released on May 29.
Arshad first made a comic video in his bedroom in 2010 and posted it on YouTube. In 10 days, his video, called, "Diary of a Badman," attracted more than a million views.
"Taken aback by how quick the video had gone viral across Facebook and YouTube, Humza realized he was onto something special here and the 'Diary of a Badman' series was born," his agent told ABC News in a written statement.
Humza Productions now has become the most-viewed comedy channel in the U.K., with more than 60 million views and 240,000 subscribers.
Arshad was first booked to speak at one school. He was asked to show them his video, called, "Think for Yourself," which explores the issues of extremism, and to open a debate with the students.
In one of the scenes, Arshad's character, Badman, tries to stop his cousin from being brainwashed: "Brother, you're changing," he says. "Islam is about peace, if you want to stand up for something, then do so, but not with anger and violence."
The experience at the first school was a success, and Arshad has now been to more than 60 schools around London in support of his mission.
“Humza’s very much a rising star on YouTube, and it was clear the students were already familiar with and fans of his videos, so it is great to have got him on board for this project,” said PC Rizwaan Chothia of the East Midlands Prevent Engagement Team in an October 2014 statement from the East Midlands Police. “We are always looking for ways in which we can communicate important messages. This film makes it both entertaining as well as informative, which we hope will make it really effective.”
The New York Times has described Arshad as "the centerpiece of the British government’s latest and perhaps cleverest effort to prevent students from running off to Syria," while Newsweek called him, "Britain's 'Most Effective Tool' Against Radicalization."
While Arshad told ABC News he was, at first, hesitant to accept the serious task of trying to prevent radical speech from reaching teenagers, he felt it was his responsibility as a Muslim.
"I always wanted to do something positive, to give back to the community," he said, "and I thought I had a responsibility because most Muslims in my industry are not doing this."