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London Trainer Usman Raja Reforms Former Terrorists Through MMA

By George Shunick

Despite numerous public relations successes, mixed martial arts is still perceived by many people as an overtly brutal practice, and its participants as barbaric Neanderthals. In one particularly memorable instance, Gus Johnson made a most unfortunate observation during the Strikeforce: Nashville brawl when he claimed that “sometimes these things happen in MMA,” which certainly didn’t help the image of the sport. (Neither did the brawl itself, of course, but at least Johnson could have acknowledged it was an anomaly akin to a baseball brawl.)

But what ex-MMA fighter Usman Raja is doing in London right now not only subverts the stereotypes people hold towards the sport; it is literally changing people’s lives. Raja is currently being profiled by CNN in a series of videos and articles (all of which you should read) focusing on his work to reform former Islamic terrorists through training them in MMA. Suck on that, Bob “I think it’s going to be harmful to people. I think it’s going to be harmful to our society” Reilly.

See, in the UK they actually don’t detain their prisoners indefinitely. As a result, a number of Al Qaeda operatives have been released over the past few months and currently reside in London, the site of the 2012 Olympic Games. Whether you agree with that policy or not, this has created a legitimate safety concern for the host city. You have a bunch of paroled terrorists living in the same neighborhood without jobs or money, surrounded by people they’ve been brought up their entire lives to despise. And some of those people happen to despise their religion as well.

All of which is to say that this is an exceptionally inconvenient scenario in attempting to “cure” them of their terrorism. Of course, terrorism isn’t a disease. You don’t become a terrorist because some dude with disheveled clothes, an untrimmed beard, anger issues, and a massive superiority complex sneezes on you — it happens because of a number of complicated social, political, and economic circumstances, which serve to dissociate individuals from greater society and foster a degree of desperation that leads them to turn to destructive organizations that extinguish their capability for empathy.