Abu Khaled al-Cambodi never called for the murder of anyone while he was a Buddhist. When he converted to Islam, everything changed. Muslims in Australia and the U.S. would claim that he doesn’t understand his new, peaceful religion. Why did he get it so drastically wrong? How was he wrongly instructed, and by whom? Why is there an entire territory, larger than Great Britain, ruled by those who misunderstand Islam in the same way? How did this misunderstanding become so widespread?
An Australian citizen who appears in a newly released Islamic State (IS) video has called on Australian Muslims to commit attacks against civilians at home in Australia.
“I send a message to my brothers in Islam in Australia. Now is the time to rise up. Now is the time to wake up… You must start attacking before they attack you. How much [sic] of your sisters have been violated? All I hear on the news in Australia is that this sister was hurt, her hijab [head covering] was ripped off…so I ask you, brothers, when is the time that you are going to rise up and stop them attacking you?” the militant says.
The militant, named in the video as Abu Khaled al-Cambodi, has been identified as 23-year-old Neil Prakash, a Melbourne man of Cambodian and Fijian descent. Prakash is thought to have left Australia for Syria in early 2013 and is believed to have links with at least some of a group of Melbourne men arrested this week on suspicion of plotting terror attacks to take place during Anzac Day, a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand.
In the video, Prakash talks about his “dear brother Numan,” who Australian media reports say is Melbourne teenager Abdul Numan Haider.
Haider was after stabbing two police officers from Australia’s Joint Counterterrorism team outside a Melbourne police station in September.
The video in which Prakash appears is not simply a message calling for violent attacks on Australians. Its propaganda message goes far deeper, and uses Prakash’s story to explain what young, Western men — in this case a convert to Islam — are fighting for when they join IS and why they should join the group.
In the video, Prakash testifies at length about his conversion to IS’s version of Islam. First, he describes his rejection of his previous religion, Buddhism, which he derides as idol worship.
Although the video is intended for propaganda purposes, it also provides insight into how individuals — including those who are new converts to Islam like Prakash — are recruited by IS.
Prakash’s journey to Islam started with an encounter with a “brother,” a Muslim man who came to him and told him that he was “confused” and that he should not follow Buddhism just because his family had done so.
After that encounter, Prakash says he started to think more deeply about religion and Islam.’
On a trip to Cambodia with his family, Prakash says he saw “shirk” — the sin of practicing idolatry — in the form of people praying to “statues.”
Prakash is later filmed standing in front of a destroyed statue. He says that “by the will of Allah, the Islamic State destroyed this idol here in Sham [Syria].”
IS has undertaken a campaign of destroying “idolatrous” statues and artworks, among them priceless works of art from both Syria and Iraq.
Prakash addresses what he calls “idol worshippers,” asking them to “think about what you’re doing, think, like what can this idol benefit me or anything like that.”
When he got back to Australia from Cambodia, Prakash said that he attended lectures on Islam. At the time, Prakash describes himself as feeling “very tired, very fatigued and not wanting to do anything.”
Prakash describes how, as he moved toward Islam, he also began to question other aspects of life. An important element of Prakash’s journey to radicalism seems to be connected to his Cambodian roots and the sense of injustice he felt about the United States’ invasion of eastern Cambodia in mid-1970, during the Vietnam War. Prakash says he felt that Western governments were taking money from citizens to go to war abroad and “take natural resources from other countries” like Cambodia.
Prakash’s journey to Islam also seems to have involved a search for a meaningful community. Describing the day that he declared himself a Muslim, Prakash relates how he experienced “one of the best feelings” he had in his life, because of the “unity of the brothers at the masjid [mosque].”
But that was not enough for Prakash, who began to explore whether there was “more to Islam” than “just praying.”
Eventually, he moved toward “Islam and jihad” by “sacrificing” his material goods in Australia.
It was at this point that an IS recruiter approached Prakash, asking him if he wanted to “come to Dawlah,” using an Arabic word meaning IS or the lands under its control.
The recruiter told Prakash that there were “a lot of brothers from Australia” in IS who wanted to meet him. The recruiter took Prakash to meet IS militants in Syria.
In the final part of the video, Prakash addresses his fellow Australians, calling on them to join IS.
“If anyone were to ask me this three years ago and tell me that I would be living under Shari’a as a Muslim, I would tell them they’re crazy! But look at the mercy of Allah…look what he has planned for me. He can do this for you too,” Prakash says.
“All you have to do is believe,” the Australian militant says, adding that IS has established a state on the lands it controls, with “hospitals and doctors” as well as “children playing in the park.”
“This is the land of life,” Prakash adds of the territory under IS control….