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Members of a right wing group (R) clash with Antifa members during the 2019 Women’s March at Boston Common in Boston, Massachusetts, January 19, 2019. ((Photo: JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP/Getty Images)
Everyday Americans feel frustrated by the by extremist ideologies posed by both ends of the political spectrum: Are they fueling us to the brink of destruction?
“Right- wing extremists, Islamist extremists and Left-wing extremists all believe that they face genocide and therefore want to extinguish each other, and they all end up fueling each other,” says Ryan Mauro, Shillman Fellow and head of the Clarion Intelligence Network in his seminal video “War of the Extremes” (see below).
Yet now, with the hyper-speed loop that mainstream media, social media and communications technologies have facilitated within a relatively short period of time, we are seeing two things happening:
First, an acceleration of this “war of the extremes.”
And it’s not just happening organically.
“Accelerationism is a term white supremacists have assigned to their desire to hasten the collapse of society as we know it,” writes the ADL. Although the term is seeing widespread use by those on the fringes of the movement, it has manifest itself recently in real time – specifically by the Christchurch mosque shooter who killed 51 in New Zealand and by the Sri Lankan attackers who killed 258 in churches and hotels on Easter of this year.
The perpetrators in each of these attacks aimed to spark an all-out war through the outrageousness of their actions – attack big and get a big retaliatory response. Create chaos and hasten the collapse of society.
As the ADL notes, “The concept of acceleration has existed for years as a fringe philosophy. Some of the earliest examples are rooted in a Marxist notion that the intensification of an unhinged force, such as capitalism, for example, will inevitably result in that force’s own self-destruction.”
After the election of President Trump, Americans witnessed the rise of the Antifa movement, militant Leftists who earmarked themselves as a response to the democratic election of Trump. Antifa, with its anarchistic underpinnings, would like nothing more than “acceleration” to actualize their goal of societal collapse.
In 2017, Americans saw the beginning of the “war of extremes.” The August 12, 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville resurrected images of hate and race supremacy we thought we had laid to rest after defeating the Nazis and embracing the Civil Rights movement.
Just one year later, preventing violent extremism professionals pointed to the overlapping recruitment strategies shared by the Far Right, the Far Left and violent Islamists like ISIS.
Rules of engagement, democracy and civility seem to be the casualties in this war of extremes as competing ideological groups are not only seeking to defeat each other, but are also looking to become the dominant American narrative.
Secondly, through mass communication resources at our disposal and 24/7 connectivity, the war of extremes has bled into the discourse of Americans who don’t typically fall within any ideological group.
The nature of the war of extremes and its acceleration breaks down former avenues of dialogue for these Americans.
If we look at American life even just 10 years ago, the average person wasn’t pulled towards such polarized, competing agendas while at the same time being inundated with information.
The question worth asking and exploring is how these mutations to daily life, engagement and community will shape what it means to be American in the next generation.
Unless we can put the brakes on the ever-accelerating war of the extremes, it will look very different – and it won’t be positive.
Ilhan Omar is arguably the most provocative Muslim public figure in the United States, giving the American public a steady stream of controversy since her arrival on the political stage.
However, to understand the impact she has on the public it’s important to look at the wider circle surrounding the freshman congresswoman. The fanfare uplifting her is worthy of an anthropological study in how cultures are crafted, and what values a culture exalts at the expense of another.
As a vocal critic of Ilhan Omar — and given that I’m also a conservative Muslim woman — my own reflections as a public figure are sharply scrutinized by Ilhan Omar defenders. What I’m noticing in that I’m often told by Ilhan Omar supporters, “She’s more successful than you.”
This is said as an attack, said to shame and silence me. While I certainly don’t feel shame, what I do feel is total bewilderment. These sorts of messages tell me two things:
Success is still being measured by new markers
The more visibility, public support and “space” one occupies (even in traditional spaces of power), the more “success” they’re attributed by the public.
Success is being used as currency to silence speech
Greater “success” implies that one is somehow entitled to insulation from inquiry or critique because they are perceived to carry more value as a human being.
If this is my experience, what chance does the average person have who doesn’t have two decades of experience in these conversations?
Another point: The more the average person is silenced in dialogue, the more chance that they’ll be pushed into fringe groups. The more they’re pushed into the fringe, the more they’ll resonate with outlier personalities, including extremists.
The emphasis on success in our day measured by visibility is deeply disturbing because of how it dehumanizes and devalues a human being. In the case of Ilhan Omar supporters, when they can’t defend her based on her track record or character — because it is often indefensible — they resort to personal attacks rooted in perverse value systems.
Unfortunately, there is no point in engaging pro-Ilhan Omar trolls or any other online accounts seeking bad faith conversations. They don’t understand that occupying a space in government isn’t the same as mastering that space and using it as an instrument for the betterment of all mankind.
How we define success is a red flag for our culture at this hour. Take the interview Ben Shapiro gave with BBC’s Andrew Neil. Caught on a bad day with an uncharacteristically poor temperament, Shapiro stormed off the set but not before saying that he was more successful than Neil. Besides the fact that Neil is widely respected, the point here is that the assumption was that being more well recognized meant one was more successful, which implies a higher value. Shapiro implied he was entitled to the immature behavior he exhibited and reserved the right to silence Neil. Shapiro has since apologized.
Whether we look at this issue from the lens of an individual or from the lens of simply a group of people who need to co-exist in a space, the fact remains this: As long as we continue to determine success and worth based on popularity, reach and access — we as a culture will all fail.
With the hijab debate no more agreed upon than years prior, we’re now wading into the waters of the niqab (face veil) debate: A picture coming out of Philadelphia Muslim’s Eid (holiday) celebration this year brought forward another question on religious garb:
Is the right to wear the niqab part of religious freedom? The short answer is no.
The niqab is an austere form of clothing designed to conceal the face. Just like with the hijab (head covering) or the burqa (full body covering), there is no direct mandate in the Quran for a woman to cover herself in a particular style beyond the recommendation for modesty as outlined by verse 24:31.
Even this verse offers little more than a suggested pathway and not explicit in its direction. It doesn’t specify a niqab or any other form of garment that 21st century Muslims have falsely branded as Islamic attire. Further, the English translations that paint a portrait of clothing that resembles any specific items are often translations that are swayed by publisher bias.
Muslims and non-Muslims, lovers of Islam and its critics, can generally agree that the Quran offers very detailed instruction for military and civilian life. If the Quran had intended to offer detailed instruction for how women should cover themselves, it would have plainly said so as it does with other areas of conduct. It’s also important to point out that the verse doesn’t stipulate punishment if modesty is not perfected, or if a woman should choose to abandon modesty all together. It’s her choice.
When we repeat warm and fuzzy catchphrases like “there is no compulsion in religion,” this is the architecture behind that philosophy. If we’re going to win ideological wars against the onslaught of Islamism and fundamentalist Islam, it’s really important to understand how to break apart the exploited assumption of religious right.
The niqab, just like forced marriage, child marriage, female genital mutilation and a laundry list of other oppressive practices are cultural markers that have leeched onto faith traditions.
So, is the right to wear the niqab part of religious freedom? The answer is simply no. Islam has no banner, no flag, no color, no symbol, no hierarchy of religious leaders and no uniform.
Of course women have a right to wear what they want. Just don’t call it religion.
An EDL protest in London 2013 (Photo: David Holt/Flickr)
Ex-jihadist Manwar Ali and former English Defense League (EDL) organizer Ivan Humble would have at one point seen each other as enemies. At one point in their lives, they both carried extreme views.
However, a “super-mosque” brought the two men together in dialogue and understanding. Rumored plans to convert an old church in Ipswich into a mosque led Humble to challenge Manwar, who de-escalated the situation by revealing that the facility was to be converted into an inclusive community center.
Over the next few months, the former jihadist and the EDL organizer continued their conversations, arriving at an unlikely understanding of the other.
Humble shares his radically honest journey toward and away from the EDL with The Forgiveness Project (see also video below):22256asd21
“It all started for me when the radical Islamic preacher Anjem Choudary and eight other Muslims known as ‘Butchers of Basra’ interrupted a homecoming parade of troops in Luton. While the police were protecting Choudary, I watched as two people protesting against him were arrested. It incensed me, along with many others. The EDL was formed that day.”
He goes on to talk about his own personal life circumstances that made the EDL’s mission and work a central focus in his life. The EDL became Humble’s surrogate community. Yet ironically, his organizing efforts for the EDL brought him to meet the jihadist turned reformist Muslim who rejects what Anjem Choudary represents: Manwar Ali.
Far Right Voices | Ivan Humble - YouTube
Ali is a scholar and the founder of a Muslim educational charity. He now works on programs with the U.K.’s Home Office, but at one point in his life, he was a jihadist. After he was radicalized and recruited, he fundraised for Islamist extremists and fought in Afghanistan, Kashmir and Burma. Says Ali:
Ali’s story reminds us that each individual has worth and something useful to say. In his case, as in so many others, being discounted is what made him feel frustrated and undermined.
It’s an especially important message given the increased sociopolitical polarity pushing people away from community, along with the realities of being censored, de-platformed or otherwise blacklisted if you don’t carry politically correct, mainstream views.
How to fight the war on radical Islam? Watch as Ryan Mauro, director of the Clarion Intelligence Network and Shillman Fellow for the Clarion Project, is interviewed by Dr. Sebastian Gorka on his “America First” radio show on changing how we fight the war on radical Islam. Mauro and Gorka explore what civilian organizations can accomplish that law enforcement can’t.
Gorka & Mauro: Changing How We Fight the War on Radical Islam - YouTube
The historic district of Ashland, Oregon (Photo; Wikimedia Commons/Joe Mabel)
Throughout a trip up the coast of California and Oregon last week, I found intimate stories of Muslim immigrants in the least expected place: small towns.
As I drove, I often stopped in towns with a 70-80 percent Caucasian demographic, with some of them only holding a population of a few hundred people. I expected to find farmers, artisans, kombucha makers and retirees. I didn’t expect to wish Eid Mubarak (Happy Holiday) to another Pakistani immigrant working the gas station in Benbow, California — population 2,068 — both of us shrugging our shoulders that this is where we were on one of the most important Muslim holidays of the year.
In Ashland, Oregon — named one of the top 10 small towns in America — I met a South Asian family who had made Ashland their home. In the middle of the biggest Shakespearean watering hole of the world (once a year, the town is a mecca to theater actors and literature lovers), this family had set up their Indian restaurant. They brought with them a small piece of home, the only piece of home that is forever a gateway between cultures: food.
Yet, would the people coming through the doors of their restaurant ever meet the wizard behind the curtain, the one who ground the cumin, cardamon and coriander? Would those taking in morsels ever know their stories as they knew their food?
These are the questions that surfaced for me in the hours after these meetings, the bittersweetness of having met someone without really having the chance to know them, to have a chance to pepper these questions in a leisurely conversation.
Still, for 30 minutes that afternoon, we had a community between us as our boys explored the playground together pretending to be an a grand adventure. For the adults in this small town, their adventure was more subtle, and I got to ask one question: How does it feel to be so isolated from the larger South Asian diaspora?
Surprisingly, the family didn’t mind being cut off.
“It’s peaceful here,” confessed the mother, with her own mother nodding along sitting along a stone wall in a sari with a warm matronly smile I recognized as home.
As an immigrant myself throughout my childhood — and eternally in an immigrant mindset even though I became a naturalized citizen — I understood what it’s like to just want to be in some place peaceful.
I know what it’s like to adjust and adapt, to shrug your shoulders at your environment sometimes. It’s a shrug of acceptance. I know what it’s like to be at the heart of your town but not quite fit in — blending well enough but not really feeling like you belong.
While my travels continued up and down the coast, so did the echo of Muslim immigrant stories threading through some of the small towns I passed through.
The local paper in Humboldt, California, featured a Ramadan cover that shared portraits of local immigrants, their journey to America, their dream for their new life and how they worshiped.
The feature, I felt, gave more dignity to Muslims than some of the biggest mainstream Islamic organizations, most of whom wouldn’t have the patience for stories that didn’t have a political agenda. Here, sensational headlines didn’t matter; people mattered.
It was inspiring to see that even these remote spaces were sprouting new growth, turning to new people and new stories. Here the conversation was about breaking fast and Moroccan cookies. These were real stories about real people, their lives, their journeys. There was no demonization, no cries of oppression, no performance theater of Islamophobia, no hate and no melodramatic politicization of communities.
Since when does the Islamist lobby dictate the Canadian Conservative Party agenda?
If ever you wanted to know about Canadian politics and history, Canadian values, Islamic history, the distinction between Islam and Islamism, multiculturalism and above all, freedom, Professor Salim Mansur is your man.
A recently retired Western University professor and a leader in the Muslim reform movement, Mansur announced his candidacy for the Conservative Party of Canada last September in his electoral district, London North Centre.
In fact all I have learned about conservative values and policies has been through the writings and speeches of Professor Mansur, a devout Muslim, loving father and family man.
As a Canadian, I’m deeply disappointed and troubled by the breaking news that Professor Mansur’s nomination has been “disallowed” by the National Candidate Selection Committee of the Canadian Conservative Party (CPC).
While no specific reason was mentioned in the correspondence sent to Professor Mansur, a respected and trusted member of the Canadian Conservative Party informed Mansur that the party was concerned that his writings and presentations against Islamism and radical Muslims could be painted by opposing parties as “Islamophobic.”
If this is the case, then we are finished.
Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, president of American Islamic Forum for Democracy writes, “If conservatives don’t have the spine to ‘allow’ candidacy of pro-Western Muslims while Islamists run roughshod on the Left …We. Are. Doomed.”
Professor Mansur has been a steady and reasoned voice against radical Islam and its tentacles in the West. He is author of books that clearly expose the Islamist agenda. He specifically differentiates between Islam (as a faith) and Islamism (political Islam) as an ideology.
He is a proud Canadian upholding the Canadian values that brought people like us to this country – the values of free speech, gender equality, human rights and democracy. His main ideals are about Canadian security and a Canada that will remain “strong and free.”
So the question begs to be asked: Why are we headed on the path of appeasing the Muslim Brotherhood agenda?
Fact that Professor Mansur’s candidacy for the Canadian Conservative Party has been “disallowed” is not only a loss for the party itself, but it’s a gain for the Islamists and radicals.
If the Canadian Conservative Party waffles on its own core principles, they will never win the hearts and minds of Canadians. Once again we have been let down by our own.
However like a true Canadian, this is Professor Salim Mansur’s response:
I’m disappointed with CPC disallowing my candidacy, yet hopeful conservatives will persevere. I’ll have more to say about this & my role in 2019 election. Thanks to all for love & support. This setback won’t derail me to help rescue our Canada from Islamism & Globalism.
A sign near a checkpoint of a vigilante group reads Civilian J.T.F (Joint Task Force) Maiduguri, an area where the Islamist terror group Boko Haram has carried many deadly attacks. Young men and women formed vigilante groups to hunt down these terrorists and have had success. (Photo: AMINU ABUBAKAR/AFP/Getty Images)
When dealing with violent non-state actors, the role of vigilante groups becomes particularly fascinating for both their impact and impediment to peace building.
Clarion’s National Correspondent Shireen Qudosi speaks with Dr. Kingsley Madueke on understanding the niche role such groups play. Dr. Madueke studies ethnic and extremist violence, and is currently in Nigeria doing fieldwork on non-state security groups.
Currently studying vigilantism in one of the most challenged socioeconomic environments in the world, Dr. Madueke looks at the role of vigilante groups and other non-state security groups in tackling inter-group clashes, violent extremism and the rising levels of crime.
Dr. Madueke obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Amsterdam. He also has a master’s and post-graduate degree in conflict managements and peace studies from the University of Jos in Nigeria.
Beyond violent extremism and ethnic violence, his research interests also include political instability, radicalization and security in fragile states. He was a Marie Skoldowska-Curie scholar, and his articles have been published in the Journal of Modern African Studies, Africa Spectrum, Journal of Contemporary African Studies and African Studies Review.
Clarion: How does a vigilante group fit into a society?
Dr. Madueke: These groups have significant levels of trust and confidence within their immediate localities. Vigilante groups are usually very confident due to security community support and trust.
Clarion: What draws someone to support or become part of a vigilante group?
Dr. Madueke: For most individuals, the main reason for joining a vigilante group is to contribute towards communal order and safety. In marginal localities where state presence is minimal or entirely absent, residents rely on vigilante groups to maintain order.
Also, in some of the troubled areas I’m studying, a good number of those that end up in vigilante groups are people who’ve suffered one way or the other, lost loved ones or property. They’re actually victims. This is what sets them apart from a group like Antifa, who would like to see themselves as vigilante.
But this is not to say there’re no individuals with ulterior motives who may use their membership to pursue some personal goals.
Clarion: It would seem to me that vigilante groups have their own morality framework. Would you say that’s true?
Dr. Madueke: The issue of morality is very complex. Who defines moral conduct? In our case, we look at the question of does the community already have an existing moral code? The vigilantes try as much as possible to work within the perimeter of this moral code. Naturally, there are always bad eggs where vigilante members have been part of gang violence. A major challenge for vigilante leadership is to control this.
Clarion: If they’re standing within the community and moral codes of their society, what makes them vigilante?
Dr. Madueke: There’s a wealth of literature on vigilante groups in Nigeria and other parts of sub-Sahara Africa. There is also significant scholarly work on vigilante groups in parts of South America and Asia. The way it’s contextualized here in Nigeria is different than in the United States. Here they have a long history — originally, they were civilian efforts to fight crime. The Nigerian context is where you have a huge gap in state security. Vigilante groups seek to address this gap.
Clarion: It would seem them that part of the confidence these groups enjoy is that they’re needed by local communities rather than simply being retaliatory protest groups such as self-described vigilantes in the Western states.
Dr. Madueke: In Nigeria, there’s a major deficit in terms of policing and security. The national police force is grossly inadequate. Nigeria has a landmass of about 923,763 km² (356, 667 mi2) and a population estimated at 200 million. It is infeasible for a police force with a staff strength of 370, 000 to effectively cover the country.
Vigilante groups have for several decades been part of local communities in Nigeria. They are civilian security networks formed to tackle theft, robbery and gang violence. Responding to social conflicts was not part of their responsibility originally. However, with the recent rise in the frequency and scale of ethnic and religious violence in different parts of country, vigilantes have added “community defense” to their job description.
Nigeria used to be under successive military government rule. In 1999, when Nigeria returned to democratic government, there was an upsurge in group conflict. This put so much strain on state forces that the police and military were inadequate in terms of capacity.
In most cases, the state didn’t have what is required to tackle the security problem. They were overwhelmed. So the communities had to look at how to defend themselves.
Clarion: It’s understandable then how vigilante groups would be seen as heroes to their communities. Are they now a source of support or strain for the state?
Dr. Madueke: It’s a complex relationship. Even studying it is a very delicate issue. Sometimes in particular context, you have a very cooperative relationship between the vigilantes and the police, and other times there’s confrontation.
For example, in highly polarized settings, the religion or ethnicity of the police commissioner will impact how vigilantes will see them. Predominantly Christian communities prefer to work with security forces led by a Christian just like Muslims prefer security forces led by fellow Muslims. But of course, there are many instances where there is cooperation across religious divides.
Clarion: You’re currently in the field studying this in real time by immersing yourself in the world of vigilantes and other non-state security groups in Nigeria. You’re also set to present your work in Edinburgh in June. Can you tell us more about what questions your research is looking to offer answers to?
Dr. Madueke: For now, I’m focusing on two research questions: The first question is how do non-state security groups adapt to evolving security landscape particularly in north-central Nigeria. In other words, how do these groups respond to the threats of inter-group conflict, violent extremism and crime? The second question is: Why do some victims of violence become radicalized, whereas others become peace activists?
Clarion: Specifically, how would you say vigilante groups impact peace building?
Dr. Madueke: Vigilante groups play a key role in the security dynamics of their localities. Apart from fighting crime and generally maintaining order, they defend their communities against possible invasion by armed groups from other areas when deadly mass riots erupt.
However, they can also constitute a major hindrance to peace-building efforts. For example, when vigilante groups become politicized, they tend to advance the interests of their political benefactors rather than work for peaceful coexistence.
Thus, their role in peace building is complex, depending on various contextual factors. In highly polarized settings where there is a significant level of segregation and all channels of inter-communal communication have collapsed, vigilante groups easily morph into ethnic militias and contribute to fueling violence.
Is there is a blueprint to building alternative dialogue models that can better cater to the needs of youth and community? We spoke with Jeffrey Imm, a sage adviser on conflict resolution and peace building, to benefit from his years of efforts and observation in human rights movements.
The founder of the volunteer human rights activist group, REAL – Responsible for Equality and Liberty, Jeffrey believes that the current great divide in American political debate — or zero-sum politics — is preventing a major push for human rights in the United States today.
It’s also what’s to blame for broken dialogue models. When asked what he thought of the dialogue models ushered in by the rise of celebrity intellectuals and their often combative styles of engagement, Jeffrey had this to share with us:
“Many political debaters are engaged in zero-sum ideological wrestling matches. The cross talk that is so common in the television ‘news’ circus is simply a symptom of this mono-focus on power above all, above communication, above courtesy, above dignity. The zero-sum thinking means we must talk over ‘the other.’ All that matters in such power-centric thinking is that ‘the other’ loses and we win. It is not new. But what is increasingly new is the 24-7, 365 days a year (by both broadcasting and social media) way that it increasingly normalized as the ‘proper’ way to ‘debate.’
“Few of us enter any type of debates as ‘unbiased’ bystanders looking simply to solve problems, with no position or agenda of our own. But the political figures are directly looking to leverage the debate for their own direct power. Political figures are not only those seeking power to gain elected office, but also those who seek to improve their power as ‘influencers.’
“What is missing is a set of ‘ground rules’ for candid and fair discussions so the don’t devolve into shouting matches. When I have done structured interviews with the media, I generally make sure I know what the subject is, the time frame for discussion, etc. That’s a discipline we all need, regardless of our background, whether it is human rights, activism, politics, government. I was raised in a family culture that understood this. My father had Robert’s Rules of Order in his bookcase.
“But the unstructured, fire hose version of on-the-spot interviews, and the extreme political polarization of political figures and media, has allowed the degrading of this to become ‘normal.’ Organized discussions with an actual moderator, which get publicized, can show a different approach to at least conversation.
Since our media seems to be structured in a combative model and online engagement has become increasingly hostile, it falls on parents, educators and community leaders to model an alternative for youth to mirror.
A chaplain signs a memorial for Sabika Sheikh, a victim of the Santa Fe High School shooting in May 2018 in Santa Fe, Texas. (Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
The May 2019 issue of Texas Monthly featured a touching interfaith story surrounding the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting.
The Santa Fe High School shooting was carried about by a 17-year-old student at the school. Thirteen people were wounded in the attack, ten were killed. Among the fatalities was Sabika Sheikh, an exchange student from Pakistan.
Sabika arrived in Texas as part of the YES exchange program through the U.S. State Department. The program provides scholarships for students from countries with a significant Muslim population to spend one academic year in the U.S.
The news of Sabika’s death was devastating for the Pakistani community. The Pakistani community has always valued an American education, and the chance to send a young daughter abroad is a dream come true, but also takes an incredible act of faith to let a child into the world to explore it.
Sabika was killed three weeks before she was set to fly back home to celebrate the holidays with her family. Her death, like all other deaths from senseless acts of violence, is heartbreaking.
What happened to Sabika inbetween the time she arrived in America and before the school shooting is a story that was not well known. That piece of the story which is a celebration of her life, her education and the opportunity she had to make new friends and discover a new culture is the missing piece filled in by Texas Monthly’s Skip Hollandsworth.
Beyond the bleakness of a school shooting, Hollandsworth tells the story of an interfaith friendship between Sabika, a Muslim foreign exchange student, and an evangelical Christian girl.
Jaelyn Cogburn was then a 15-year-old freshman, Sabika’s junior by two years. Like Sabika, Jaelyn was new to the school. Typically homeschooled with a Bible-based curriculum, Hollandsworth relays how, that year, Jaelyn felt like God put it in her heart to go to Santa Fe High.
Three months into their remarkable friendship, Sabika requested her scholarship program allow her to shift from living with a Muslim-American host family to a non-Muslim host family so she could fully experience life in America. On December 21, 2018, Sabika spent her first night with her new host family: the Cogburns.
Hollandsworth exquisitely narrates the story of a fast and most unlikely friendship between the two girls from opposite corners of the earth. He paints a portrait of Sabika that gives her life beyond the headlines, diving deep into the world she came from and sharing the journey of her unfolding life in Texas. He shows us what is possible when we approach people with openness and respect, as Jaelyn and her family did for Sabika.