By Ismail Royer
When I was young my mother had a close friend from Cyprus. I grew up hearing her tell horrifying stories of the Turks’ invasion of her home. This woman was very beloved to me. When I told her in 1992 I had become a Muslim, the look of shock and anger on her face was hard to bear. “No, Randy, no!” she wailed. She had known me since I was in my mother’s womb. I knew I had let her down, sold her out, betrayed her.
I fought in Bosnia in 1995 as a volunteer with an Arab brigade. Most of the brothers accepted me without question, especially after I’d been taking fire with them on the front lines. Some didn’t accept me, though. There were a few who left our brigade or refused to join it because there was an American with them. Despite the love I felt from other brothers, the fury and suspicion that twisted their faces when they looked at me was painful.
In August 2001 I found myself in the middle of a vicious debate on a Muslim listserv, an early version of social media. I was taking a lot of heat for criticizing Al Qaeda, though many supported me as well. After I blasted Ayman Al-Zawaahiri and his “retarded fatwa,” one brother accused me of being a “Zionist agent.” Two years later, I was indicted in federal court for treason and other offenses related to, among other things, an alleged conspiracy to support Al Qaeda.
I pleaded guilty to lesser charges and was initially sent to the general population of a medium security prison. On going to the chow hall for the first time, I saw that here were two lines: one for black inmates, and one for white and Hispanic inmates. There were also black and white sides of the chow hall. Because the Muslims were nearly all black and sat on the black side, I faced a choice. Do I get in the white line and sit on the white side, thereby angering the Muslims? Or do I get in the black line and sit on the black side, thereby angering the whites? My choice would determine my social status in prison: sit with the whites and I would be a white guy whose religion happened to be Islam; or sit with the blacks and be a white guy who wanted to be black. I sat with the blacks because I didn’t want to offend the Muslims, and on the theory that I put my religion before my ethnicity. I paid for it: white guys generally shunned me and called me “wigger” under their breaths.
I had some close companions from the Muslims at that prison. The inmate leader of the Muslims even asked me to lead Friday Jumuah prayers and give the khutba, or sermon, once a month. One day he went to the hole, and since now there was no one but me who knew how to lead Jumuah prayers, I started doing them every week. But there was dissent in the ranks. Eventually, a group of Muslim inmates approached me and told me of the complaints: the brothers had white prison guards telling them what to do all week; they didn’t want to come to Jumuah and hear another white guy telling them what to do.
Shortly thereafter the Federal Bureau of Prisons decided to remove all inmates it classified as terrorists from the general prison population and move them to either ADX, the supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, or a so-called Communication Management Unit (CMU), a secretive unit created to house inmates with terrorism cases. In 2006 I was sent to a CMU in Terre Haute, Indiana, and in 2010 I was sent to ADX.
When I arrived in ADX I was placed in solitary confinement. The inmate in the cell next to me, apparently a white guy, yelled at me through the door, asking where I was from and what my name was. When I told him “Ismail,” he yelled, “Are you a Muslim?” “Yeah,” I yelled. “I became a Muslim in 1992.” The guy started rhythmically banging and kicking on the wall of his cell, screaming, “Race traitor! We’re at war with Islam!” over and over. For hours. For days.
In 2015 my beloved mother died. Her old friend from Cyprus refused to attend her funeral. By then she hadn’t spoken to my mother for many years.
I got out of prison in December 2016 after nearly fourteen years. I’m on the terrorist no-fly list, but I recently got permission to fly. It’s unnecessary to describe all the extraordinary security procedures I went through at the airport, but it included being followed and filmed by large plainclothes officers as I went from check-in in to the gate. Appropriately so, many readers will say, and you’re probably right.
The reason I flew was to attend a forum at the University of Southern California, where I discussed the nature of extremism and the habits of the heart and mind that can lead to it. Some Muslims don’t appreciate that kind of talk. They think it amounts to a kind of disloyalty. Indeed, it reached me that one brother convicted of terrorism offenses and who’s still in prison is mad at me, even though he’s never met me. He says I was his hero when he was young, but I betrayed him by writing against terrorism after I got to prison. He seems not to realize I was saying the same thing in 2001, and getting the same criticism.
At Jumuah recently I saw a brother I’ve known since 1993. He’s now become a well-known imam and public figure. He takes great pains to maintain his public image as a moderate, which is understandable in this era. He was visibly afraid when I greeted him. I told him, don’t worry brother, there’re no cameras around. He immediately fled anyway, mumbling something. I felt bad for making him feel uncomfortable.
Adjusting to this new world after so long in prison isn’t easy. One thing that has thrown me off is the extreme polarization and hyper-racial, extreme-left bent of the youth, including Muslims. Recently on social media, a young Muslim woman and her followers told me if I want to prove that I am one of the “good” white people, I need to publicly denigrate myself for being white.
I’m not sure who I need to prove what to anymore, or if I knew that, what would be the point.
6 thoughts on “Confessions of a Traitor”
Salam Alikum as a fellow revert I understand the struggle of being ostracized by members of your race and different muslims from other parts of the world upon accepting Islam. This feeling of never quite fitting in must have gotten worse after your release from prison with the constant fear western muslims have of being regarded as terrorists. Race can be a complex issue to talk about.These issues are made even more complex when there is not room for a dialogue or exchange of experiences. On social media and in this post you seem to be of a mindset that racial issues are a minor problem amplified by extreme leftist ideology. They may be minor to you but these issues are not minor for those who have lived with them their entire lives. Just because you did not hear about these things doesn’t mean they didn’t exist before.
I have seen and experienced racism first hand. It was something that I have lived with from a very young age. Before I left elementary school I figured out that speaking “white” would earn me better grades and more respect from my teachers. When I was in middle school my sister got dreadlocks and was routinely stopped by the police in our neighborhood because many of the young men had them. I saw a police grab my older brother by the back of his neck and drag him to the ground. I have had a white man call me a nigger. Once my youth pastor justified the atrocity that was the trans Atlantic slave trade by saying that it benefited black people since we were now out of Africa.These were some blatant forms of racism. Some of it’s more subtle forms are brainwashing black women to believe that their natural hair is not good enough. Teachers asking me if I was pregnant when I gained weight. Being cautious of getting too impassioned in a class discussion out of fear that the angry black woman stereotype. Poor representation in the media. Being asked if I am in the NOI just because I am black.
I am not even twenty three but I have known what racism was for nearly all of my life. So to have someone dismiss those experiences because they have not seen them is disheartening. One can never truly understand what it is like to view the world from another person’s perspective, All we can do is listen. Something that is difficult to do when we dismiss any opposing viewpoint. I implore you to humble yourself enough to weed out the voices of sjw who make the issues of the marginalized their soap box and listen to what people of marginalized racial groups have to say. You often warn against a victim hood mentality. Well, it is impossible for one to see themselves as a victim if they have been heard.
Thank you for your feedback. As you wrote, it’s hard to put oneself in another’s shoes. But that’s what it means to be a real, full human being. As for my feeling towards the victimhood mentality: to counsel against it is not to deny that in fact one may have been a victim. The key is to deal with the the setbacks, obstacles, and injuries one faces in life without being consumed with resentment and self-pity. It is very natural to allow one’s heart to drift in this direction but it can develop into a kind of narcissism. Having traveled around the world, I promise you that there are people suffering horribly in this world. This puts one’s own suffering in perspective, without diminishing its reality. Without that perspective, one can begin to resent others–even people we don’t know–because in our minds they haven’t suffered as much as we have. We don’t know if in fact this is true, and in any event life is not a contest of suffering. Shortly before I was released, an African American man at the end of his very short sentence told me with an accusing tone about statistics that whites tend to get less prison time than blacks. I know of those statistics but I got a twenty year sentence, so what does it have to do with me? He’s at a low security prison with a short sentence, I worked my way down to a low from a supermax prison. Also unsaid is that, whatever the unfairness of either of our situations, we both made choices that put ourselves there. No human is a statistic, no human deserves to be seen as responsible for the actions of others of his “group.” We can withdraw to a dark corner of our rooms and lick our wounds and sulk or we can walk with our heads up, face life as grown men and women, and play the hand we’re dealt–and even more, learn to see how we ourselves often play a role in our own situation, or at least in perpetuating it. None of that negates seeking justice for ourselves and others; indeed, it was the message and way of life of all the great men and women who worked for justice in the past, and what distinguishes them from the anarchists and chaos-mongers who masquerade as people of justice.
Thank you again for your thoughtful comments.
It is always easier to find solutions to the problems of others when we ourselves do not have them. If you really believe that someone sees themselves as a victim should you really tell them when and how to heal? Growing as a person has no deadline nor should it.
I am primarily concerned about the victimology of the Muslim ummah because it is standing in the way of its renewal, as I wrote in my essay https://agoodtree.net/2017/02/02/islam-or-islamist-extremism/. I can advise the Muslims because I’m a Muslim. I’m also concerned about this disease in my own heart on a personal level and in the people I love, as part of tazkiyya, or purification of the heart.
When it comes to America in general, I do have a right to care about the mental and spiritual health of the nation because it is something that affects all of us. So if America ultimately disintegrates into “identity communities” vying for oppressed victim status and seething with resentment, I care because I live here, Americans are my people, and I don’t want to see them succumb to a sickness of the soul. Also I live here, we all affect each other, and when such diseases become widespread they eventually enter your home and your heart.
Ismail, I could listen to you day in and day out. There’s something exceptional regarding your being! I’m from Split, Croatia, born and raised in the pure Catholic family (Priest as a family member) in Split. I reverted to Islam 3 years ago. You are familiar how significant that’s with your exceptional background knowladge of that region. My story of conversion still seems unbelievable experience even at present. I truly would like to meet you in person one day cause I respect you tremendously from and within all aspects of our wordly lives, Inshalah!
Thank you so much, sister. I’m so glad my story resonates with you. Congratulations to you and may Allah give you continued success and happiness in this life and the next. Amin!