I had a class with Omar Hammami or Abu Mansour al-Amriki as he calls himself now. It was fourth block Creative Writing class. At the time, he was just your average kid, confused as to his place in the world and more concerned with soccer and girls than politics... or at least, that's all I saw.
Our instructor was a really religious guy. Granted, if you live by generalizations, everyone in Alabama is religious, but for most folks the real religion belongs on the football field. The only time people really cling to Jesus is during times of duress or the off-season. I think FoxNews, in reporting about Omar, mentioned that Daphne High School was something out of Friday Night Lights, and I haven't seen that television show, but yeah... sounds about right. I don't know if the school in the program is also secretly controlled by a non-denominational church that sits directly next to the main school building, but if it is then comparison is apt, not to mention terrifying.
But that's the way things were when I attended the school. At the time, the Eastern Shore Christian Center was in its early years, and they had a youth program that scared the living shit outta me. One-Eighty as it was called, was perverse in its effectiveness. Within a year of starting up, it had swallowed the student body and left folks like me (ya know, the weird kids) sore and scared. I've never been a fan of religion. I argue that it's socially accepted mind control. And I think it's pretty obvious that when you come in to a public school where kids are already confused and unsure of everything, you're gonna win some converts. I mean come on, shooting fish in a barrel is too liberal a metaphor in this instance. Couple this with the a post-Columbine atmosphere of restrictive conservatism/fascism (School uniforms? Seriously? That's gonna stop a kid from losing it and going crazy?), and you've got a pretty terrible place for a free-thinker to be (as if high school isn't already). So yeah, that's Daphne High School circa the late 90's, which was around the time Omar converted.
As mentioned earlier, before I completely sidetracked with background, our Creative Writing instructor was a pretty spiritual guy, or at least he spoke highly of the value of faith and spirit. There were quite a few occasions when Omar would talk disparagingly of religion. See, this creative writing class was less about writing and more about expressing. Sometimes we would have an assignment that required us to write, but often we'd wind up derailed having group discussions about whatever seemed important. More often than not, that would revolve around existential stuff, like God. When this happened, it was normally my duty to act as the devil's advocate, which I gleefully do most of the time anyway. Our teacher would try to argue that faith is important and would always relay the benefits and positives that come out of it. As such, he was constantly challenging Omar's faith.
I really honestly think that he had more to do with Omar's sudden conversion to Islam than anything. I can't say for sure as I'm not him, but as an anecdote, after that semester I rarely saw Omar, and when I did he was rocking garb like he just walked out of a book of illustrated Bible stories.
Don't get me wrong. I don't think anyone, least of all our teacher, really thought that he'd ever become a terrorist. This was pre-9/11. Nobody really saw that coming either. I mean, I had read about Osama bin Laden in Time Magazine, but that was the extent of my foresight.
I just think that our teacher believed that having faith in something is better than having no faith at all.
I haven't asked him how he feels about the irony of the current situation.