Box­ing cham­pion fight­ing for youth

Liberian-bornMus­lim us­ing lessons from school of hard knocks to pro­mote in­clu­sion

China Daily (USA) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Brus­sels

He was one of the best mid­dleweight box­ers of his time and is now a Bel­gian law­maker, but Bea Diallo says he un­der­stands what turns young­sters to the dark side.

Diallo, a Liberian-bornMus­lim, says he is us­ing the lessons he learned in the school of hard knocks to mo­ti­vate young Bel­gians and even steer some away from Is­lamic ex­trem­ism.

“Box­ing helped me be­come the man that I am­to­day,” Diallo told AFP af­ter ar­riv­ing from par­lia­ment to don a red ban­dana and box­ing garb for a coach­ing ses­sion at his gym.

“Now I am try­ing to trans­form this force and this teach­ing that I have re­ceived for a gen­er­a­tion that feels that it is lost and drop­ping out of so­ci­ety.”

Diallo, the child of a Guinean diplo­mat Sene­galese caught up in own youth.

He be­came “ul­tra­vi­o­lent, vi­o­lent in the ex­treme” af­ter an at­tack by skin­heads in France in which a friend lost an eye, he said.

“If there had been the same con­text as to­day, where peo­ple are able to come and brain­wash you, I could have ended up wag­ing ji­had.”

Since those dark days, Diallo has turned his life around.

Af­ter box­ing, the 45-yearold mar­ried fa­ther of four be­came a coach and got in­volved in run­ning a gym, as well as serv­ing as a city al­der­man and an elected mem­ber of the Brus­sels-cap­i­tal par­lia­ment.

A fa­mil­iar pres­ence on Bel­gian TV, the so­cial­ist politi­cian works on youth, em­ploy­ment and so­cial in­te­gra­tion while call­ing for democ­racy in Guinea, the coun­try of his fa­ther’s birth.

His gym has given him a ring­side seat at the growth of mil­i­tant Is­lam in Bel­gium, the Euro­pean coun­try with the high­est per capita num­ber of fight­ers who have joined ji­had fa­ther and a mother, was vi­o­lence in his in Syria and Iraq, es­ti­mated at 465.

Diallo said some mar­tial arts gyms even train young Bel­gians to wage ji­had — a phe­nom­e­non con­firmed by Bel­gian ju­di­cial sources.

Bel­gium’s RTL tele­vi­sion has hailed Diallo as a “sym­bol of suc­cess­ful in­te­gra­tion in our coun­try.”

‘Vi­cious cy­cle’

a fig­ure

But it nearly all went wrong for him.

Fright­ened and em­bit­tered bythe skin­head at­tack­whenhe was liv­ing in Paris, he got into fights and in­volved in gangs.

But he be­gan emerg­ing from what he called “a vi­cious cy­cle” af­ter his fa­ther moved the fam­ily to Brus­sels. There, Diallo be­gan read­ing the works of Martin Luther King andMa­hatma Gandhi.

At 16 Diallo be­gan box­ing, im­me­di­ately tak­ing to its self­dis­ci­pline and egal­i­tar­ian spirit. He also be­gan study­ing hard in high school and univer­sity.

In 1998, he beat the US’ Rob Bleak­ley for the mid­dleweight In­ter­na­tional Box­ing Fed­er­a­tion crown be­fore a 50,000 crowd in Con­akry and an in­ter­na­tional satel­lite tele­vi­sion au­di­ence. He held the ti­tle for six years.

And the for­mer prize fighter pulls no punches in tack­ling ap­par­ent ji­hadist sym­pa­thies.

When he called for a mo­ment of si­lence af­ter the March 22 Is­lamic State bomb­ings that killed 32 peo­ple in Brus­sels, some grum­bled — but he scolded them.

“I said: ‘What, why are you mak­ing these faces?’ I said: ‘Do you know who died? Mus­lims, Chris­tians, Jews, Arabs, blacks and whites. They tar­geted ev­ery­one.’”

He warned them: “It’s not Is­lam’s fight against the West. It’s a fight against all of you.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.