Boxing champion fighting for youth
Liberian-bornMuslim using lessons from school of hard knocks to promote inclusion
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.”
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.”