Jivani's family got into a minor car accident on their way home. The response police was so overblown it became burned into his memory.

It was Paris' darkest night this century.

On November 13, 2015, Islamic jihadists wearing suicide vests and brandishing AK-47s murdered 130 people and wounded hundreds more across the French capital.

Four years on, a resurgent and emboldened Islamic State is wreaking havoc with violence, crop fires and suicide bombings across Syria and Iraq, and according to Jamil Jivani, the frontline of the battle is much closer than you think.


Jivani is author of Why Young Men: The Dangerous Allure of Violent Movements and What We Can Do About It'.

According to Jivani, the Paris jihadists and the kids from his neighbourhood have a few things in common: They were young, they were Muslim and they were men.

Terror, bloodshed and death might be where radicalisation and extremist ideology ends, but it's not where it begins.

The Paris attackers had all grown up in the margins and nearly all had fallen foul of the law and then been radicalised in prison.

Jivani remembers his first encounter with police. The shadow from their hats obscuring their eyes. Bright flashlights blinding his own.

He was just eight years old.

Jivani remembers it clearly, not only because of his age and his fear, but it was also one of the few times his family — both parents and his two younger sisters — were all together.

"That didn't happen very much, so I remember really clearly. We were on our way home, and we got into a minor car accident," he said.


As soon as the police arrived, they started acting aggressively.

Jivani's dad was forced to sit on the kerb. They yelled at him and belittled him. Jivani watched on.

Like many children, Jivani looked to his parents as authority figures. He saw them as the arbiters of right and wrong.

"When you see your father being treated like he's the child, being demeaned and yelled at and denigrated, it burns into your memory. I remember thinking the reason they were acting that way toward my father, who's a black man, and my mother, who's a white woman, is because of race," he said.

From that point on, Jivani felt uncomfortable around anyone in uniform.

He saw police officers as part of the problem, only protecting the status quo but keeping him and the people he cared about down.

"The people who you trust as a taxpayer to keep your community safe are treating you like you are a danger. It's a hard thing to get used to," Jivani said.

Canada is the only country Jivani has ever known, and yet, because of his race, he never felt like he belonged.

"I think that's the long-lasting effect that racial profiling can have on a community. It deteriorates your relationship with your country. You don't feel you're being welcomed, even if you're born there," he said.

A commemorative plaque and flowers marking the fourth anniversary of the Paris attacks of November 2015. Photo / AP
A commemorative plaque and flowers marking the fourth anniversary of the Paris attacks of November 2015. Photo / AP

In an ideal society, parents and teachers are involved in a young person's life and can help them process difficult experiences. But Jivani didn't have those adults in his life. Instead, like many young men, there was an unlimited supply of people who wanted to feed and fan the flames of his anger.

By 11th grade, Jivani was obsessed with rap music and gang culture and decided to buy a gun.

Surrounded by anti-authoritarian youth who were the product of similar broken homes, bad role models and a society that had not accepted them, Jivani was determined to live out the criminal lifestyle he'd glorified.

Jivani was at a crossroads. He liked being angry. He was ready to explode.

Yet unlike many in his peer group he chose to walk away from it all.

He didn't buy that gun.

Instead, Jivani got his life together, attended Yale, studied law and eventually, as a professor, decided he wanted to be part of the change.

"The Paris attacks stood out to me just because the perpetrators – who were from Molenbeek section or district in Brussels – were pretty similar in biography to some of the young men I grew up with," Jivani said.

They also resented the society that had discriminated against them.

"Being a criminal, being extremist, being violent, these are things that are born out of a rejection."

Molenbeek has been dubbed the Jihadi capital of Europe.

"And the unfortunate reality is that in that neighbourhood, in Brussels at the time, the government just brushed that community off. They were not concerned about those families, those children, and so they were looking the other way while this hatred and anti-social thinking was boiling up," Jivani said.

"It's no wonder then that you wind up having an organisation like ISIS being able to thrive in that environment because people don't care enough about those kids to make sure they're not being exposed to that kind of hatred and divisive thinking, right?"

Jivani says his book aims to show the world what some of the young men we write off in our society can achieve if we engage them.

There is no silver bullet. Only with individual and localised programs and positive male role models Jivani believes hearts and minds can be engaged.