Ilan Sharon, a son of Jewish refugees from Libya and Egypt, was born and raised in Haifa, Israel. Following his army service where he ranked as a Captain, he started a software company in Israel that later merged with a Minneapolis based company.
As the Executive Director of Minnesotans Against Terrorism, Ilan speaks frequently on the issue of terrorism and the struggle for Peace in the Middle East. He presents to thousands, at various conferences, high schools, colleges, churches, synagogues and community events. Ilan and M.A.T has garnered wide spread media coverage including television broadcasts and radio shows.
What got you interested in fighting radical Islam?
Both my parents were born and raised in Muslim countries where some Muslims treated them nicely and some didn’t. I was born and raised in Haifa, Israel where to this day Jews, Muslims, and Christians live in coexistence. I used to visit Muslim cities in the area, and had Muslim friends. But still, we were in a constant war with the Muslim countries around us and I always hoped for a time where we could live in peace with our neighbors.
When the Oslo Peace Process started, I thought there was hope. In the early 90's my company was acquired by a US-based company and I relocated to the US, but visited Israel often. In September 2000 I was in Israel when the second intifada started. I recall watching on television how two Israeli reserve soldiers who accidentally drove to Ramallah, a Muslim city in the West Bank were lynched to death and their bodies were thrown out the window into a large angry crowd who continued to beat their corpses.
I couldn’t understand how after working towards peace for eight years, there was more hate than understanding. I could no longer visit the same Arab cities I had as a boy. I decided to research the issue; including getting a hold on what is being said on Palestinian television, radio, newspapers and in mosques. What I discovered shocked and horrified me. Radical Islamic organizations had taken hold of the media and the mosque pulpit to spread hate towards America, Israel, Christians, Jews, and anyone that is not a radical Muslim. Their plan succeeded and a new Palestinian generation was growing to be radical and very dangerous, which only pushed further any hopes for peace.
When I was back in the US I noticed the sweeping victory of the radical Muslim supporters and apologetics in the media. The main stream media was bending over backward to not portray the Palestinian radical Muslim terrorists as terrorists. This is when I realized how dangerous these groups might be and when I decided that I need to do something about it.
What drives/inspires you?
I am a trained software engineer, which is my favorite job, however, I believe that what I do now is more important and will make more of an impact on the future world for my kids and grandkids. When I finish a presentation or a project that has reached many people, I feel that I did the right thing and it keeps me going.
It is extremely rewarding when moderate Muslim students approach me following a presentation and thank me for the presentation. Some even ask if I can come back and talk to another group. I enjoy getting to know people with similar values and their passion keeps me going. Last but not least, the support I receive from my wife to continue doing what I am doing, despite the fact that I took a big “pay cut” from my previous “normal job” is a great source of strength.
How do you feel you are making a difference?
When we founded M.A.T., we utilized a detailed survey and feedback tools which allow us to measure the success of various projects. The results so far have been better than we originally anticipated. One of the ways that we can judge our success is that those that disagree with us are trying to prevent us from speaking out. Their fear signifies that we have something important and legitimate to say. In addition to winning awards, we have also received wide media coverage that has been very positive. The coverage from our campaigns has encouraged others around the nation to start similar initiatives and we are proud to be a positive example for change.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to make a difference but doesn’t know how?
That is the amazing thing about the great documentaries that I have had the privilege to be a part of. So many people tell me that they have wanted to do something for a while but felt that they either don’t know enough on the issue or are not comfortable to speak on it.
The documentaries Obsession and The Third Jihad are a useful resource as they tell the story in a professional, factual and interesting way. I encourage individuals to invite a few friends or family over, and have a movie night to watch one of the films. Many even gave the DVDs away as holiday gifts for friends and family. For others I encourage them to help financially support these projects. At M.A.T., we make it easy for everyone to get informed and involved in some way or another.
Is there hope for the future, if yes, where?
Yes, there is hope. There will be good times and bad, but if we continue to embrace good values and remember that we are doing it for our kids and grandkids, we will succeed. The oppressive style of tyranny in radical Islam will not allow its followers to flourish in the long run, at the end of the day, our western values of freedom and human rights provide the best environment for society to succeed, and we will.
What is the goal of your organization?
We have a nicely defined mission statement which you can read on our website (http://www.MATmn.org), but our real goal is… to go out of business! I know it sounds funny, but this is what we are hoping for, that there will be no need for us to do what we do. Yes, it might take some time, but hopefully I will get to see it happen.