LONDON — The police officer had just finished an earnest presentation on counter-extremism before an audience of 200 restless teenagers at an east London high school when a young man of Pakistani origin in a black hoodie took the stage.
“How many of you people are Muslim?” the man barked.
He grinned as nearly every hand went up.
“Guys, we can take over! Sharia law coming soon!” the man cried gleefully. “Allahu akbar!”
The teens erupted in laughter even before the man had a chance to clarify: “I’m kidding. I’m kidding. I think I scared the white people.”
It’s the kind of knowing humor that has made 29-year-old Humza Arshad an Internet sensation, a hero to Muslim teenagers and perhaps the most potent new weapon in Britain’s arsenal as it wages an increasingly desperate campaign to counter violent Islamist extremism.
At a time when the flow of British Muslims to the war in Syria shows no sign of ebbing, Arshad has positioned himself as the anti-Jihadi John. Like Mohammed Emwazi, the scowling Islamic State executioner, Arshad is a London-raised Muslim from an immigrant family whose face has become instantly recognizable to millions of young Brits through videos uploaded online.