Radical Islam finds US to be 'sterile ground'
Home-grown terror cells are largely missing in action, a contrast to Europe's situation.
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Indeed, America's Muslim community would wage the war on terror differently. According to the 2004 Zogby survey, three-quarters say the best way is for the US to change its foreign policy in the Middle East by recognizing a Palestinian state and being less supportive of Israel.Skip to next paragraph
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A newer concern for America's Muslims is their standing in post-9/11 society. Many sense that the ground under their feet is shifting – and young people like Florida-born Radwan, in particular, feel it. A 2001 graduate of Texas A&M University, Radwan wanted to become a doctor and began working as a medical researcher. One month after the 9/11 attacks, he was let go – at the end of a three-month probationary period. Afterward, he says, he couldn't get even an interview for a job that used his biochemistry degree or research skills. Eventually he abandoned his hopes of a medical career and shifted to human rights work.
That experience leads him to suggest another reason the US hasn't seen European-style homegrown terror cells: the intense scrutiny the FBI has focused on Muslim-Americans. "That is good in the short term, but bad in the long term," he says. "The Bush administration policies feed resentment that ... will stay in the Arab- American psyche for a long time."
The FBI says it doesn't target any community, neighborhood, or religion. Agents simply go where the leads take them, says John Miller, the FBI's assistant director of public affairs. But he adds: "We have put a growing effort into community outreach because we understand the discomfort the amount of pressure our attention can bring to a community."
A small but growing number of analysts believe that some US officials have overstated the threat of homegrown Islamist radicalism in the United States. While Al Qaeda and foreign terrorists remain determined to attack in America, they say, the focus on potential American cells may be leading the US to misdirect its antiterror efforts.
"My theory as to why we haven't found any [homegrown Islamist terrorist cells] is because there aren't very many of them.... They aren't the diabolical, capable, and inventive people envisioned by most politicians and people in the terrorism industry," says John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University. "The danger is that we've wasted an enormous amount of money with all of the wiretaps [and] investigations, and diverted two-thirds of the FBI from criminal work to terrorism work."
The FBI calls such conclusions "uninformed," citing alleged plots by radicalized US citizens. The most notable was the case of the Lackawanna Six, so named for the six Yemeni-Americans from Lackawanna, N.Y., who went to Al Qaeda training camps in the spring of 2001.
"The people who make these claims [about threats being exaggerated] are never the ones responsible for preventing these attacks," says John Miller, the FBI's assistant director of public affairs. "The point is that if you're the dead guy, or you're a family member of one of those guys, all you know is that you wanted someone to develop the intelligence and take the actions to prevent it."
Still, a lack of public evidence pointing to extensive Islamist extremism in the US is leading a small but growing number of experts to agree with Professor Meuller's assessment. Like Meuller, though, they add a cautionary note.
"There's not zero threat in any community, but it is good news and we have to hope that reflects an underlying reality that [homegrown extremist cells] don't exist here," says Jonathan Winer, a terrorism expert in Washington. "You've always got lone nuts in every imaginable ethnic group grabbing every imaginable ideology to justify terrorism."