How to fight jihad in America
Islamic radicalization in America's own backyard is a problem. But our domestic counterterrorism strategies end up alienating or underutilizing our best asset – the Muslim community. Partnerships with moderate Muslims, education, research, and dialogue will build trust and counter extremism.
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Muslim scholars and community leaders are best suited to confront this problem by providing religious education (and re-education) to youth in both an authentic and “cool” paradigm. In Britain, Shaykh Hisham Kabbani’s “anti-extremism road shows” and Imam Tahir ul-Qadri’s “anti-terror camps” draw thousands of participants. Private foundations should support similar projects in the US that undercut radical ideologies and provide youth access to mentors who preach socially responsible definitions of what it means to be a “good Muslim” based on shared American and Islamic values.Skip to next paragraph
Gallery American Jihadis
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Rethink relationships with Muslim communities
Second, policymakers and law enforcement officials have to rethink how relationships are forged with Muslim communities. FBI sting operations and ad-hoc outreach efforts with Muslim organizations at the national, rather than the community level, have engendered a culture of paranoia and suspicion between Muslims and the government.
To instill confidence and mutual trust, officials should develop a rapport with local imams, teachers, businessmen, and activists who can generate positive change in their communities. Brainstorming sessions that analyze the root drivers of radicalization and develop community-based responses should occur on a regular basis across America.
Form smarter partnerships with the right people
Third, we have to be smart about whom we work with. For example, British policymakers inadvertently empowered hardline Islamists because they did not impose benchmarks for partnerships. Consequently, organizations like the Cordoba Foundation and the Muslim Council of Britain – that worked against state interests, desired an Islamist state in the Britain, or supported violent jihad – were still included in government initiatives.
Meanwhile, back in the US, even though Awlaki was under investigation by the FBI, he was invited to the Pentagon as part of an outreach effort post 9/11. In short, we have to do our homework and avoid courting “overnight moderates” who openly denounce terrorism, but under the surface, encourage militancy. Public-private partnerships in the US should be made with Muslims who agree on shared values. We should seek those who have consistently demonstrated a commitment to religious freedom of all persons, nonviolence in conflict resolution, and the preservation of the US Constitution as our rule of law.
Research the challenges Muslim Americans face
Fourth, we need research to better understand the challenges that affect Muslim-American communities and the factors that cause persons to join or leave terrorist groups. We also need to explore the cultural and political demographics of Muslim communities as well as their attitudes on social and political issues.
This data will enable policymakers to create a diversified counter-radicalization strategy that reflects the nuances of the American Muslim population.