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Fort Hood shootings: US Muslims feel new heat

After the shootings at Fort Hood, Muslim communities across the US were swift to condemn the attack. But the incident has again raised image issues for Muslims, as well as questions about how to best counter radicalization.

By Michael B. FarrellStaff writer / November 17, 2009

Imam Sheikh Mohamed Abdullahi stands outside the Silver Spring, Md., mosque once attended by accused gunman Nidal Hasan.

Katie Falkenberg/The Washington Times/AP


San Francisco

In the hours after officials identified Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a Virginian of Palestinian ancestry, as the shooter at Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 5, US Muslim groups quickly condemned the attack. Religious and community leaders were eager to assure the nation that Muslims were appalled by the day's violence.

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"It's our job to make sure that the actions of one individual aren't going to generalize an entire faith community," says Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

About 2.35 million Muslims live in the United States, according to a 2007 survey by the Pew Research Center. The majority are middle class, moderate, and assimilated into American society, according to the survey. A small minority, however, hold radical views, and at least 60 have been charged with plotting domestic terrorist attacks. Rightly or wrongly, these actions are coloring perceptions about Muslims.

The shooting at Fort Hood follows a string of foiled domestic terrorist plots. In September, a Denver airport-shuttle driver was charged with plotting to explode chemical bombs in New York. He is an Afghan immigrant. Around the same time, two Muslims were arrested for allegedly trying to blow up buildings in Texas and Illinois. Last month, a Detroit imam whom authorities say wanted a separate Islamic state within the US was killed in a shootout during a Federal Bureau of Investigation raid.

While Muslims have worked with federal agents to thwart domestic terror plots, these recent cases are spurring many prominent voices within the community, as well as outside observers, to suggest more-effective ways for Muslims to ferret out extremists and push back against radicalization.

"When it comes to countering radicalization, that is up to the Muslim community to deal with," says Alejandro Beutel, government liaison for the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Next month, the council will release recommendations to improve cooperation between law enforcement and Muslim groups.

One recommendation: a "fresh counterterrorism enterprise" between the government and Muslims that follows a community-policing model. The group also suggests that federal and local agents develop a better understanding of America's diverse Muslim community, which largely consists of immigrants from all over the world and Muslims of every Islamic sect. It further recommends that Muslims undertake the "counter radicalization aspects" of fighting terror groups while law enforcement focuses on criminal investigations.

The relationship between police and the Muslim community has been strained since 9/11. Many Muslim groups accuse the FBI and other counterterrorism agents of using overly aggressive tactics to strong-arm mosque attendees into becoming informants. Others say Muslims are often victims of racial profiling.