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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.

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The scrutiny has created a siege mentality in some Muslim communities. Many are afraid to talk to newcomers for fear of being entrapped by FBI informants. Some are afraid to express political views, and others have stopped attending mosque altogether.

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"Sometimes the Muslim community does have reason for its suspicion in cases where representatives of the government do not do a good job of distinguishing who could be a terrorist [from] those who could just be loudmouths," says Daveed Gar­ten­stein-Ross, vice president of re­search at the Foun­da­tion for Defense of Dem­ocracies and author of "My Year Inside Radical Is­lam."

Still, he says, "there is a lot of frustration that the [Muslim] community is not doing enough to combat extremism."

For instance, says Mr. Gartenstein-Ross, the views of Daniel Boyd, who faces criminal charges related to training young Muslims to fight, were well known within his Muslim community in North Carolina. "That's an example where not enough was done to counteract someone who had extreme views," he says.

The ideal scenario, Garten­stein-Ross and others say, involves Muslims serving as eyes and ears for law enforcement within mosques and the broader community. And religious leaders, he says, should be more aggressive in providing an ideological counterweight to Al Qaeda.

Some counterarguments are happening. After militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is US-born and now reportedly lives in Yemen, praised Hasan as "a hero" on his blog, Faraz Rabbani, an Islamic scholar living in Canada, listed six reasons on Facebook why the Fort Hood killings were haram, or against Islam.

More open discussions are beginning to take place inside mosques, too. In October, the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California broke ground by starting a series in which both Muslim and non-Muslim authors discuss their works. It's this kind of engagement that observers say can both thwart radicalization and help engage Muslims with the larger community.

While many say a healthier degree of debate and dialogue is essential to derail extremism, others say it will persist as long as Muslims in the US are viewed as a fifth column.

"The fundamental issue is [that Americans are] uncomfortable as a diverse society," says Agha Saeed, national chair of the American Muslim Alliance. "If I am being treated right, why would I radicalize?" he asks.

And while many Muslim leaders say they are willing to help federal agents, they wonder how much they can do when much of the radicalization happens via the Internet.

"Extremist Muslims do not come to me and tell me they are extremists," says Imam Sayed Hassan al-Qazwini, leader of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Mich.

Still, he says, imams have an obligation to use their position to confront radicalization. "Friday prayers must always talk about moderation and fighting extremism," he says. "It is required for Muslim imams to speak louder and make their voices heard."