In light of a string of counterterror cases involving young radicalized Americans, a leading Muslim group said Friday that Muslim Americans should be more actively involved in rooting out extremism in their midst.
But law enforcement agencies must ensure the country’s focus on counterterrorism does not trample on civil liberties, the group said.
“Muslim American communities can serve an important counter-radicalization role through intellectual and social service initiatives that create a hostile environment for terrorist recruitment,” the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) said in a new report, which outlines proposals for how US Muslims and law enforcement agencies can better cooperate to prevent terrorism.
Many Muslim communities in America have negative perceptions of the police, the report noted.
“This creates an automatic barrier to police community outreach. Unfortunately, in the current political climate, the actions of certain law enforcement agencies – whether spying on peaceful activist groups and houses of worship without reasonable suspicion, or religious profiling – have added to difficulties,” the report said.
The council recommends:
• Greater funding for law enforcement agencies to improve their understanding of the Muslim community.
• New mechanisms for legal redress over alleged civil liberty violations.
• A community-based policing model within the Muslim community developed by law enforcement.
• More community investment from Muslim groups to build local and national institutions and implement more social services to target at-risk youth.
String of domestic terror plots
The assessment comes the same day as news reports that the five young Americans suspected of traveling to Pakistan to join Islamist militants are likely to be deported back to the US. Their disappearance from the Washington area in late November was reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), in a sign of improving ties between Muslim groups and federal agents.
CAIR and the FBI have experienced some tensions since 9/11 over allegations of racial profiling and the use of informants inside mosques.
The case of the five men is the second recent incident of Muslims allegedly traveling abroad to join Islamist militancy. On Nov. 23, the US Justice Department unsealed charges against eight Somali men from Minneapolis for supporting Al Shabab, the Al Qaeda-linked militant group in Somalia. In total, 14 men from Minneapolis are believed to have traveled to Somali to join Al Shabab.
Recent media reports suggest that a young Somali man from Seattle was responsible for a September suicide bombing in Mogadishu that killed 21 African Union peacekeepers. The bomber’s identity has yet to be confirmed by federal authorities.
Radicalization is a complex process that continues to vex law enforcement officers and Muslim leaders alike. MPAC says in its report that the path to extremism usually beings with social or economic discontent and alienation – creating “the labor pool or 'market for martyrs,' that terrorist firms seek to recruit from.”
The council adds that the police should focus on "criminal behavior while Muslim communities deal with ideological and social components to radicalization."
At a Friday press conference to release the report, Haris Tarin, head of MPAC's Washington office, said it represents efforts by Muslim groups like his to "capture the narrative from those who seek to misguide the young people."
Channeling frustration with US foreign policy
Some other groups are skeptical about such efforts, however. They say one motive for radicalization is the fact that the US is currently at war in parts of the Muslim world.
"The only thing we can do is try to deal with the religious implications of that narrative. In other words, what is the Islamically correct way for American Muslims to respond to the fact that the US is at war with Muslims in some parts of the world?," said Kamran Memon of Muslims For A Safe America in an e-mail.
"One option is anti-American violence designed to try to change American foreign policy toward the Muslim world. Another option is political activism designed to try to change American foreign policy towards the Muslim world. But grassroots American Muslims are not convinced about the usefulness of political activism," he said. "Of course, the third option is to simply do nothing. That's the option that has been chosen by the majority of American Muslims."
Mr. Memon suggests more political activism is the answer. "Political activism can channel American Muslim frustration and energy regarding America's actions in the Muslim world."
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