Charles Allen, who was Department of Homeland Security (DHS) undersecretary for intelligence and analysis under President George W. Bush, says that neither President Bush nor President Barack Obama have done enough to focus on countering the messaging that leads to VE. “We’ve come quite late to understanding and trying to counter that particular threat,” says Allen, now with the Chertoff Group.
While the threat has to be kept in perspective—some characterize it as a problem, not a pandemic—the Boston bombing reminds everyone that “this is an actual threat,” said U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Rashad Hussein, speaking at a New America Foundation panel on the issue shortly after that incident.
The federal government has struggled in deciding what role it should play in countering VE and who within the government should be charged with carrying out that role, which has resulted in a lack of effectiveness, Allen says. But this is more a job for local governments and community members, who need to develop strategies to help prevent extremism in their own communities.
Two examples of active local initiatives are in the Los Angeles area, where both the county and city law enforcement agencies have programs aimed at improving outreach to the Muslim community to thwart and detect radicalization. Sergeant Mike Abdeen is the head of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Muslim Community Affairs Unit. The unit, the first in the nation of its kind, was established in 2007 under the leadership of Sheriff Leroy Baca; it has an entirely Muslim-American staff and focuses primarily on building trust with the Muslim-American community, which felt targeted and alienated after 9-11, says Abdeen, who’s been with the unit since its inception.
Originally, the unit focused primarily on building relationships with local imams and community organizations to help create trust in law enforcement, but it has since expanded its scope to include educational programs for all community members as well as a youth program, the Young Muslim American Leaders Advisory Council (known as youngMALAC). The youth program helps empower community youth to engage in civic projects and cooperate with law enforcement; youngMALAC has 12 board members who meet once a month to discuss issues that are important to youth. The unit also develops seminars, town hall meetings, and presentations to talk about those issues. Up to 100 people attended each event, Abdeen says.