Panelist Peter Bergen, director of the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation, said American society needs to create “safe spaces” for Muslim-Americans to air grievances, specifically about U.S. foreign policy.
“When I criticize U.S. foreign policy, I’m just a critic,” Bergen said. “When Muslim-Americans criticize U.S. foreign policy they’re perceived as a fifth column.”
He also noted that there's a fear inside the Muslim-American community that if they try to investigate jihadist propagandists online, like Awlaki, that they'll come under surveillance.
In the audience, Alejandro Beutel, government and policy analyst at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, made a similar point during the question and answer portion of the discussion, telling the panel that many Muslim Americans are trying to do the right thing and engage radicalizing individuals but fear that their activities will attract FBI scrutiny.
That perception can only hurt counterradicalization efforts nationwide, said Neumann.
“One of the core underlying principles is that you need to form partnerships with communities,” he said. “That does not work if you treat them as potential suspects. For that reason it’s not a good idea to put the police or the intelligence services in charge of that because that sends the wrong message.” Counterradicalization is not a coercive instrument, Neumann stressed.
Bergen, addressing the recent congressional hearings led by Rep. Peter King (R-NY) that alleged Muslim-Americans were not helpful to counterterrorism efforts, also emphasized that Muslim-Americans are critical to disrupting emerging terrorist plots.
He noted that research by his staff at the New America Foundation and Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Policy found that over one-fifth of 183 post-9-11 plots against the United States were disrupted due to tips from the Muslim-American community.
“It’s simply not fair or accurate to say that the Muslim-American community hasn’t risen to this occasion,” he said.
Neumann agreed, adding that Muslim Americans want to be enlisted in the fight against jihadism and other forms of Islamist extremism.
♦ Photo by Matthew Harwood/Security Management