NEWS

Muslims Best Way to Stop Radicalization in U.S., Report Says

By Matthew Harwood

The administration of President Barack Obama should work more closely with Muslim communities to counter homegrown radicalization toward extremist forms of Islam represented by al Qaeda and its allies, according to a new report from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

While the report makes clear that the United States does not suffer the same alienation among its diverse Muslim communities as Europe does, there have been some disturbing trends.

Young men from the Somali-American community have been disappearing from their communities and resurfacing in Somalia to fight for the Islamist insurgency battling for control of the capital, Mogadishu, the report says. The most frightening representation of this is 27-year-old Shirwa Ahmed, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, who killed himself and 29 others in a suicide bombing in Somalia last October.

The report also notes ties between Muslim charities and terrorist entities like Hamas and Hezbollah. In November, a jury convicted the leaders of the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for funneling money to Hamas, knowing the aid would help the terrorist organization. The United States in 2007 also added the Dearborn, Michigan-based Goodwill Charitable Office to its terrorism blacklist for supporting Hezbollah.

Other potential sources of radicalization inside the United States include prisons and the Internet.

The report criticizes the United States for not leveraging its best resource in the counterradicalization struggle: the Muslim community itself.

"The vast majority of the Muslim and Arab American population is well integrated and rejects this violent ideology," according to the report. "Unfortunately, the U.S. government has not always empowered these communities effectively to provide an alternative to the extremist narrative."

The report puts forth four recommendations for the U.S. government to continue to make extremist Islamic narratives fall on deaf ears within the American-Muslim community.

  • The United States should apply the best practices learned from its European allies, such as ensuring law enforcement actions do not poison community relations while helping to develop both governmental and community-based deradicalization programs.
  • Law enforcement agencies shouldn't be the only federal agencies that Muslim communities interact with, the United States should broaden community engagemment to include "service-providing entities, such as Health and Human Services Department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
  • Understand that Islam is a diverse religion with many faces and therefore not allow its outreach to focus too much on one or two Muslim communities.
  • Publicize the actions the U.S. government takes to defend Muslim Americans domestically, such as Justice Department lawsuits that sue schools and employers for forbidding students and employees from wearing the hijab or the DOJ's prosecution of hate crimes against Muslims.

The report, "Rewriting the Narrative: An Integrated Strategy for Counterradicalization," was the product of a bipartisan presidential study group convened by the Washington Institute of Near East Policy to influence the new administration to take on the "daunting and urgent task" of countering the spread of Islamic extremism in the United States and abroad.

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