WASHINGTON – Muslim communities play an essential role in preventing individuals from becoming radicalized and orchestrating terrorist attacks either in the U.S. or abroad,a new report says.
The report,“A Community Based Approach to Countering Radicalization,” was presented Thursday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Hedieh Mirahmadi,who co-wrote the report,said counter-radicalization requires outreach programs for Muslim communities. She is the president of the World Organization for Resource Development and Education.
“Local leaders are best placed to intervene when someone is radicalized because they are aware about the unique dynamic of their communities,” Mirahmadi said.
“We have to be smart about who we are empowering. We should be aware of the overnight moderates who openly denounce terrorism but under the surface encourage militant jihad in hot spots of Iraq,Afghanistan and Palestine,” she said.
In the United Kingdom,government-sponsored programs inadvertently supported hard-line Islamist groups,Mirahmadi said.
U.S. efforts to engage Muslim leaders have had faults.
In November,a report revealed that a few months after the Sept. 11,2001,attacks,Department of Defense officials hosted a lunch for a number of Muslim leaders,including Anwar al-Awlaki,an imam in Falls Church,Va.,a Washington suburb.
Now,officials believe the U.S.-born al-Awlaki,thought to be in Yemen,inspired radical Muslims to participate in several violent acts,including the shootings at Fort Hood.
To ensure outreach programs engage trusted intermediaries within Muslim communities,Mirahmadi said the programs must include a set of shared values,such as religious freedom,nonviolent conflict resolution and the preservation of the U.S. Constitution as the rule of law.
The pledge to include local Muslim leaders should ask them to denounce key radical beliefs: religious intolerance,militant combat of what they perceive as Western values and the imposition of Islamic law in the United States.
Mirahmadi’s group is asking Islamic leaders to sign an online pledge agreeing to support the values included in the report.
The report calls for the launch of a public-awareness campaign to counter the misperception that all Muslims are radical. The report says the campaign is necessary to balance the increased attention to homegrown terrorism in the media.
The report adapts to the national context some of the practices that have been effective in countering Muslim radicalization in Western European countries,such as in Great Britain.
Timothy Curry,senior policy adviser on counterterrorism at the Department of Homeland Security,said the department has already put outreach programs in place. For instance,DHS has conducted roundtable discussions with local government officials and Muslim leaders in Chicago,Detroit and Minneapolis about how to defuse extremism.
“There are things we could do that fell in the good-governance category that might help drain the swamp for recruiters and individuals who want to expose radical values,” Curry said.
He said refugees who resettle in the U.S. need better support to reduce their vulnerability to extremist recruiters.
Curry said that the counter-radicalization strategy includes learning practices that worked in Western European countries. He said that DHS continues to focus resources and personnel to keep borders safe from smuggled materials that could be turned into terrorists’ weapons.
“Even if today the chance of another 9/11 is more remote than a decade ago,is it acceptable to us as a nation to live under constant state of fear that a bomb is going to go off at the shopping mall? To me that policy is not consoling and is not acceptable,” Mirahmadi said.