Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Missed Signal on American Muslim Radicalization

Leaders of several national Islamist organizations held a news conference Wednesday to broadcast their role in encouraging the families of five D.C.-area students now detained in Pakistan to report their children's disappearance to law enforcement.

That the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) thought it was news that they and others cooperated with law enforcement is an interesting statement in itself.

But it was more interesting to see CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad acknowledge "that there is a problem" of American Muslims turning to jihad at home and abroad. In an effort to combat the trend, Awad announced his organization would "launch a major campaign of education to refute the misuse of where are verses in the Quran or the misuse of certain grievances in the Muslim world."

This acknowledgement by CAIR and fellow Islamist groups like the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) comes after at least nine cases of homegrown Muslim extremism in 2009 and the disappearance in 2008 of about 20 Somali men from Minneapolis who returned to Africa to fight with the Al-Shabaab terrorist group. It also follows their collective insistence that religious motivation be kept out of the discussion of Nidal Malik Hasan's shooting spree at Fort Hood last month.

These past actions followed a pattern, in which CAIR spearheaded efforts to dismiss any concern about radicalization in America. That denial was on full display in 2007, after a Pew survey found a quarter of Muslim American men under age 30 found suicide bombings justifiable. In a television appearance, CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper bobbed and weaved to avoid confronting the question.

"I think it's wrong to focus on a couple of questions to put forward an agenda that goes against the bulk of the findings," he said. When host Tucker Carlson cited a finding that 61 percent of the respondents expressed concern for rise of Islamic extremism in the U.S., a number Carlson thought was too low, Hooper made it clear he was not among them: "I don't foresee a rise in religious extremism in the Muslim community."

Similarly, MPAC spokeswoman Edina Lekovic cast the support among so many young American Muslim men for suicide bombings as a distraction:

"When we look at the statistic about suicide bombing, it is indeed a disturbing one. But taken out of context, it's even more frightening. You know, the University of Maryland did a poll just in December where they found that 1 in 2 Americans support, sometimes--with the same wording--they find it at least sometimes justified for innocent civilians to be targeted by bombings or attacks. I think that any sort of support, no matter what side it comes from, is absolutely outrageous."

None of the organizations launched any programming at that point to combat the ideology. That failure helps create a mindset that leads five young students with promising futures to give it all up to jihad, said M. Zuhdi Jasser, executive director of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. Jasser's organization tries to counter the Islamist hue of the "mainstream" national organizations by advocating a strict separation between faith and public policy.

Groups such as CAIR and MPAC have spread a message that America has been at war with Islam since 9/11, he said, rather than emphasizing the country's efforts to improve life for Muslims.

"Unless they're going to do a 180, saying American soldiers are in Afghanistan liberating Muslims ... unless they change the narrative then this thing they're going to do is useless," Jasser said.

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