Educating Against Extremism

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 8, 2005

Alarmed by the London subway bombings, U.S. Muslim activists are taking a series of steps aimed at preventing young people here from embracing extremist ideas -- including producing a pamphlet on how to spot susceptible youth.

The projects, which involve many Muslims in the Washington area, are in the planning stages. But they reflect the soul-searching in mosques and in Muslim groups since the July 7 attacks, which left 56 people dead, including the four British suicide bombers.

"This is really the battle of the future. The ideological war should be won with the young," said Maher Hathout, a leader of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a Los Angeles-based group involved in the new efforts.

U.S. Muslim groups have roundly condemned the British subway attack and a subsequent failed bombing attempt. They said they have no evidence of a similar threat in this country. Muslims here are generally more educated and better off economically than those in Europe, and in many cases they are more assimilated.

But the fact that several of the terror suspects in the London incidents were British-born -- including the 18-year-old son of moderate Pakistani immigrants -- has raised concern about the Muslims growing up here.

"Obviously this kid in the U.K. didn't come from extremist parents. He didn't live in an extremist neighborhood. But somebody was able to get to him and persuade him it was correct to strap a bomb to himself," said Mahdi Bray, a senior figure in the Washington-based Muslim American Society.

"We don't want to give the opportunity to extremists to get ahold of our kids."

Bray's group started working last week with psychologists to design a pamphlet on how to identify young people who could be susceptible to violent extremism. It will be distributed to Muslim parents, mosque leaders and others, he said.

His group also is stepping up fundraising to add to the nine Muslim youth recreation centers it operates across the country, he said. One new center is planned for the Washington area -- possibly in the District's Shaw neighborhood -- sometime in the next two years, he said. The Muslim American Society also will encourage mosques to sponsor more Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, he said.

To many local parents, the idea that their offspring could become Islamic extremists seems remote, said Bano Makhdoom, a Muslim activist in Montgomery County. As educated, hardworking professionals, their main worry is the same as that of other suburban parents: their kids' grades.

Still, she said, "What I am seeing is everyone more active, and saying, 'Okay, this is something we need to watch out for.' "

In the past few years, several local, U.S.-born young men have gotten caught up in Islamic extremism. One group from the Washington suburbs was convicted of attending a training camp run by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based group that U.S. authorities have placed on the terrorist list. Last week, a 30-year-old D.C. taxi driver living near Baltimore, Mahmud Faruq Brent, was charged in a similar case.

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