Combating homegrown terrorism

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

FIVE YOUNG MEN from Northern Virginia are captured in Pakistan attempting to join in jihad. A U.S. permanent resident in Denver is arrested for trying to carry out a terror strike in New York. A Muslim convert living in North Carolina is accused of plotting an attack on military personnel at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va. An Illinois man and would-be mujahid is apprehended after a failed attempt to blow up a federal building in the state capital of Springfield.

Home-grown Islamic extremism was once thought to be the province of countries in Europe, Africa or South Asia, triggered by segregation, deprivation of educational or economic opportunities, or a domestic climate where extremist views are tolerated. We now know that the United States is not immune. In the past 12 months, the Department of Justice has identified a dozen cases of U.S. Muslims accused of terrorist activity or seeking terrorism training overseas. This pattern must be taken seriously and addressed.

The vast majority of American Muslims are law-abiding, upstanding citizens who vehemently shun the violence embraced by the radical and dangerous few. In many ways, American Muslims have the most to lose when extremists carry out their warped plans, and they suffer most when they are unjustly lumped in with the radicals.

Law enforcement and intelligence agencies have done a commendable job of disrupting plots. But more needs to be known about why and how some Americans are becoming radicalized. Were they recruited through the Internet? Did they, instead, use the Internet to seek out extreme views? Did those who chose a radical approach have the benefit of more mainstream views? There is also a need to understand the differences in each of these scenarios. Without that, there is a danger of would-be solutions that are ineffective or counterproductive.

Congress should establish a commission to study the roots of homegrown radicalism and to craft appropriate countermeasures. The Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council are preparing to use the Internet and other new technologies to reach American Muslims to debunk radical interpretations of the Koran promulgated by extremists. The U.S. government, too, should step up outreach to American Muslims. Had the parents of the five Northern Virginia men not reported them missing, government officials might have learned of the men's quest too late.

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