A year after the Boston Marathon bombing, which authorities said was carried out by two Muslim Chechen immigrants, a Muslim American group Monday announced a plan to help steer susceptible members in their communities away from radical Islamist ideology.
Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, officials of the Muslim Public Affairs Council said the Boston attack, which killed three people and injured 264, had highlighted the need for Muslim communities to intervene more effectively with troubled youths.
“Law enforcement can only go so far in preventing these attacks,” the council stated in a report presented Monday. “In order to keep our nation safe, the American Muslim community must take a proactive approach to identifying and intervening with individuals who may be susceptible to violent extremism.”
One of the accused bombers, Dzokhar Tsarnaev, 19, told officials after his capture that he and his brother Tamerlan, 26, had developed radical Islamist beliefs because of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and had learned to build bombs from an al-Qaeda-linked Web site. Tamerlan, who was killed in a shootout with police a few days after the bombing, had reportedly been ejected from a Boston area mosque for disrupting prayers.
Speakers said Monday that mosques and Muslim American organizations tend to ostracize or expel people with violent Islamist ideas. Instead, the speakers said, clerics and other authority figures must seek to win the trust of Muslims with “problematic” ideas and persuade them of alternatives.
“The path to violence can be stopped, reversed and prevented with the right kind of support,” said Alejandro Beutel, a researcher who developed the council’s plan. Officials said it will be introduced in five Muslim communities nationwide, but they did not identify the communities. There are several million Muslims of foreign origin living in the United States, with many in California, New York, Texas and Michigan.
In the Washington region, several Islamic centers already are working with worshipers to curb the appeal of radical ideas. Mohamed Magid, senior imam at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, Va. , has held several family workshops on how to combat Islamic Web sites that lure viewers to join holy wars against the West.
“We need to help families become aware of what their children are exposed to,” Magid said Monday, mentioning several cases in which American Muslim students have been recruited via the Internet to fight in Syria. “A meta-narrative of the real Islam must be taught to the young.”
Many young Muslims abroad, and some in the United States, have been drawn to radical arguments that depict the West as an evil force that seeks to destroy Islam. Often they are influenced by Web sites that preach holy war and describe an arc of growing religious conflict from Pakistan and Chechnya to Israel and Iraq.
A Muslim cleric from Boston, William Suhaib Webb, also spoke Monday. He said that after the marathon bombings he had successfully counseled other young Muslims to abandon “fringe ideas.” He said that intimidation by law enforcement agencies can backfire and that “they need to give pastors and imams room to interfere” privately.
While he denounced extreme jihadist Web sites, Webb also criticized what he called the “Islamophobia industry” in the United States, especially on “hate-filled” talk radio shows. He said he had been called an al-Qaeda operative on one news show.
Muslim Public Affairs Council officials described their 150-page plan as a “tool kit” for Muslim communities. It includes contacts for social services, advice from former radical Islamists, training exercises for parents and clergy, and instructions on when to report suspicious behavior to police or intervene with personal counseling.
Haris Tarin, Washington director for the California-based council, acknowledged that efforts to engage Muslim American communities had been complicated by fear of police and public misperception, but he said Muslim families need to start having regular discussions “around the dinner table” about religious extremism.
“We all prayed for the victims in Boston and for the culprits to be apprehended,” Tarin said. “Now we have to raise our awareness of the challenges that violent extremism poses for our own families.”