Hearts, Minds, and Homegrown Terror: Federal Authorities Have Been Forging Ties with U.S. Muslim Communities to Counter the Idea That the War Agaist Terrorism Is a War against Islam

By Straw, Joseph | Security Management, January 2007 | Go to article overview

Hearts, Minds, and Homegrown Terror: Federal Authorities Have Been Forging Ties with U.S. Muslim Communities to Counter the Idea That the War Agaist Terrorism Is a War against Islam


Straw, Joseph, Security Management


LAST YEAR'S FOILED PLOT to blow up transatlantic flights between Great Britain and the United States renewed the public's fear of terrorist attacks and, for some, frustration over increased airport security measures.

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What received less attention was the encouraging story of how the plot came to light--not from a watch list, wiretap, or infiltration of a terrorist cell, but from a tip to authorities that came from within the Muslim community.

That was in the United Kingdom, where authorities have tried to reach out to local leaders in those communities. Likewise, federal authorities in the United States, especially the FBI, have been forging ties with U.S. Muslim organizations to counter the idea that the war against terrorism is a war against Islam or Muslims in general.

Muslim-American leaders welcome the initiative, but say more can be done, both by duplicating successful efforts in Washington and by ensuring continuity amid turnover in field offices.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"[W]hat we see at the Washington [FBI] office is a model to be followed and not something we have come across in any of the other regions of the country," Ahmed Younis, national director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said soon after last year's arrests. Later, Younis qualified the comment somewhat, pointing to marked progress in other cities and regions with large Muslim populations, including Los Angeles, Boston, Buffalo, New York, and Detriot-Dearborn, Michigan.

Attempts to build long-term relationships have run into challenges, including the lack of continuity both in how outreach efforts are made over time and in who the point of contact is. For example, law enforcement may think to reach out to the local Muslim community only after an incident makes police want information. That's the wrong way to go about it. "For the most part, the growth is needed in law enforcement at the local level, both at times of difficulty and when there is no difficulty," Younis says.

Then there is the question of how to build trust if you aren't dealing with the same people for very long. Ibrahim Nidal, executive director of the Arab-American Institute, says that turnover in FBI field offices forces many local Muslim leaders to start from scratch repeatedly. …

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