The shootings at Fort Hood, the recent arrests of five young men in Pakistan and last summer's arrests of terrorism suspects in North Carolina mark a troubling increase in terrorism-related activity by Muslim-Americans.
But a new report by scholars at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which analyzes the extent of terrorist violence by Muslim-Americans since 9/11 and identifies strategies to head off "home-grown" terrorism, says the number of radicalized Muslim-Americans is still small.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, 139 Muslim-Americans have committed violent terrorist acts, been convicted on terrorism charges involving violence or been arrested with charges pending. Of that number, fewer than a third successfully executed their violent plots, and most of those were overseas.
The report recommends that policymakers reinforce successful anti-radicalization activities now under way in Muslim-American communities to address this low -- but not insignificant -- level of terrorist activity.
"Muslim-Americans organizations and the vast majority of individuals that we interviewed firmly reject the radical extremist ideology that justifies the use of violence to achieve political ends," said co-author David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security.
The report, "Anti-Terror Lessons of Muslim American Communities," was co-authored by Schanzer, associate professor at Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy; Charles Kurzman, professor of sociology at UNC's College of Arts and Sciences; and Ebrahim Moosa, associate professor of religion at Duke. It summarizes two years of research in Muslim-American communities in Seattle, Houston, Buffalo and Raleigh-Durham, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.
"Muslim-American communities have been active in preventing radicalization," said Kurzman. "This is one reason that Muslim-American terrorism has resulted in fewer than three dozen of the 136,000 murders committed in the United States since 9/11."
The research shows that denunciations of terrorism, internal self-policing, community building, government-funded support services and political engagement can all reduce risks of radicalization. Schanzer and fellow researchers came to these conclusions after analyzing interviews with more than 120 Muslim-Americans as well as websites and publications from Muslim-American organizations, data on prosecution of Muslim-Americans for terrorism-related offenses, and existing studies of Muslim-American communities.
"The general public as well as the Muslim community at large will get a better sense of what kinds of measures are being taken within the Muslim communities surveyed to prevent terrorism and advance integration," Moosa said of the report. "Such experiences need to be shared with others in order to protect the communities from being undermined by subversive forces."
The authors noted that Muslim-Americans "are feeling the strain of living in America during the post-9/11 era" and policies that alienate Muslim-American communities in an effort to crack down on terrorism are likely to exacerbate, not reduce, the threat of homegrown terrorism.
"Our research suggests that initiatives that treat Muslim-Americans as part of the solution to this problem are far more likely to be successful," said Schanzer.
"Anti-Terror Lessons of Muslim-American Communities" will be posted on the websites of the Sanford School of Public Policy (http://www.sanford.duke.edu) and the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, a research center co-sponsored by Duke, UNC and RTI International (http://www.tcths.org).