Unlike traditional "symmetrical" threats, the threat of jihadist terrorism stems less from particular techniques or weaponry than from its ability to infect and incubate radical Islamic ideology within Muslim communities.
In that context, events such as the mass shootings at Fort Hood, Texas by Army Major Nidal Hasan in November, the foiled terrorist plot in May last year of four men from Newburgh, New York, who are accused of attempting to bomb two synagogues in the Bronx and shoot down military aircraft with surface-to-air missiles, have justifiably ramped-up concerns about the spread of domestic Islamic terrorism in the US.
While the potential of homegrown terrorism is a serious problem, however, jihadist inroads into the US Muslim community have been limited, largely due to strong currents of resistance to radical ideology within the community, according to a new study just released by the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, Durham, NC.
The study, titled Anti-Terror Lessons of Muslim-Americans, was supported by grant no. 2007-IJ-CX-0008, awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, and authored by David Schanzer , Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University, Charles Kurzman, Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, and Ebrahim Moosa, Department of Religion, Duke University.
"Most research about Muslim-Americans since 9/11 has tried to explain what might prompt an individual enjoying all the advantages of living in the United States to adopt a radical, violent ideology," the report says.
Instead, they add, their report, examines the question of why the path of radicalization and violence.
The report's authors report that in the eight years following 9/11 139 Muslim-Americans by their count had committed acts of terrorism-related violence or were prosecuted for terrorism- related offenses that involve some element of violence. These included the "Lackawanna group", which traveled to Afghanistan and attended an Al-Qaeda training camp, The Portland group, which attempted to join forces fighting against the United States in Afghanistan, and a northern Virginia group, which engaged in military-style training domestically in support of mission to join Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan.
Overall , the authors argue, this level equates to approximately 17 individuals per thousand, significant and concerning, but relatively " small compared to other violent crime in America."
Through interviews withover 120 Muslims located in four different Muslim-American communities across the country (Buffalo, Houston, Seattle, and Raleigh-Durham), a review of studies and literature on Muslim-American communities, a review of websites and publications of Muslim-American organizations, and a compilation of data on prosecutions of Muslim-Americans on violent terrorism-related offenses, the study concludes that " a variety of practices of Muslim-American communities may be helping to prevent and address instances of radicalization."
The study identifies what it considers the key practices preventing the wide spread of Islamist ideology in the US thus far, recommending policies which could bolster resilience within the US Muslim community.
Muslim-Americans, it says, "have adopted numerous internal self-policing practices to prevent the growth of radical ideology in their communities." The practices range from confronting individuals who express radical ideology or support for terrorism, preventing extremist ideologues from preaching in mosques, communicating concerns about radical individuals to law enforcement officials, and purging radical extremists from membership in local mosques.
Additionally, it says, "the creation of robust Muslim-American communities may serve as a preventative measure against radicalization by reducing social isolation of individuals who may be at risk of becoming radicalized."
The stronger such communities are, in terms of social networks, educational programs, and provision of social services, the report says, the more likely they are to identify individuals who are prone to radicalization and intervene appropriately.
Muslim-American community-building includes a variety of activities, some openly religious and some not, including mosques, Islamic centers, lectures, athletic events such as basketball tournament and soccer leagues, political lobbying, media-relations, voter-registration, and electoral campaigns. While the direct goal of these activities is not to prevent radicalization, that appears to have been an unintended outcome.
Political engagement, the report claims, is particularly important, channeling grievances into democratic forums and promoting "integration of Muslim-Americans into an important aspect of American life."
" At the national level," the report says, " Muslim-Americans are following the example of other American minority groups by creating advocacy organizations to express their political goals," while, "at the local level, community leaders work through political avenues to pursue community interests."
These activities demonstrate to Muslims in the United States and around the world that Muslims are able to participate in the full range of American life and that their grievances can be effectively addressed through peaceful means.
"The assertion of Muslim-American identity follows the precedent of other racial, ethnic, and religious groups in the United States," according to the report, serving "to undercut the radical message that American values and practices are hostile to Islam."
The report's findings, according to the authors, suggest that radicalization in the United States can be minimized by taking steps to reinforce successful anti-radicalization activities of Muslim-American communities.
One recommendation is the encouraging of politicalmMobilization. The authors recommend that policymakers inthe major political parties embrace this mobilization by including Muslim-Americans in their outreach effortsand by organizing them to gain their support, as they do with other ethnic and religious groups.
Another recommendation of the report is to reinforce self-policing by improving the relationship between Law Enforcement and Muslim- American Communities.
"While there have been important achievements In building a cooperative, trusting relationship between Muslim-Americans and law enforcement," the report says, " there have also been tensions due to controversial law enforcement techniques, lack of communication, and breakdowns in trust."
" Muslim-American communities and law enforcement Agencies," it adds, " must make efforts to cooperate more closely to overcome mutual suspicions and achieve common goals."
An important element of increased cooperation, the report adds, would be to initiate a candid dialogue between law enforcement and Muslim-American communities about the handling of criminal cases and the use of informants.
" Law enforcement agencies," the report says, " should develop policies on the appropriate use of informants in Muslim-American communities and discuss these policies openly with community leaders. Muslim-Americans, for their part, should understand that the use of informants is an accepted, long-standing law enforcement practice and may be necessary in appropriate cases to gather evidence on individuals who are a potential danger."