Watch the event video here.
BPC’s National Security Preparedness Group (NSPG) released a report, Preventing Violent Radicalization in America, focused on improving government efforts to counter radicalization before it turns violent. Through engagement, outreach, and communication with insular or “at-risk” Muslim communities, as well as nuanced training of local police forces, the report asserts that the appeal of violent extremist groups, like al Qaeda, can be greatly diminished. This report is a follow up to Assessing the Terrorist Threat, which the NSPG released in September of 2010. Former Governor Tom Kean, who is co-chair of NSPG along with former Rep. Lee Hamilton, explained in his opening remarks that the 2010 report concluded that al Qaeda was expanding and diversifying its operations in the U.S. In response to the recent strengthening of U.S. border control, which makes it more difficult for foreign terrorists to enter the country, al Qaeda is now focusing on recruiting American citizens within the United States and encouraging them to commit their acts of terror.
In response to this growing internal threat – which was demonstrated by a spike in al Qaeda-related homegrown terrorism cases in 2009 and 2010 – the NSPG’s latest report makes policy suggestions towards a coherent and well-organized approach to domestic counter-radicalization.
Dr. Peter Neumann, author of the report and Founding Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London, praised the work already being done to engage Muslim communities, but stressed the importance of coordination between local, state, and federal government as well as non-profit and religious organizations. He went on to assert that there must be a strict divide between counterterrorism efforts conducted by intelligence and law enforcement agencies and the counter-radicalization efforts that are being employed if there is to be any trust between the at-risk communities and those seeking to prevent violent extremism. To make sure that American Muslims do not feel like suspects in their own communities, the FBI and police forces should only be called upon when illegal activities are taking place.
Dr. Neumann pointed out there are many opportunities to engage the American Muslims and make them feel that they are an integral part of society. He commended President Obama for the State of the Union Address in which he said, “Muslims are part of the American family.” Neumann said that this was the right message to be sending in order to challenge the al Qaeda ideology, which states that it is impossible to be American and live a proper Muslim life. Peter Bergen, an NSPG member and a print and television journalist who covers terrorism, spoke passionately about the need to counter the messages disseminated by al Qaeda. It is no use attacking the websites posting extremist messages, he said, because internet pages are too easy to replicate. Instead, Bergen believes, the arguments against extremism must be aggressively presented online alongside extremist propaganda that already exists in the marketplace. This is a more strategic way of reaching those individuals most at risk for radicalization, and presenting them with information that contradicts other messages they might be receiving. Moderator and Wall Street Journal reporter Siobhan Gorman asked the panelists how messages would be broadcast to Muslim communities without appearing coercive. The panel pointed out that the majority of the Muslim community is already opposed to violent extremism and cooperative with authorities.
Dr. Neumann noted that as many as 20 percent of the tips authorities receive in relation to terrorist plots come from family members or friends of the individual(s) in question. Neumann described the diversity that exists within the Muslim community and the various ethnicities and cultural backgrounds that make up the Islamic religion. In order to reach this wide range of groups with preventative information, the government must invest in pre-existing organizations in the community. These organizations will have more legitimacy than an outside group trying to penetrate through the natural suspicions of those they are trying to reach. However, in the government’s effort to allocate funds for these organizations to advocate counter-radicalization, caution must be taken to make sure that the organizations being supported abide by three guiding principles; respect of the Constitution, opposition to terrorism, and opposition to the killing of Americans anywhere.
Click here to read the full report.
Nick Hampson contributed to this post.