For the last decade, U.S. Muslim organizations have faced criticism that they don’t do enough to condemn — or prevent — extremism and terrorism.
But now that many of the groups are speaking publicly about the radicalization of Muslim youths and even developing scared-straight-type programs to steer young people away from extremism, they are being criticized in their own community for saying too much.
Critics contend that organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Muslim American Society are pandering to outsiders who equate Muslims with extremism.
In the wake of the Ft. Hood, Texas, shooting, the reports of dozens of Minnesota youths joining a Somalian resistance and the December terrorism-related arrests of five young men from Virginia who traveled to Pakistan, CAIR publicly addressed the issue of radicalization and outlined how it had helped the families of the Virginia men report the disappearances to the FBI.
“I don’t know why all these groups were suddenly releasing scathing reports about homegrown terrorism,” said Reem Salahi, a civil rights attorney based in Santa Monica. “It really just bothered me; why are we so eager to jump on the bandwagon?”
Younger community members said Muslim leadership has sold them out by giving weight to broad generalizations about Muslims and terrorism.
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They have also objected to the use of the word “radicalization,” which generally refers to those who are sympathetic to terrorists or have terrorist ties.
There is concern, they said, that the word is being used so broadly that it could be pegged to anyone with unpopular views.
“When we hear people say Muslim youth are becoming extreme, we’d go, ‘Hold up,’ ” said Omar Zarka, a UCLA engineering graduate student, turning to his left and right as if looking for extremists. “We don’t see any of it. Whatever, dude.”
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, there have been relatively few occurrences of radicalization and violent extremism among U.S. Muslims, in part because the community is self-policing and publicly denounces such acts, according to a Duke University study released earlier this year.
The study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, found 139 incidents over an eight-year period of U.S. Muslims committing acts of terrorism-related violence or being prosecuted for violent terrorism-related offenses.
It concluded that “homegrown terrorism is a serious, but limited problem.”
The study and ongoing debate among Muslims has raised the question of whether homegrown terrorism is a real issue. It also highlights a rare divide in a community that typically operates in a top-down manner.