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U.S. Muslims feel sidelined in terrorism fight

August 30, 2005

By Caroline Drees, Security Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Bush administration is
neglecting American Muslims in the fight against terrorism,
undermining a potentially priceless resource that could be used
to root out militants at home, major Muslim groups say.

Community leaders such as Salam al-Marayati, who heads the
Muslim Public Affairs Council advocacy group, say that to
isolate terrorists political leaders from President George W.
Bush on down must embrace the U.S. Muslim mainstream, rather
than exclude them from serious debates on security.

“For some reason, it’s very difficult to get the high-level
officials to come down to the community at this point. I think
a decision has to be made: are we going to be partners or are
we going to be suspects?” Marayati said.

Muslim American groups say that only by visibly engaging
the community can officials undermine militants’ charges that
Muslims are left out of American society, and ensure Muslims do
not feel alienated and become targets for recruiters.

Concern about increased suspicions and alienation of the
Muslim American community has grown since the July 7 attacks by
home-grown Muslim militants in London in which suicide bombers
killed 52 people on underground trains and buses.

“It’s the position of just about every Muslim leader in the
United States that the way you isolate extremists is to engage
the mainstream. Unfortunately we haven’t seen much of that
occurring in this administration,” said Ibrahim Hooper,
spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Community leaders and some experts say the country’s
estimated 3 million to 7 million Muslims are best placed to
fight domestic extremists because only insiders can hope to
challenge their radical ideologies or spot budding militants.

“The jihadist threat in this country will come from within,
not from outside,” said veteran terrorism expert Dennis
Pluchinsky, who retired from the State Department this year and
now works for security information firm TranSecur. The Muslim
community is “the front line for detection,” he said.

OUTREACH UNDERWAY

Muslim groups would like to play a greater role in policy
discussions for the war on terrorism declared by Bush, have
more visible government endorsement of the community’s
anti-terrorism efforts and see more senior officials attending
Muslim American events, conferences and community meetings.

The Islamic Society of North America has called on Bush to
attend its September 2-6 convention — the largest annual
gathering of Muslim Americans. The administration’s public
diplomacy chief, Karen Hughes, is attending the opening session
instead.

U.S. officials agree they must do more to involve Muslim
Americans in the fight against terrorism. But they say the
administration is already actively cooperating with Muslim
groups and say they enjoy greater access to the government than
ever before.

This year alone, Muslim community leaders have met with
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Attorney General
Alberto Gonzales and FBI chief Robert Mueller, said Dan
Sutherland, who heads the Department of Homeland Security’s
civil rights and civil liberties office.

“The momentum will accelerate. I think that over the
upcoming year, or two or five, you will see the connections
between the Arab American and Muslim American communities and
the government really deepen,” he said.

“We are at the beginning stages. We’re like in the third
inning of the (nine-inning) game, but we’re in the game.”

Many community leaders praised Bush’s initial outreach to
America’s Muslims after September 11, 2001, but said such
high-profile efforts had waned in the years since the Islamic
militant attacks.

They say cooperation is good with local law enforcement and
other community groups, but say visible engagement from
top-level leaders is needed to counter the terrorist threat.

Sayyid Muhammad Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic
Society of North America, said Muslim Americans had a unique
infrastructure in place through their mosques, community
programs and conferences to counter that threat.

Within the community, “people who may have doubts, who may
have some kind of tendencies toward extremism, get diluted, and
they are confronted with the right arguments and teachings,” he
said.




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