The possibility of homegrown terrorism among Muslim-Americans is a “serious, but limited, problem,” according to a recent study.
The study, published by two Duke professors and a professor from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, states that the rate of homegrown terrorism among American Muslims is low and that Muslim-American communities have continually denounced radical Islam.
“Compared to other parts of the world, we have many examples of acts of terror-related violence,” said study co-author David Schanzer, associate professor of the practice for public policy. “The question is why that is. We wanted to look at what the Muslim-American community was doing to prevent [homegrown terrorism].”
Schanzer, who is also director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, said Americans need to understand the Muslim community better and that Muslim communities need to cooperate more closely with law-enforcement agencies.
One obstacle to this cooperation is increased anti-Muslim bias in America since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The study noted that despite this bias, Muslim-American communities feel strongly connected to the American government.
According to the report, titled “Anti-Terror Lessons of Muslim-Americans,” terrorism can also be discouraged by promoting religious literacy and integrating the Muslim community into American life.
Ebrahim Moosa, associate professor of Islamic studies and Charles Kurzman, a UNC professor of sociology, worked with Schanzer on the study, which was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington, D.C.-based Islamic advocacy organization, said he agrees with the study’s conclusions.
“Like any religious community, you’re going to have some people who aren’t following the faith,” he said. “Any level of extremism would be very small in the Muslim community and would not be prompted from mosques.”
Hooper noted that it is important to foster an improved relationship between Muslim-Americans and law enforcement agencies.
“It is a major point of concern that there is now a chilled relationship with law enforcement, particularly the FBI, a breakdown in the relationship we hope to restore,” he said. “This requires dialogue and outreach from law enforcement to the Muslim community.”
But the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, a Phoenix-based Muslim organization, has criticized the study.
“I was very optimistic when I heard about the... study,” Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, AIFD president, wrote in an e-mail. “Unfortunately, after reading the study, I was very disappointed in their premise, sources, method, biases and tunnel vision.”
Jasser said the study underestimates the threat of homegrown terrorism. He also criticized the authors for using biased sources and for ignoring the recent rise in incidents of homegrown terrorism..
Jasser also found it “very disturbing” that the study did not discuss what he called the separatist influence of political Islam and its influence on American Muslims.
“For scientists to omit the obvious connection of the very prevalent ideology of Islamism—political Islam—with Islamist terror is the equivalent of a physician studying the causes of lung cancer omitting substantive discussion and analysis of cigarette smoking,” he wrote. “Their research adds nothing to the already saturated public bandwidth by Islamist organizations constantly in denial and claiming victimology.”
Schanzer acknowledged that the study is not scientific, but said that it has added to the discussion of homegrown extremism. He said the study was also meant to provide social science research as a basis for views about Muslim-American terrorism.
“Some assert randomly that this is a large or small problem, but attach no data or perspective,” he said. “We try to base [our observations] on data instead of speculation.”
The study was based on interviews in Muslim-American communities in Buffalo, Houston, Seattle and Raleigh-Durham. Communities were chosen because they were medium-sized and contained at least one terrorism-related incident.
Following the publication of the study, Schanzer said it has been distributed to numerous government agencies, think tanks and professors. He added that some law enforcement agencies have asked him to provide briefings on the study.
Schanzer said he has written 17 different opinion columns about the study in newspapers such as the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
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