MPAC Tackles Violent Extremism and Online Radicalization at Two DC Events

May 30, 2013


On Tuesday, March 28, MPAC and the New America Foundation (NAF) held a policy briefing, "Online Radicalization: Myths and Realities," with prominent American Muslim scholars and thought leaders to address violent extremism in the form of online radicalization.

SEE: Full video of “Online Radicalization: Myths and Realities” briefing (YouTube)
ALSO SEE: Photos from the Briefing and Community Forum (Facebook)

Dozens of Capitol Hill staffers, officials from federal agencies and the administration and representatives from civil society groups attended the standing-room only briefing that focused on the roots and realities of this problem. The event was covered by members of the press, including PBS, C-SPAN and Al Jazeera.

Moderated by Haris Tarin, Director of MPAC’s Washington, DC office, the forum featured Imam Suhaib Webb of Boston, homeland security adviser Mohamed Elibiary, terrorism experts Peter Bergen and Peter Neumann, NAF Fellow Rabia Chaudry and President Obama’s Special Envoy to the OIC Rashad Hussain.

“It is imperative for our community, our institutions and our leadership to engage in this relevant and timely conversation,” Tarin said. “We have taken on this topic for more than a decade, and we need to put this threat into proportion. It’s a public conversation that needs to be had because it concerns everybody.”

Each speaker stressed that the messages of terrorism are not coming from the mosque or a physical space. Other sources, such as online platforms where one can become part of a vibrant and active Internet community, need to be explored and understood.

“The Internet has loosened the spatial constraints for online radicalization,” Neumann said, adding the myths associated with online radicalization need to be dispelled. “It is not exceptional for terrorists to be on the Internet. We are living in the 21st Century; it would be strange if they were the one group not on the Internet. The difference though is the purpose for why they are online.”

Chaudry emphasized the importance of countering the narrative that Muslims and the West cannot coexist, leaving Muslims, especially the youth, feeling more alienated.

“We need the general public to push back on the anti-Muslim narratives propagated by Islamophobes,” she said. “When I talk to mosque or community leaders they don’t know what is going on online. Neither does local law enforcement. We have to make this more actionable on the ground.”

Later that evening, MPAC partnered with MakeSpace for a community forum with Imam Webb, Elibiary, terrorist attack survivor Adam Motiwala and community leaders Imam Zia Makhdoom, Humera Khan and Hadia Mubarak.

More than 250 participants engaged in the conversation on violent extremism, with many people saying that this is the first time they have openly discussed this topic with experts and community leaders.

In one of the more touching aspects of the evening, Motiwala shared his story of working overseas and being a victim of a terrorism attack. His tale gave a face to the victims of those who have lived through these terror acts.

ALSO SEE: “One Year Later: American Muslim Survivor of Islamabad Terror Attack Speaks Out” (YouTube)

“The counter extremism narrative needs to be led by the Muslim community,” Imam Webb said, highlighting three areas of focus. “One is the intellectual, theological narrative giving imams the leeway to deal with these problems. The second is that the Muslim community suffers from institutional mediocrity … and the third is that there needs to be more community-based efforts.”

The main takeaway from both events was that though this problem is small, its effect is broad. There is an ideological battle taking place and further training is needed for the American Muslim community. We have to learn how to re-address the issue and how to create online alternative narratives that push back against terror.

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