MPAC Holds Press Conference on 'Safe Spaces Initiative' at National Press Club

April 14, 2014

Today, the Muslim Public Affairs Council held a press conference alongside notable Muslim community leaders at the National Press Club to announce a new campaign to actively prevent violent extremism. Called the Safe Spaces Initiative, the campaign is the first major national grassroots effort to equip American Muslim community and campus leaders with practical tools for developing healthy communities as well as intervention strategies for troubled individuals. You can download the paper from the Safe Spaces website.

SEE: “Mosques Get a New Message” (Wall Street Journal)

Following the press conference, the Christian Science Monitor published an editorial which stated in part:

"The best approach toward preventing attacks by Muslims living in the West is the kind of grass-roots campaign begun by the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Its timing is welcomed on this first anniversary of the Boston bombings."

The press conference was moderated by MPAC’s National Policy Analyst, Hoda Elshishtawy, and speakers included: Haris Tarin, Director of MPAC’s Washington, DC office; Alejandro Beutel, author of the Safe Spaces Initiative toolkit and an independent researcher; Imam Mohamed Magid, President of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and Executive Director of All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS); and Imam  Suhaib Webb, Scholar in Residence at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC).

Tarin described how after the tragic attacks on the Boston Marathon last year, MPAC was approached by communities asking for direction regarding effective measures to deal with isolated cases of troubled individuals who may become violent extremists. Since then, MPAC has conducted extensive research and worked with more than a dozen imams, counselors, youth workers and local community leaders to create a toolkit to help leaders develop the requisite tools to address violent extremism. He also cited the ISBCC as being a model community for effective engagement and outreach to other faith communities, which was evident through the strong social safety net for Bostonians which came together to mourn.

“One year after the Boston attacks, Bostonians have proven to be inspiring with their messages of inclusivity,” said Tarin. “Regardless of faith, race or ethnicity, Bostonians came together to show the rest of the country what it means to be Boston strong."

Imam Webb brought a personal and emotional perspective to the press conference when he spoke about being the Imam of the ISBCC during the attack.

“There is something to the idea of intervention,” Webb said. “After the bombing, we went beyond looking at the mistakes clergy made. We also looked at the history of the Tsarnaev brothers and realized their violent past and mental health issues could have been dealt with as a community.”

Beutel outlined the purpose of and guidance provided in the toolkit, up front. “The toolkit is a method for providing education and rehabilitation, not just incarceration,” he said. Beutel emphasized that it is possible for an individual’s path to violence to be prevented by creating a safe and open environment where faith and freedom flourish.

As the author of the toolkit, Beutel also shared what he learned from the experiences of interviewees, including American Muslims, national security experts, former neo-Nazi members and members of the law enforcement community. He highlighted the uniqueness of the toolkit, which is embodied in the Prevention-Intervention-Ejection (PIE) model.

Imam Magid praised MPAC for its vision and proactive efforts to prevent violent extremism. “The toolkit will help many community and religious leaders in their intervention strategies for troubled individuals,” said Magid.

He also cited the deadly shooting of three people at a Kansas City, KS Jewish community center yesterday as further evidence of the need for more spiritually and physically safe spaces across faith communities. “An attack against one is an attack against all,” he said.

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