Congress Should Take Cue from Law Enforcement on Engaging Muslim Communities

November 26, 2010

A culture of fear and suspicion has crept into the discourse about Muslim Americans. This culture has not only affected the media or the blogosphere, but it has also taken hold in the critical act of governing when it comes to timely and high stakes issues, including national security.

Many times, members of Congress and government officials have canceled public appearances, ignored invitations from the Muslim American community, or simply refused to engage Muslim institutions on critical issues facing our country. There are exceptions, of course, but exceptions prove the rule. The act of engaging Muslim Americans is viewed as too costly in Washington, D.C., because bloggers associated with Muslim-bashers such as Steve Emerson and Robert Spencer, to name a few, pounce on any public official who dares to do so.

Recently, Emerson's group, The Investigative Project (IPT), lambasted organizers of a law enforcement conference on "Radicalization and Homegrown Violent Extremists Conference" held earlier this week in Southern California for inviting MPAC officials to speak. In reality, IPT is a non-profit front for Emerson's own multi-million dollar fear factory corporation, SAE Productions.

The Muslim Community Affairs Unit of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department invited MPAC to participate in the conference, which was sponsored and hosted by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Los Angeles Police Department, Orange County Sheriff's Department, and the Joint Regional Intelligence Center.

In the face of opposition from IPT, the organizers did not buckle. Instead, they moved forward because they know the difference between those who are working on the front lines protecting our country (law enforcement and Muslim communities) and those who are part of the cottage industry exploiting 9/11 and promoting fear for a fast buck.

In the words of LAPD Deputy Chief Michael Downing, Commanding Officer for Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau:

"Outreach and engagement with our Muslim communities is an important part of building resiliency and strength within the fabric of our society. The Muslim communities themselves are a big part of the longer-range solution to threats faced abroad as well as those at home. There is also a recognition that there are two sides of extremism, the side from Al Qaeda and the affiliates bent on attacking the West, and the other side of those who continue to demonize Muslims and Islam in an effort to keep people afraid and angry. Both are not helpful to protecting our nation from terrorist attacks.

"Police have the ability to form partnerships and integrate communities into the common, unified approach to problem solving. The Muslim Public Affairs Council and Salam Al-Marayati, in particular, have been an authentic partner in this most important endeavor. We can always look back at the past and point out the negative; however, it is the future that we should have our eye toward and all Americans play an important role in defining this future. For those who criticized his participation at the recent radicalization conference, I would ask you to get the feedback from the 60 or so law enforcement officers from around the state as to the content, the engagement, and the authenticity of that dialogue. This was helpful. This was a partnership. And this is the strength or our Democracy."

This week's conference was attended by more than 200 law enforcement officials from local, state and federal agencies. MPAC was invited to provide a Muslim American perspective on the issue of radicalization. MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati and Director of Policy & Programming Edina Lekovic provided background on Muslim Americans and their views on thwarting domestic extremism. The differences between Muslim communities in Europe and in America were highlighted, with America having an advantage in countering alienation of Muslim communities due to the structure of our open society. In Europe, equal citizenship is rarely achieved, whereas in America it is a starting point for every group. In Europe, Muslims generally live in ethnic enclaves, whereas in America they are socially integrated and dispersed throughout American cities and suburbs.

They also discussed the Muslim American community's perspective on radicalization and cooperating with law enforcement on criminal investigations. Notably, one out of three terrorist incidents since 9/11 have been foiled or discovered because of a tip from a Muslim American. Constitutional freedoms and civil liberties, therefore, are mandatory to protect both those who step forward and those who are accused, in order to enhance what is now a healthy level of cooperation between communities and law enforcement. MPAC also provide the most important tool for all of law enforcement in the post 9/11 era, a model for partnership between Muslim communities and law enforcement, which is rooted in a division of labor.

Michael Grossman, Chief of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department's Homeland Security Division, described MPAC's presentation this way:

"We appreciate the participation of Salam Al-Marayati and Edina Lekovic at our recent conference on radicalization. During their session, they were able to provide a sound foundation for meaningful dialogue on this sensitive issue. Their active involvement helps to further the educational exchange between law enforcement and the Muslim community, and serves to enable cooperation rather than isolation in the effort to fight extremism in America."

It was clear to the attendees at the conference that Emerson's blogging was an attempt to abort critical dialogue between law enforcement and the American people, not just Muslims, and it was an ill-fated effort to undermine the partnership MPAC has formed with law enforcement.

Congress and all government bodies, please take a cue from the LAPD and the LA Sheriff's Department: Let's broaden the engagement so Muslims in order to produce great benefits for future generation of Americans, of any and all faith backgrounds.

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