Preventing, Intervening and Ejecting the Ideology of Violent Extremism

August 29, 2014

Reports this week of American Douglas McCain’s death while fighting for ISIS in Syria has highlighted the draw that ISIS and other violent extremist groups have over vulnerable and at-risk individuals. Before going to Syria, McCain began using his twitter account to interact with known ISIS fighters and retweeted speeches of ISIS spokespersons. Members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), claim that they identified McCain by his passport after a battle in northern Syria where the FSA and others have been fighting against ISIS.  

Yesterday, MPAC held a press conference in Beverly Hills, CA calling for continued cooperation between the American Muslim community and law enforcement in combating violent extremism. The speakers included a mix of community activists, faith leaders and law enforcement officials.

“We need to create public space, so the voice of the mainstream defines the community,” said MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati. He elaborated on MPAC’s Safe Spaces Initiative, a community-based response to ideology of violent extremism and other issues like mental health.

The importance of Safe Spaces and community partnerships was underscored by LAPD Deputy Chief Mike Downing, who said while there is always a need to investigate and pursue threats, the “other side of the equation is important too and deserves a broader approach.” He continued, saying, “Local communities are the first and most important preventers.”

The LAPD and LA Sheriff’s Department endorsed Safe Spaces at the conference while the Department of Homeland Security and Acting United States Attorney Stephanie Yonekura sent statements praising Safe Spaces and their partnership with MPAC.

With Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Egypt and across the world condemning ISIS, American Muslims at the press conference gave yet another condemnation of the extremist group. Internationally recognized Islamic scholar and community leader Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi spoke at the press conference and stated that Muslims share a common value of peace. “We are against extremism, especially violent extremism,” said Siddiqi.

It is unclear whether McCain’s support for ISIS or his subsequent death could have been prevented, but his story emphasizes the need for effective community involvement in preventing, intervening and ejecting the ideology of violent extremism. Safe Spaces is such a model, and the working relationship between the Los Angeles Muslim community and the LAPD is an example of how beneficial the relationship can be.

Convincing law enforcement that treating communities as partners instead of suspects is one hurdle. A different hurdle is describing the benefits of engagement to the American Muslim community. There is understandable distrust between some American Muslim communities and law enforcement, the NYPD surveillance and the FBI informant programs are examples of what fuels that distrust.  Additionally, many communities are correct in saying that the problem of violent extremism is few in number.

However, engaging law enforcement gives the American Muslim community a chance to build trust and reform problematic practices.  And while the problem of extremism is few in number, its potential negative impact on the nation and American Muslim community is large.

As Maryum Ali, gang and violence interrupter and daughter of famed-boxer Muhammad Ali, read on behalf of her father at the press conference, “In order to end violence, humans of various beliefs must work together and not against each other.”

Both law enforcement and the American Muslim community must realize the benefits of partnership. Trust is needed on both sides. Law enforcement must trust the American Muslim community to effectively engage, and the American Muslim community must trust law enforcement to not overreach. Only then can a model be implemented that attempts to prevent at-risk individuals from buying into the ideology of violent extremist groups like ISIS.

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