MPAC Kicks Off 'Safe Spaces Initiative' with Panel Discussion

March 26, 2014

Last week, Haris Tarin, the Director of MPAC's Washington, DC, office, partnered with Alejandro Beutel, an independent research consultant and analyst, for a panel discussion about “God Loves the Just: American Muslims Tackling Extremism and the Path to Violence."

The event held at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) is one part of a multi-faceted campaign, “Safe Spaces Initiative: Tools for Developing Healthy Communities," which centers around the publication of a groundbreaking community toolkit.

The toolkit, authored by Beutel, who specializes in countering violent extremism, seeks to help communities create spiritual safe spaces for open dialogue and debate while also providing physical safe spaces. It is geared toward local community members, youth group leaders and imams who are looking for the tools to help misguided individuals.

“The most important actors in this [CVE] spectrum are those in the community, and [Beutel] has written a manual that will empower the community to take an active role in this spectrum," said Bill Braniff, Executive Director at START, who began the program by discussing the importance of having a platform to discuss topics. "The community is where this will happen. It’s where it’ll succeed or fail.”

The heart of the toolkit is the innovative PIE method - “Prevention, Intervention, Ejection." It is a framework designed to “keep communities and our country healthy, safe and free.”

Since the tragic attacks of 9/11, American Muslim communities have mobilized themselves to understand and combat what drives people to commit acts of violence in the name of Islam by emphasizing its message of equality, mercy and justice. The horrific attack, which took place at the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013, shook American Muslims to their core and revealed to leaders the need to step up their efforts.

“As the anniversary of that tragic day gets closer, we will see that conversation about American Muslims and CVE will resurface," Tarin said. "The American Muslim community needs to take ownership of this topic. We need to take ownership of our narrative because there are toxic messages, especially online, that are targeting vulnerable individuals.

“We understand that there are a very small number of individuals who might be vulnerable to this ideology and this understanding, but the impact these few individuals have on the broader community is huge. This is why we believe we must take control of this narrative and put out a toolkit a guide for local communities to learn how to deal with this.” 

The toolkit also is designed to help policy-makers understand the dynamics of the community and give them the tools to engage the American Muslims.

The event set a precedent for future work with counterterrorism officials and community members, and attendees left with high hopes and goals for future work on this difficult issue. 



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