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Low Bar Set in U.S. Counterradicalization Strategy

Author: Ed Husain, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
August 4, 2011

Low Bar Set in U.S. Counterradicalization Strategy - low-bar-set-in-us-counterradicalization-strategy


Homegrown radicalization of Americans precedes 9/11, but it has taken the U.S government over ten years to produce a document aimed at preventing "violent extremism in the United States" and yet it says worryingly little.

The document's intention is to lay out the administration's plan for supporting and empowering "American communities and their local partners in their grassroots efforts to prevent violent extremism." The strategy posits that community engagement is central to the government's counterradicalization efforts, and it goes on to highlight three areas of action: enhancing federal engagement with at-risk communities; building expertise at local law enforcement; and countering propaganda.

But the modus operandi of the White House's new policy paper, it seems, is not to offend Muslims. Consequently, the document falls short of outlining a robust, credible, and confidence-inspiring plan. The strategy avoids the vital issues of defining the threat, the ideas behind al-Qaeda, where extremism festers, and how the government plans practical responses to it.

The paper repeatedly states the obvious about federal responsibilities of "convening" and "strengthening stakeholders," and suggests little new. And while the paper claims to work with "local communities" (read Muslims), it disregards the common complaints from U.S. Muslim communities about the FBI's entrapment of their radicalized youth--a practice that should be replaced by deradicalization programs or dialogue under surveillance (as is the practice in Europe).

An effective U.S.counterradicalization strategy should address the following points:

  • Finances. New funds should be made available for local communities to counter the hateful political and religious messages that stem from al-Qaeda supporters.
  • Hubs of radicalization. These are the vitally important incubators of Islamist radicalism in the prisons, university campuses, and some mosques. To its credit, the document does refer to Internet radicalization. But unless all these hubs are targeted, the battle is futile.
  • Extremist ideology. The strategy should demarcate the major theo-political ideas on which al-Qaeda and its supporters stand. A failure to define the problem will lead to an inability to tackle it. Saudi Salafi ideas such as "al wala wa al bara" or "loyalty to Muslims and hatred for non-Muslims", or the beliefs in and support of misplaced Jihad, a caliphate, martyrdom, and reward for suicide bombings in the afterlife. These are the foundation stones for Anwar al-Awlaqi and other American al-Qaeda preachers. These ideas must be scrutinized.
  • Community rapport. Concrete steps must be taken to win back Muslim trust in the FBI. Currently, Muslim tip-offs about radicals lead to entrapment and convictions in court, rather than UK-style deradicalization in the form of counseling and exposing radicals to mainstream or alternative readings of scripture.

To prevent further radicalization in the United States, and therefore terrorist attacks, the president ought to reconvene his team urgently and reexamine the strategy in light of these shortcomings. U.S. security depends on it. Unless the direction from the center is set straight, then local partners will receive amplified confusion and ten years later, very little progress will have been made against Islamist extremism inside America.


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