Professor Jocelyne Cesari, Director of Harvard’s Islam in the West Program discusses today’s most pressing integration issues in this interview.
She explores how Muslims in America and Europe differ, Islam’s compatibility with democracy, homegrown radicalism in the West, Switzerland’s minaret ban, France’s national identity debate, and ways to build stronger bridges between our two worlds.
This Op-ed compares US and European Muslims, and calls upon the US Congress to establish a commission for investigating homegrown radicalism.
In the years since 9/11 no further terrorist attacks have occurred, and the American war on terror was partly predicated upon the idea that fighting terrorism abroad will prevent fighting it at home. But a recent string of terrorism arrests is challenging the idea that American soil is immune to homegrown radicalism. The Obama Administration this week conceded that the US now faces a rising threat of homegrown radicalism.
This raises a new question: are Muslims in the US really more assimilated and less prone to extremism than European Muslims?
Bruce Hoffman, Georgetown University terrorism expert says “it is myopic to believe we could insulate ourselves from the currents affecting Muslims everywhere else.”
Five US nationals from the Washington DC area were detained in Pakistan; officials believe the men had hoped to receive training at a jihadist camp and launch attacks against US forces. The men are in their early 20s and went missing in November.
The men told interrogators that they were “for jihad” and that they were planning to launch jihad “against infidel US forces, wherever they are.”
The FBI is working with Pakistani authorities to determine the activities of the men. Investigations are underway.
Following information given to them by the FBI, Pakistani authorities began tracking the men in November as they traveled in Pakistan. They allegedly went to Hyderabad and then to Sargodha, where they were apprehended.
The men have suspected ties to Jaish-e-Mohammed, an al-Qaida-funded group associated with the killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl and assasination attempts of Pervez Musharraf.
Police believe they made contact with Jaish-e-Mohammed via YouTube.
Debates are ensuing amongst intelligence analysts, counterterrorism officials and Congress over whether Hasan is part of a larger trend of “homegrown radicalization” and whether changes are needed in how law enforcement investigates individuals absent evidence of crime, what kind of information intelligence agencies can collect on U.S. citizens, or how such sensitive information can be used and shared with others.
“These are questions we’ve been asking ourselves for years,” a current U.S. counterterrorism official said, adding that they remain “largely unanswered.”
Five men in the last five months have been arrested on terror charges in the US. Their efforts to carry out violent jihad plans varied in sophistication, with more serious plots raising questions as to whether a rise in homegrown radicalism may be taking place in America.
“For the most part, these guys are not totally dangerous on their own,” said Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical intelligence at Stratfor, a global intelligence company. “The grass routes guys are amateurish and don’t have the ability to do (large scale) damage… when they get dangerous is when they get a trained operational commander who has skills to plan and do surveillance.”
Jena McNeill, policy analyst for homeland security at the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation, said that while the United States always faces some type of terror threat, the danger of home grown terrorism has not increased.
“I don’t want to downplay the possibility that it could increase, but it is not as bad as Europe,” she said, adding that radical Islam poses a greater danger across the Atlantic than it does in the United States.