‘To counter extremism US should stop pushing people to the extreme’

A group of Muslims in New York. (Reuters/Andrew Kelly)
To stop terrorism, the US should address the frustration, anger and desperation caused by the West’s policies of supporting repressive regimes and coups in the Middle East , Hussam Ayloush of the Council on American- Islamic Relations told RT.

A coalition of Muslim rights groups and student associations in the US are opposing a federal government program against violent extremism as it treats American Muslims like suspects.

RT:Why did your group oppose the White House’s anti-extremism program? In your view, what’s wrong with it?

Hussam Ayloush: We expressed an objection and concerns about it mainly because we felt that the program unfairly stigmatizes and selectively targets the American Muslim community out of all the other communities. Violent extremism is not a problem only within the Muslim community, it’s not an exclusive problem, it exists in all communities and even within the Muslim community it is very insignificant compared to others, so we would have loved to see a program or an initiative that addresses all forms of violent extremism.

… The reality is that numbers speak for themselves: out of a six to eight million member community in America, only a fraction, maybe a dozen…maybe about 100 at most have joined ISIS or extremists in Iraq or Syria. So we are certainly looking at a successful community, successful in countering and defeating the work of ISIS in America fortunately.

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RT:What should be done in order to prevent US Muslims from joining terror networks?

HA: The best thing is what we’ve been doing and that is challenging the extremist and violent ideology of ISIS at the mosques through our scholars, through our mosques through our Islamic centers and Muslim organizations. Number two; continue the program that we do of full integration, civic engagement, continue to provide opportunities to young Muslims for social justice activism because that’s how we can prevent people from feeling pushed to the corner and pushed to the extreme. And third, and probably that is the most important aspect of all, address the root causes of extremism and terrorism. It is the frustration, the desperation that many of the Western countries’ policies in the Middle East create, such as our support for the dictatorships, for repressive regimes, military coups, the occupation, the torture, and the indefinite detentions that happened in Guantanamo Bay. All these are factors that unfortunately fuel anger and which end up pushing some people to the extreme and violence and terrorism.

RT:In light of the attacks in Europe and rise of the jihadist movement in the Middle East, does the US Muslim community feel more vulnerable?

HA: Certainly there are growing voices in America that have been expressing anti-Muslim rhetoric. At the end of the day we do feel comfortable in our country. We are surrounded by people who reject bigotry; we have enough laws that protect the rights of all people in America including American Muslims so we are not concerned. Obviously we should remain vigilant so we don’t see an increase in the anti-Muslim rhetoric. We’ve seen incidents of attacks against mosques, we’ve seen vandalism against mosques, and we’ve seen growing rhetoric by politicians commenting against Muslims and Islam in general. Recently there was the execution murder case of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which appears to be clearly related to anti-Muslim sentiment. We are still waiting for a full investigation and the result of that investigation. Bur certainly the Muslim community had felt some unease about this growing anti-Muslim sentiment and actions. However, as I said over all when we put things in perspective the overall population in America is tolerant, accepting, and most people do not blame Islam and Muslims for the actions of a few extremists, ISIS and others.

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RT:In Germany, for example, the Muslim community is not very unified. What about the US Muslim community? Can we talk about is as an integral whole?

HA: Well there is no one monolithic community whether these are American Muslims or American Jewish or Latino or African-American. All the communities tend to diverge. American Muslims are more so because we have two segments - we have the indigenous African-American Muslim community and other American Muslim community members. We have the immigrant community, with all its diversity, the Arabic background, the South-Asian and so on and so forth. And then you have the differences within the level of practice of Islam, the geographic origins and so on. With all that said, America is a country of immigrants: it absorbs, it helps integrate and embrace immigrants, with challenges, with difficulties, no doubt about it. Unlike in Europe where immigrants in general and Muslims of European background in specific feel rejected, marginalized by institutions, by government institutions, through the media, socially and so on.

RT:Do American Muslims feel unfairly targeted by this program?

HA: Of course, we do feel unfairly targeted by such programs regardless of the intentions, there is no need to doubt the intentions, I think some people feel that this is a way to engage American Muslims in the fight against terrorism and extremism but the reality is what it does it actually stigmatizes that community. It seems that the government or some agencies within the government insist on seeing, or perceiving, or treating the American Muslim community through the prism of national security and terrorism. American Muslims have nothing to do with terrorism. American Muslims reject terrorism and have done their job in countering the extremists’ ideology of ISIS and others. So what we would hope is for our government to recognize that and work with all Americans including American Muslims and others in combating the ideology of extremism which also extends to some of the white supremacist groups and other groups which have actually increased the anti-Muslim rhetoric. So it shouldn’t be about dealing with one specific group and it shouldn’t be connected to one religion…

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.