To prevent future terror attacks in America, work is needed at the grassroots level. Consultant and terror expert Mustafa Tameez talks with Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson about how local police forces can work with Muslim communities to build trust and identify early warning signs of violent extremism.
Interview Highlights: Mustafa Tameez
What did you think of President Obama’s address?
“I think the president put down a comprehensive plan. Unfortunately, we didn’t hear anything new in the plan, so the American public didn’t feel comfortable.”
What did you want to hear?
Could something have been done to prevent what happened in San Bernardino?“I think that the public wants to hear what are the tangible steps we’re taking in order to combat violent extremism, and part of that is really understanding the real threat. If you think of ISIS and al-Qaida recruiters, it’s much easier to understand how they operate if you think of how they’re operating [compared] with sexual predators, they do the exact same thing. They build a relationship with disaffected youth, and once they’ve built that relationship, they try to take them out of the safety of their home and create an illicit rendezvous. And so, thinking about ISIS and al-Qaida recruiters is very much like thinking about how sexual predators recruit our young people and how gangs recruit people into criminal action.”
“A lot of information is coming out now, so I don’t think we have all the pieces yet. But in general, what you saw was that a relationship was created online with someone overseas and then that relationship turned into an extremist action here at home. The real threat is radicalizing on the Internet. Someone sitting in front of a computer screen who’s disaffected, feels like they don’t belong, and someone like ISIS tells them that they matter and they’re important.”
What is the wrong way for law enforcement to interact with the Muslim community?
What specifically can police do to try and build trust within a Muslim community?“If we see ISIS and al-Qaida-like we see gangs, like Crips and Blood or Chinese gangs and Vietnamese gangs, we don’t go into those communities and say ‘You the community have a culture that is breeding the gangs.’ We basically go in, into those communities, to say ‘We’ve got to protect and give you the tools to prevent these kids from joining these gangs.’ So it’s not that ‘This is coming from your culture or your faith.’ These are criminal acts that are trying to prey on your young people and we’re going to teach you how to protect them.”
“I think more than building trust, it’s creating programs that show the community where the risks are. There’s an assumption that Muslim communities understand how to deal with ISIL and the likes of al-Qaida and they really don’t. Most people that live in the West have normal lives. They have jobs, they go to schools, and local law enforcement has an important role to play to say ‘This is where and how your kids could be recruited. This is where and how you can protect your young people.’ And I don’t think we’re thinking about it in those terms so the specific actions that I would like local law enforcement to do is to engage the local community, not as people of suspect, but true partners, and teach and train them how to push back against ISIS and how to protect their kids from being recruited online.”
Are you worried about the lone wolf terrorists who don’t have much engagement with the community?
Do you think this fight will be won by local law enforcement rather than the feds?“One thing that we’ve seen consistently is that lone wolf actors basically drop out of the society prior to them taking action. So somebody knows that all the sudden that this young person that seemed a little troubled, all the sudden not showing up at the mosque, they’re not showing up at community activities, and so there has to be an effort that says ‘Let’s reach out to this person and see what’s going on with them.’ And that’s what I mean about the role of local law enforcement educating the community on what happens because there’s been so many incidents now that we have a learning. We know how lone wolf radicalization takes place. The assumption is that local communities don’t understand that and that’s not true. Law enforcement understands that, but their learning is not being shared with communities in a way that the communities can build resiliency.”
“We talk a lot about that ISIS controls land space larger than Indiana. Well, if you look at the digital land space it covers, it’s far bigger than that. It has no boundaries. It’s not separated by oceans. So it’s a big effort and it’s a big fight and it can only be done at every single level of government and community.”