After nearly six years of intense law enforcement scrutiny of Muslims in the United States, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is reshaping his agency’s approach to Muslims and invited four prominent Muslims to help the agency prevent homegrown radicalism.

The four leaders Chertoff called on — a former ambassador from Pakistan, a Santa Monica author who grew up in San Jose, a Houston city councilman and an Austin, Texas, blogger — suggest increasing youth services, working with bloggers to fight extremist ideology on the Web and even changing the terminology the government uses to describe terrorists.

The May 8 meeting — the first of its kind the Homeland Security secretary has called with Muslims — was part of a series of gatherings that Chertoff told Congress in March would be “an unprecedented level of cooperation” with various ethnic and religious communities to “prevent radicalization.”

Daniel Sutherland, the department’s officer for civil rights and civil liberties, said Chertoff invited the four leaders last month because they are among the most influential Muslim scholars and thinkers in the nation. Sutherland, who has been with Homeland Security since its inception, said he believes that previous secretary Tom Ridge never had such a meeting.

The department also is working with Sikhs, South Asians, Arabs and Iranians to counter radicalism, Sutherland said, and Chertoff has pointed to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing as the best example of homegrown radicalism.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, domestic anti-terrorism efforts have included sweeping measures such as requiring all men and boys without permanent residency from many largely Muslim nations to register with the government. Federal authorities have also planted informants in mosques.

Participants in last month’s meeting praised Chertoff’s desire to gain a more sophisticated understanding of the 2.5 million to 8 million Muslims in the United States and figure out how to find terrorists of all nationalities.


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