CAIR Rep Discusses NYPD Terror Study


MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up: how to put food on the tables of the world's poor. We have to perspectives on that.

But first, since the 9/11 attacks nearly six years ago, the government has emphasized keeping terrorists outside U.S. borders. But what about the threat from within? The New York City police department issued a report last week that tries to describe how someone might go from ordinary Joe to homegrown terrorist. They hope the information will help other departments stay ahead of potential dangers.

But the report has alarmed some Arab-American and civil rights advocates. They warned it unfairly profiles all U.S. Muslims as potential terrorists and encourages suspicion when cooperation should be the priority. We'll have that perspective later in the program. . .

MARTIN: And we've just heard from Brian Michael Jenkins of the RAND Corporation, talking about the New York City Police Department report on how someone might become a so-called homegrown terrorist. Here to offer another perspective is Muhammad Nimer. He is research director at the Council on Islamic American Relations, or CAIR. It's an advocacy group for American Muslims. And he was kind enough to join us here in our Washington studios. Mr. Nimer, thanks for speaking with us.

Dr. MUHAMMAD NIMER (Research Director, Council for American-Islamic Relations): Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Your initial reaction to the report? I know you've read it thoroughly.

Dr. NIMER: Well this report, actually, the meat of it is taken without proper credit from one book and one CD by a former instructor at Rhodes College, defining the enemy as a jihad is fallacy, and talking about the so-called model of radicalization. That model is very well known in the sociology literature. It's how a person gets exposed and then accepts and then immerses themselves and then started acting upon the ideas of any social movement, with the...
MARTIN: So you're saying there's nothing new here?

Dr. NIMER: There's nothing new here. There's nothing new...

MARTIN: So why does the report bother you?

Dr. NIMER: It bothers me because I think it's a waste of resources. Law enforcement is not supposed to be the arbiter of academic quarrels. And to make such a big fuss about just one book, one audio tape of one person who is not really very well known in this (unintelligible) community of Islam in the West or contemporary Islamic revival is not a way to go (unintelligible).

MARTIN: Some groups have complained that they feel that this report would encourage, or is a matter of profiling. Do you share that concern?

Dr. NIMER: Absolutely, because it is peppered with references to how those individual cases, how the people, the suspects, the terrorists, how they are connected to mundane activities in the community.

MARTIN: Okay. But the report also says there is no useful profile to predict who will follow this trajectory of radicalization in part because those who end up being radicalized begin as unremarkable individuals from various walks of life. It seems to be fairly explicit in saying this is not to be used as a profile. There is no profile. Does that not allay your concern?

Dr. NIMER: Well, I think I agree with him on that. But then they don't take the argument to the fullest extent by saying, okay, so how - what do we do about it? How does then law enforcement is connected to this social process? I mean, a radical social process cannot end or change unless there is a countervailing social process that takes the community to moderation. That is what needs to be explored. And the report fails miserably in this...

MARTIN: Is your...

Dr. NIMER: ...in the sense that it's - in some cases, it refers to the whole community, the Muslim community as tolerating the existence of extremists and - which enables radicalization. It talks about very mainstream things like quitting cigarettes, like going to a Halal needs store as some of the signatures to radicalization. That is...

MARTIN: Becoming more observant.

Dr. NIMER: Exactly. That is something that a lot of Muslims would feel very offended by.
MARTIN: Well, but is your concern that the report - that if it's saying things out loud that should be perhaps discussed behind closed doors, is that partly your concern - because clearly, I think that the Muslim community also has an interest in rooting out those who would harm the country in which they live.

Dr. NIMER: Absolutely.

MARTIN: And I think that Muslim Americans have been very outspoken about their concern within their own community. So is your concern that this report exists at all, or that this report is being debated publicly in a way which you feel would lead people to have negative impressions of the entire community?

Dr. NIMER: No, I think...

MARTIN: Or that it's just useless?

Dr. NIMER: I think this report is stopped short of saying things that are of practical use to the law enforcement community. And that is the major problem with it. Brian Jenkins' read on the report actually and the post reading of the report kind of spins the report in a different way that doesn't seem to be squaring with the - what the original writer - author's did.

MARTIN: Okay. Wait a minute, Mr. Nimer, we only have a couple of seconds left, and I apologize because this is a very important discussion. But what do you think would be helpful?

Dr. NIMER: It would be helpful to try to reach out to the mainstream Muslim community. It would be helpful to recognize that criticizing U.S. government is not a signature of radicalization. Sympathizing with the plight of oppressed Muslims overseas is not a signature to radicalization. When you talk about Islamophobia and anti-Americans in a balanced fashion, when you ask the community to cooperate with the police in a very open-minded fashion, that that is what helps us go through this process.

MARTIN: All right. Mr. Mohammed Nimer is research director at the Council of Islamic-American Relations. It's an advocacy group for Muslim Americans. He's also author of the book, "Islamophobia and Anti-Americanism: Causes and Remedies." He was kind enough to join us here in our studios in Washington. Mr. Nimer, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Dr. NIMER: Thank you.

 


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