At a recent congressional hearing on homespun terrorism, Indiana Representative Mark Souder tore into a little-known Los Angeles County sheriff named Lee Baca.
Souder, a Republican member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment, pointedly asked why Baca had attended several fund-raisers for an American Muslim group that some describe as a front for Hamas, which is designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization.
"The question is, at what point do you start giving legitimacy to groups who fund Hamas?" Souder said. He was referring to Baca's association with the Council On American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, which says it does not support terrorism.
Raising his voice and pointing his finger at the congressman, Baca exploded: "For you to associate me (with terrorism) somehow through some circuitous attack on CAIR is not only inappropriate, it is un-American."
But the heated exchange also underlines the treacherous politics involved in adopting a new strategy that depends less on surveillance (though that won't go away) and more on dialogue with the U.S. communities in danger of losing their most impressionable cohort to violent jihad.
The administration of President George W. Bush prided itself on taking a hard line on terrorism. Part of its rationale for fighting a war on two fronts was, as Bush said in June 2005 speech, "taking the fight to the terrorists abroad, so we don't have to face them here at home."
But a recent spate of security incidents involving the American Muslims is considered by many as evidence that terrorists are already in the house.
"While our European counterparts have been dealing with the threat of radical extremism for some time now, I think we can all agree that the problem is now in the United States," said Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican member of the subcommittee Souder serves on, at the March 17 hearing.
Teenagers are a top target for recruiters. "A lot of Muslim kids doubt that they belong here because they are made to feel like they are different and inferior, that somehow they are not American," said Abed Hammoud, a political activist and prosecutor in the Detroit area. "That makes it potentially easier to recruit them."
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A growing school of thought among counterterrorism specialists, and within the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, argues that law enforcement should engage more deeply with the Muslim community. Their case has been bolstered by encouraging examples of outreach programs in the Netherlands, Britain and, closer to home, Los Angeles.
"There is no guarantee that we can stop every attack," said Mike Rolince, a counterterrorism specialist who spent 31 years at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and now works for consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton and provides technological and strategic consulting services to the U.S. intelligence community. "But the best chance we have lies in sustained engagement with the Muslim community."
U.S. officials and members of America's Muslim community say two recent incidents show that both sides want to engage each other. There was Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, charged with trying to detonate explosives in his underwear on a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit on December 25. His father had tried to alert U.S. authorities to his son's growing radicalism in Nigeria last November, although his warning was not heeded.
That same month, a group of young Pakistani Americans known as the "Northern Virginia Five" were arrested in Pakistan, where they had gone to try to join the Taliban, after their parents were put in touch with the FBI by CAIR. But outreach has the potential to turn political, with Democrats anxious not to appear soft on terrorism before the November elections and Republicans smelling opportunity. Opponents on the right are fiercely critical of this shift in counterterrorism strategy.
"Outreach is a joke," said conservative commentator Debbie Schlussel, who advocates being tough on mosques and immigration. "Muslims don't respect people who kowtow to them. I think they respect those whom they fear." Obama and Napolitano came under fire for their handling of the failed December 25 bomb attempt, which fueled Republican criticism that the president is weak on national security. The expected reaction from the right, some say, has made the Obama administration nervous. more from this source.........
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