Embrace Muslims to fight extremism, says Obama

Embrace Muslims to fight extremism, says Obama

‘Extremists don’t want the world to know: Muslims thriving in US’

By (AP)

Published: Fri 20 Feb 2015, 10:26 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 8:45 PM

Washington — President Barack Obama has argued that in the fight against violent extremism, the US has one thing going for it that Europe doesn’t: A long tradition of warmly embracing its immigrants, including Muslims.

With the Daesh group spreading and terrorists gaining strength in the Mideast and Africa, Obama has sought to use White House summit on violent extremism to urge the world to broaden its response far beyond military interventions. The US airstrikes have managed to blunt some of the militants’ gains in Iraq and Syria, but they don’t address the extreme ideologies that underpin deadly groups such as Daesh, Al Shabab and Boko Haram.

“If we’re going to prevent people from being susceptible to the false promises of extremism, then the international community has to offer something better — and the United States intends to do its part,” Obama told the summit on Wednesday. He spoke again on Thursday when delegates from about 65 countries gathered for the summit’s closing session at the State Department.  But not all Muslim-Americans feel like full members of American society, and security experts warned against assuming the US is impervious to those who seek to recruit and radicalise.

 Since the September 11, 2001, attacks, the US has largely been spared the terrorist assaults that have hit cities in Denmark, Belgium and France, growing out of radical interpretations of Islam. In the weeks since the Charlie Hebdo newspaper shootings in Paris, Obama and other US figures have portrayed the US as being at a lower risk. After all, America is known as the “Great Melting Pot,” where minorities of all stripes are made to feel at home.

 Ample evidence suggests that Muslims in America do feel more integrated into society than those living in Europe. Often marginalised and relegated to poorer neighbourhoods in European cities, many Muslim immigrants to the US have flourished as doctors and scientists and in other white-collar professions. Middle-class, predominantly Muslim or Arab-American enclaves have cropped up in places such as Dearborn, Michigan, and Minneapolis, allowing immigrants to carve out their own stories.

 “That’s the story extremists and terrorists don’t want the world to know: Muslims succeeding and thriving in America,” Obama said.

Obama meanwhile spoke emotionally about a Valentine’s card he received from an 11-year-old Muslim American called Sabrina.

“‘I am worried about people hating Muslims,’” she wrote “‘please tell everyone that we are good people, and we’re just like everyone else.’”

 There’s also reason to believe that sense of successful assimilation has offered a degree of protection against the allure of extremism. In 2011, a Pew Research Center survey of American Muslims found that just 2 in 10 Muslims in the US thought there was a great deal or a fair amount of support for extremism among Muslim Americans. Roughly 80 per cent said suicide bombings and other violence against civilians was never justified to defend Islam from its enemies, compared to just 8 per cent who said it was sometimes or often justified.

 Europe, where many Muslims or their ancestors emigrated from former colonies, is host to a much larger Muslim population. There were about 1,350,000 Muslims in the US in 2008, the last date for which Census data is available. France, by comparison, has an estimated 5 million Muslims — about 8 per cent of the total population. In the UK, 2011 census data counted about 2.7 million Muslims out of a population of 63.1 million.   But within America’s smaller Muslim population, not everyone feels they’ve been fully embraced by society.

 Jamila Nasser, a high school junior, said she rarely sees good news about Muslims in the American media. She doesn’t expect a positive reception once she ventures outside of Dearborn, which has elected Arabs and Muslims to many local offices and has one of the largest concentrations of Muslims in North America. 

 “For being a Muslim American growing up in America, I really don’t feel a part of it,” she said.

 For decades, Abdirizak Bihi has been a leader in Minneapolis’ large Somali community, but his work in countering terrorist recruiting didn’t take hold until his nephew, Buran Hassan, was recruited by the Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group Al-Shabab and was killed in Somalia in 2008. Bihi said that without a doubt Somali expatriates in the US have fared better than their counterparts elsewhere in the Somali diaspora. 

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