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A Secret Weapon in the War Against Terror: Inclusion

Mansoor Ijaz is chairman of a New York-based private equity investment firm.

Britain detained eight of its citizens of Pakistani descent last month and about a dozen people of North African and Iraqi origin on Monday -- all on suspicion of conspiring to commit terrorist attacks. This is a reminder that extremists remain committed to disrupting life in the West. But it also serves as an opportunity for governments in Britain and elsewhere in Europe -- and even in the United States -- to call more formally on their Muslim citizens to help in the fight against this modern scourge.

Muslim extremism’s increasingly present face in Western societies is largely the result of a political failure of governments that are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of those who find the message of Al Qaeda’s leaders more appealing than that of Tony Blair, George W. Bush or Spain’s recently unseated prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar.

That Britons born and raised on British soil would plan the murder of their fellow citizens because of tape-recorded tyrannical rants emanating from a cave far away should be proof enough of how fast we are losing the battle.

It should come as no surprise that extremist mercenaries are eager to recruit Muslim citizens in European countries. Once recruited and subjugated, they raise less suspicion, are able to move about more freely and can wait much longer at much lower cost than militants imported from afar to carry out attacks.

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So why are Muslim citizens in Western countries hesitant to do more to help unearth extremists hidden in their communities? It’s a combination of frustration, apathy, fear of overreaching authorities and a sense of helplessness to do anything about poorly crafted government policies.

In Britain, for example, six Muslims were arrested in November 2002 and accused of plotting to release cyanide gas into London’s subway system. Eighteen months has passed and not one has been charged formally with a crime, yet the cost to families, whether in social stigma or financial burdens, continues to accrue and breed more fear and hatred in their communities.

In the United States, Muslim citizens who want to help rid their communities of extremist elements are afraid and increasingly angry. Those who venture into the nearest Federal Bureau of Investigation office to offer a helping hand are often met with suspicion about their motives. Also, their communities often brand them “Uncle Abdullahs” for betraying the Muslim cause.

Political leadership is needed to put an end to this senseless cycle of mistrust. Some suggestions that can help:

* Invite Muslims into government. Appoint Muslims to sensitive defense, intelligence and foreign affairs postings. If threats are emanating from people who claim Islam as their religious guidance, who better to help gather and assess raw intelligence and formulate prudent policies than Muslim citizens?

* Improve community outreach. Mothers need to be asked to form local Muslim equivalents of the Rotary Clubs of America; teenagers and teachers need to work more closely with civic groups populated by other, non-Muslim, citizens to improve communication and integration. Imams need to be vetted by moderate Muslims to ensure they don’t spew violence and hatred at prayer gatherings.

* Start Neighborhood Watch programs in Muslim areas run by willing community participants. Muslim community leaders need to spend time with law enforcement officials, inviting them into mosques, homes, schools and businesses to gain a better understanding of Islam and its practices. Similarly, law enforcement needs to bring Muslims into its ranks and explain, in culturally and religiously sensitive terms, what help is being sought and what assistance can be offered.

Islam’s lunatic fringe, embodied by Al Qaeda’s message of hate and fear, has never respected state boundaries or the duties imposed by citizenship in free and democratic societies. It is time for European and American political leaders to redress this disconcerting trend by inspiring their Muslim citizens to join the fight against terror and extremism before more of our youth fall into the abyss of fanaticism.


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