Muslim leaders probe problem of disaffected youths

December 20, 2010

LOS ANGELES (RNS) Muslim leaders are admitting disaffected Muslim
youth such as the alleged Oregon bomber arrested last month are ripe for
online recruitment by extremists.


"Why do we in Muslim communities not have centers for at-risk
youth?" said civil rights attorney Reem Salahi at the annual national
convention of the Muslim Public Affairs Council on Saturday (Dec. 18) in
Los Angeles.


Speakers discussed the November arrest of 19-year-old Somali-born
Mohamed Osman Mohamud, caught in an FBI sting after trying to blow up a
bomb in a van parked near a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in downtown
Portland, Ore.


Salahi said Mohamud apparently felt isolated and found solace on
extremist web sites whose radical owners are "exploiting the grievances
of young people and getting to them in very sophisticated ways."


The annual MPAC event drew about 900 people and was unique this year
for showcasing first-generation Muslim-Americans born and raised in the
U.S., many of them seeming to lack the emotional baggage carried by
immigrants from global hotspots.


"We are no longer in an era where faith can be forced on anyone,"
said Suhaib Webb, a young imam from San Jose, Calif.


Muslim leaders not only are re-assessing their own communities'
shortfalls but also trying to broaden national conversations about Islam
beyond security and terrorism issues -- "to talk about what Islam is and
not constantly be talking about what Islam isn't," said Rashad Hussain,
President Obama's special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic
Conference.


"The conflation of terrorism and Islam is something that's
dangerous," said the Wyoming-born, Texas-raised Hussain. "Those aren't
the only concerns by which we engage our Muslim communities ... They're
worried about their jobs. They're worried about health care for their
families."


U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte of Los Angeles said the Department of
Justice will keep relying on confidential informants and surveillance in
federal cases ranging from terrorism to narcotics. But "the key is
maintaining a constant dialogue. Meeting with people not in times of
crisis but in times when things are calm such as events like this."