Efforts to End Terrorism Through Local Communities
By CHHS Research Assistant Chaitra Gowda
The 15th anniversary of 9/11 is approaching, and every year we are faced with even more terrorism at home and abroad. Over the past year attacks carried out or inspired by ISIS alone have resulted in nearly 1,000 deaths across the world: the most recent attack on American soil being the San Bernardino, California shootings. The never dwindling statistics have had agencies and entities including Congress and the Obama Administration attempting to eliminate, or at the very least limit, terrorist attacks.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), recognizing that terrorism has evolved into a new phase, is considering grass roots approaches to counterterrorism and homeland security. Threats no longer just consist of pre-planned plots from terrorist cells abroad, but also come from radicalized individuals motivated within the homeland. New efforts by DHS to thwart terrorism begin with reaching out to influential families, communities, and local institutions. When communities begin to look inward, they themselves support one another to discourage extremism and terrorism.
During recent remarks at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson pointed out that terrorist organizations are targeting America’s Muslim communities, and seeking to entice youth to join their violent extremism ideologies. The community is in the best situation to spot self-radicalization and encourage their youth to challenge one another to seek to better the world instead, he explained. Additionally, Johnson emphasized opening the doors for local communities to freely discuss solutions with the government.
One entity here in Maryland, the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (OEMHS), has partnered with the World Organization for Resource Development and Education (“WORDE”), and the Montgomery County Police Department to enhance counterterrorism in the community. WORDE has constructed a Countering Violent Extremism model, which resists violent extremism. The model is a network consisting of the entire community that encourages social cohesion and public safety. Specifically, CVE focuses on keeping individuals considering violent actions at bay by working from the ground up. The model educates members of the community of the risk factors and indicators of radicalization and provides community members with resources to intervene in the pre-criminal space. Such a model emphasizes relationships built on trust, which goes above and beyond simply eliminating terrorism but also attempts to achieve further harmony in communities.
While violent extremism can stem from any number of ideologies, since 9/11 the nation’s attitude towards American Muslims and Muslim communities in particular has been wavering. DHS estimates that there are over 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, making it the second largest religion. Our country’s genuine fears of terrorism have incorrectly transferred blame on an entire religion and community rather than the small population of extremists. Outside of DHS efforts, our nation requires more open mindedness to educate ourselves, especially concerning American Muslims and Muslims in general.
To that end, and following DHS’s new approach to more community involvement, President Barack Obama made his very first visit to a local mosque to denounce anti-Muslim bias on February 2, 2016. Speaking at the Islamic Society of Baltimore in Maryland, the President acknowledged that many peoples’ familiarity with the Islamic faith only occurred after terrorist attacks. He emphasized that American Muslims are a crucial part of this country’s history and a necessary component to our future. President Obama’s actions conveyed that this country should embrace Muslims and reiterated that Muslims in America are an integral part of “one American family.” As we are all part of this “one American family” it is important to look inwards in our communities to help improve the nation.