Analysis: Muslim youth in US oppose terror

Muslim youth groups in the United States are addressing suspicions that the London bombers were both young and “homegrown” by ramping up anti-terrorism initiatives.
After the second attack hit London last Thursday, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Islamic Society of North America issued a statement in which young Muslim groups across the United States condemned terrorism and the ideology which fuels it. The Washington-based, Muslim Public Affairs Council says that this is the first campaign specifically launched by Muslim youth, and counts as an important addition to the movement since most Islamic terrorists are between 20 and 30 years old, the group told United Press International.
“We Muslim-American students and youth stand united in condemning all acts of terror and the burgeoning war on ideas,” the group said in a statement. “The voice of American Muslim youth is essential at this tenuous time, and we will rise to the occasion of making our values heard … We seek to cultivate a culture of pluralism, tolerance and coexistence for the advancement of all people.”
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that future attacks on his country, which has a large immigrant Muslim population, could be prevented in part by legal and security measures, but “in the end, this can only be taken on and defeated by the [Muslim] community itself.”
Some Muslim youth groups in the United States appear to have the same thought. Signed by some 30 Muslim student groups from universities across the country, including the University of California at Los Angeles and Cornell University, the statement offers an open-invitation for other groups to sign on and affirms that Islam does not tolerate terrorism under any circumstances. A number of the largest U.S. Muslim groups — including The Islamic Circle of North America, the Coalition of Islamic Organizations of Chicago, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and groups which are part of the National Grassroots Campaign to Fight Terrorism — have outspokenly condemned acts of terror since the London attacks.
Salam Al-Marayati, the director of the Muslim Affairs Council, told UPI that his organization plans to “positively and constructively intervene with our youth to make sure they have a good understanding of Islam so that no extremists will play upon them.” He said the campaign is in its nascent stage but may begin Internet outreach or hold a youth summit in the fall. Al-Marayati said he does not think that there are any young Muslims in the United States who embrace terrorist ideologies, yet.
“I don’t think there are any right now; this is a proactive program. We are not going to wait for extremist groups to recruit any of our youth,” he said. The way to prevent young Muslims from adopting violent views is “to preach the ideology of love and mutual respect and justice, and secondly, to bring youth into more positive, active engagement with society, and to listen to them so we reduce the likelihood of alienation,” Al-Marayati said.
Other signatories include the national office of the Muslim Students Association located in Virginia. The Association is the first and largest coalition of Muslim students in the United States, with nearly 600 chapters averaging 50 students per chapter. The national office however, does not speak for the local chapters.
Local MSA chapters, like the one in Ohio University in Athens, which had not yet signed onto the Muslim Affairs campaign, have put letters of sympathy for the London victims on their website and lent their support to a petition of Muslim groups which disassociate themselves from terror. The petition was put out by Council on American Islamic relations.
But at times, no action seems like enough to clear Muslims in the minds of others, said Usame Tunagur, of the group’s Ohio chapter.
This week the group plans to run a story in the local newspaper about how the local Muslim community was not only saddened by the attacks in London — and more recently, in Egypt — but also tired of the negative impressions these attacks give about Islam, Tunagur said.
“It really saddens the hearts of community members because when each of these things happens it worsens the image of Islam,” he said.
Tunagur said he felt “hurt” that reports by the British Broadcasting Corporation following the London attacks focused on how “these people could be our next door neighbors.”
“They are creating this atmosphere of fear and paranoia in the general public — so bringing down the borders (between people), opening up is not very easy,” he said.
In the nine years Tunagur has spent in the United States and the two he has lived in Athens, where about 50-75 community members are Muslim, Tunagur said he has never heard Muslims say they support terrorist acts. Before Sept. 11, he said there was a much larger Muslim student community at the university, particularly from Saudi Arabia, but that after the attacks the school has not received a lot of new Muslim students.
Tunagur called Athens a “progressive” and “open-minded” town, but said that many students on campus seem to think that in general Muslims overseas “want us dead,” calling that a “generalization of people who live in the States.” “Most of the time we see the destruction and not the construction because the destruction is shorter, quicker and attracts more attention,” he said. Over the past four or five years, Muslim groups in the United States have become increasingly quick to condemn acts of terror, but Tunagur believes something more is needed.
“I think having proactive events is the next step,” if Muslims are to cut through the “huge curtain between the values of Islam and the West” that terrorism presents he said.
The best way for Muslims to change the way they are viewed, but also take action on the political issues they support, is to take the route of political activism and social responsibility, the American Anti-Arab Discrimination Committee told UPI.
Young Muslims should “get involved in society and work for the betterment of society and that will help address whatever grievances you have,” said Layla Al-Qatami, the Communications Director at the Committee, which is opposed to terrorism and provides legal aid to Arabs facing discrimination.
The Council on American Islamic relations also said they support the youth campaign “wholeheartedly” and that they had launched a recent campaign of 120 imams who condemn extremism and terrorism.
“I think the false perception that Muslims in general support terrorism leads to violence and that’s why we launched our ‘Not in the Name of Islam’ petition drive,” Ibrahim Hooper, the Communications Director at the Council told UPI. Specifically, he cited the plight of the Palestinians.
Another Muslim student group, The Islamic Alliance for Justice at Cornell University, claimed that “certain elements within the American political spectrum” have falsely accused Muslims of silence and even tacit support of terrorism. But “condemnation has in fact been consistently voiced by leading Muslim bodies and organizations both foreign and domestic,” Ahmad Maaty, president of the Alliance at Cornell, told UPI.
He said he and the groups’ chapter at George Washington University in Washington are now planning a number of events, including interfaith dialogues and solidarity vigils, documentaries, panel discussions, and articles and op/eds in local and campus media.

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