WASHINGTON, D.C. — Representatives from American Muslim organizations met at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Monday to announce the launch of a two-pronged approach to combat extremism in the wake of the Paris attacks and San Bernardino and the ensuing anti-Muslim rhetoric and political incitement.
The United States Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), a coalition of leading national and local Muslim organizations, said this new program would focus on steering Muslim youths away from extremist propaganda associated with groups like ISIS and simultaneously oppose hate speech and inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric at Monday’s press conference.
The USCMO said that imams at mosques around the country will work to engage Muslim youth and steer them away from extremist rhetoric. The initiative is also working with interfaith groups in community outreach. One way they plan to spread awareness and understanding is to make mosques and Islamic centers more open to members of the general public.
Speaking at the event, Imam Johari Abdul-Malik of the Muslim Alliance in North America, said mosques would strive to do a “better job of reaching out to young people” about “how to avoid seductive approaches from ISIS and others on the internet.”
American intelligence officials say ISIS uses the internet and social media to reach out to disaffected youth. USCMO wants to help them “rejoin the mainstream.” They also said they will help young people “push back against Islamophobia” through political initiatives. Imams will also focus on youth at Friday sermons in order to direct them away from the negative influences of extremist groups — something many imams have been doing for some time.
“We want to let America know that our Muslim youth are not terrorists suspects but our brightest prospects,” Mahdi Bray of the Muslim American Society’s Freedom Foundation, said.
“There is a real violent and present threat” from ISIS, USCMO Secretary General Oussama Jammal said at the press conference. “[ISIS is] preying on young people and justifying atrocities,” he said, adding that “ISIS kills more Muslims than others.”
For the American Muslim community, ISIS is just one of many potential threats they face in this country. Islamophobia and anti-Islam hate crimes are on the rise since the Paris attacks late last month, and the USCMO representatives said that the atmosphere is more vitriolic than anytime since after 9/11.
Representatives blamed the current state anti-Muslim sentiment in America on ubiquitous political rhetoric that scapegoats Muslims. Presidential candidates have so far thrown out suggestions like registering all American Muslims in a database, banning Muslims from entering the U.S., and limiting the resettlement of Syrian refugees to Christians. To fight against such rhetoric, this new initiative aims to drive American Muslims to register to vote and form alliances with other minority groups who share concerns for social justice.
Last month, CAIR announced that up to 76 percent of registered American Muslims voted in midterm elections.
“We have been…condemning [terrorism] for years and people haven’t been listening,” Kristin Szremski, media director at American Muslims for Palestine, said. That is something the USCMO is now working to change: “As united voices, we will be heard,” she added.
“We will not allow ISIS or Islamophobia to define who we are or to determine our destiny,” Jammal said.