Is Obama Trying to Alienate Muslim-American Youth?
by Sheldon Richman
A 19-year-old Chicago-area man was arrested last weekend for attempting to help the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The U.S. government says Mohammed Hamzah Khan, an American citizen, faces 15 years in prison because he was at an airport with a ticket to Turkey and had left references to ISIS and a note to his parents saying he was going to Syria.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration says it will step up outreach efforts with American Muslims to counter ISIS’s campaign to attract young Western Muslims to its cause.
Is this any way for the government to keep the turmoil in Iraq and Syria from washing up on America’s shores?
The administration already has an answer to that question. When Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited Ohio recently to offer help to the Muslim community against the allure of ISIS, “he faced a litany of grievances from a group of mostly Muslim leaders and advocates,” the New York Times reports. “They complained of humiliating border inspections by brusque federal agents, F.B.I. sting operations that wrongly targeted Muslim citizens as terrorists.…”
According to the Times, administration officials “have found that security rules put in place to defend America from a terror attack have played a role in alienating young Muslim men and women — the exact group being courted by the Islamic State.”
So it appears the Obama administration needs to undo damage the U.S. government itself has caused. The Times continues,
Muslim advocates say there is deep suspicion that, despite all the meetings and the talk of outreach, the government’s main goal is to recruit informants to root out suspected terrorists.
“I don’t know how we can have a partnership with the same government that spies on you,” said Linda Sarsour, advocacy director for the National Network for Arab American Communities.
Yet the Department of Homeland Security seems more interested in paying for youth programs than in stopping its intrusive tactics, as though basketball leagues and chess clubs will distract young American Muslims from the U.S. government’s heavy-handedness regarding their civil liberties.
Let’s keep things in perspective. As the Times notes, only about 100 Americans have traveled to Syria or attempted to. That’s an insignificant percentage of the 2.6 million American Muslims. As journalist Shikha Dalmia notes, “A much higher percentage of Americans upset with the ‘system’ join violent gangs and political cults every year.”
Even if the numbers were much larger, the government’s charm offensive would still be misguided because of another factor — one that is alluded to by the Times and that may alienate young Muslims as much as civil-liberties violations do. The Times notes that the government’s domestic efforts come “as the United States carries out yet another bombing campaign across two Islamic countries.”
It’s unlikely that President Obama and his national-security team will consider the connection between U.S. bombings in Iraq and Syria, which have already taken civilian lives, and the alienation of young American Muslims. It’s hard to read sincerity into the administration’s campaign to win the loyalty of Muslim youth when, as Yahoo News reports, “the White House has acknowledged for the first time that strict standards President Obama imposed last year to prevent civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes will not apply to U.S. military operations in Syria and Iraq.”
Those so-called “strict standards,” by the way, treat any man of military age as a fitting target for American drone attacks elsewhere in the Muslim world. The victims can be acquitted of combatant status only posthumously.
Once again the administration is trying to have its cake and eat it too. It says it wants to keep the American people safe and American-Muslim youth out of the clutches of ISIS. But it also wants to drop bombs on ISIS in Iraq and Syria — and as we see, it cannot do that without killing Muslim noncombatants, including elderly men, women, and children. That in turn will endanger Americans by winning sympathy for ISIS among Muslims outside the region, including Muslim youth in the United States.
The best way to keep Americans safe and to prevent the growth of sympathy for ISIS in America is to stop bombing people in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org).