According to conventional wisdom, when it comes to homegrown Islamic terrorism, the United States has less to fear than Europe does. Muslims in France, Britain, Germany, Spain and other European nations tend to feel more alienated and less accepted than they do in America, with its flawed but powerful tradition of assimilation. Or so the cliché has it.
While it is true that the United States has not suffered a homegrown attack like the subway bombings in London in 2005, it would be foolish indeed for authorities to assume that America’s Muslims are somehow immune to the siren call of radicalism.
The New York Police Department recently released a welcome report that tries to analyze how and why some American Muslims could become attracted to jihad, and how and why such radicalization can and should be prevented. The report investigated case studies from around the world, identified four steps that lead some Muslims to jihad, and tried to find common patterns of behavior among those who choose violent confrontation with the West.
The report was criticized by some civil libertarians and Arab-American advocates, who asserted that the report encouraged stereotyping. But the report does nothing of the kind. In fact, it carefully avoids stereotyping—that is precisely why the report focuses on individual behavior, not group behavior. The Police Department report does not suggest that all Muslims are susceptible to anti-Western radicalism. On the contrary, it attempts to understand why a tiny minority of the Islamic community becomes militant.
It is only appropriate that New York’s finest would take the lead in trying to understand, and counter, the possible threat of homegrown terrorism. New York is home to thriving Muslim neighborhoods, and the city truly remains a prime target for this country’s enemies. This report is an attempt to make them, and many others, better observers—less likely to stereotype, more likely to recognize legitimate security threats.
This is, in effect, an attempt at community policing writ large, a way for police officers and other security officials to act proactively in the face of an historic threat to national security.
The department’s report should be the first of many such attempts to get to the bottom of Muslim alienation. Hopefully, those reports will inspire creative responses from policymakers. Not every suicide bomber will be identified, and not every jihadist will be assimilated. But New Yorkers cannot simply react to those forces that seek our destruction. We must understand, and we must anticipate.