On March 23, 2011, WORDE invited Dan Sutherland, Chief of the Countering Violent Extremism group at the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) to speak with a local Muslim American community at the International Cultural Center in Gaithersburg, MD.
Mr. Sutherland’s presentation, “Promoting Safe and Resilient American Communities” examined the threat of homegrown radicalization and explored ways to tackle this challenge within Muslim American communities, and avenues through which the government can help.
Dan Sutherland began his presentation by discussing the 30 latest attacks, or attempted attacks coordinated by “homegrown” terrorists in the past two years. Although there is no common pattern that connects each case, Mr. Sutherland showed several video clips of radical preachers such as Anwar al-Awlaki and Mohammad Sidiq Khan to explain that Al-Qaeda has developed a powerful three-part narrative targeted to recruit Muslim Americans. This narrative instructs Muslims to believe that their identity is exclusively based on their religious identity and that they are part of a global Muslim community. Next, they convince people to believe that the US has waged a campaign to weaken Islam and disgrace Muslims. Al Qaeda concludes that the only way to counter this threat is through violence.
In the second half of the program, Mr. Sutherland and Dr. Hedieh Mirahmadi, President of WORDE, led a discussion to develop possible community actions. Participants noted that the two-way discussion allowed for a productive exchange. Several suggestions explored avenues that underscore the Al-Qaeda narrative such as promoting religious tolerance, cultural pluralism, encouraging civic engagement and interfaith activities. Muslim American community members were also interested to learn how the government can help connect them to public and private foundations that can fund counter-radicalization initiatives.
Participants expressed their gratitude for the government’s work to reach out to Muslims. One attendee commented, “I learned that the American government is giving legitimacy to voices from within the Muslim community in exploring the root causes of radicalization and its potential result–terrorism.”