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Partnerships, Not Islamophobia, Must Dictate US Counterterrorism Policy

Law enforcement must move past the Islamophobic rhetoric that seems to dominate US counterterrorism discourse bring Muslim communities into the fold to help in the effort.
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Yesterday, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) did his best to demonstrate that McCarthyism is not dead by making Islamophobia the new version of 1950's Communism. Further, his assertions that American Muslims have not helped law enforcement are just plain wrong.

University of North Carolina Prof. Charles Kurzman's new study recently showed that in over 40 percent of documented U.S. domestic terrorism cases, the largest single source of voluntary tips to law enforcement officials came from the American Muslim community.

Our own research in Los Angeles, Northern Virginia, Boston, and London clearly shows that Muslim communities in the U.S. and the United Kingdom share the mainstream public's interest in keeping their communities safe for their families and providing the most authentic intelligence to law enforcement officials.

Both U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca spoke about the importance of working with Muslim Americans to fight domestic terrorism and radicalization.

To implement the vision articulated by Ellison and Baca, we have an established, tested model developed with the help of law enforcement experts that should be implemented on a nationwide basis to work with the Muslim American community to prevent radicalization and homegrown terrorism.

The premise of our program, dubbed Partnering for Prevention, is based on the need for on-going, substantive dialog and in person meetings between law enforcement counterterrorism officials and members of the American Muslims.

Practically speaking, this means assembling real working groups in major cities with key stakeholders and decision-makers at the table, including the FBI, local police, imams, youth, and women. While such an effort now exists on an ad hoc basis in a handful of cities, there needs to be a nationally funded and coordinated effort to expand and formalize such a program.

Real partnerships balance the interests of all stakeholders. Law enforcement officials need community support in dealing with a wide spectrum of issues -- from radicalization and hate crimes to youth disenfranchisement to community blight. And American Muslim communities should be trained and encourage to serve as the "eyes and ears" of law enforcement to spot suspicious activity in their communities, which they know and understand better than law enforcement can.

Significantly, this also means law enforcement must move past the rhetoric and vitriol that seem to dominate US counterterrorism discourse. Muslim communities must be brought into the fold and treated with respect. And law enforcement must even develop the cultural and linguistic competence to meaningfully work with Muslim communities.

Partnerships are about give and take. In this post-9/11 world, all interested parties must show flexibility to keep us safe. And all parties must also be treated with respect. The rewards for partnerships are self-evident -- we will all be safer when authentic partnerships are in place as a key tool to combating terrorism in the US.

Congressman King, when will you stop the Islamophobic rhetoric and join Rep. Ellison, Sheriff Baca and the rest of us in recognizing that partnerships make America safer for all?

Deborah Ramirez is a professor of law at Northeastern University School of Law and Executive Director of the Research for the Partnering of Community Safety Initiative (PFP). Tara Lai Quinlan is a New York City attorney, and serves as the volunteer Director of Research for the PFP.