In New Chapter in War on Terror, Muslim-Americans Still Caught In the Middle

By Carla Murphy Feb 18, 2015

In light of last week’s execution-style killings of three college students, some Muslim-Americans are approaching an international conference that opened yesterday, with caution. President Obama’s week-long Summit on Countering Violent Extremism has drawn community and government groups representing 60 countries to Washington, DC this week. What’s driving this gathering are attacks in recent months by individuals self-identifying with, or reported by media and authorities to have been influenced by radical Islam, in Western capitals, Ottawa, Paris and, this weekend, Copenhagen, as well as major cities like Sydney.

But will this week’s conference–and its resulting agreements for action in communities around the world–focus, too, on other homegrown extremists like white American Craig Stephen Hicks or Norway’s Anders Behring Breivik, a white, conservative Christian? That’s just one of many concerns that 27 religious, ethnic and civil liberties groups in the U.S. raised in a December letter to Homeland Security ahead of this February’s gathering. Because, in ratcheting up the fight against domestic and foreign terrorism, President Obama pledges not just to go after violent individuals. Also fair game, according to his LA Times op-ed–and a focus of this week’s special gathering–are "the propagandists, recruiters and enablers who may not directly engage in terrorist acts themselves, but who radicalize, recruit and incite others to do so."

How Obama’s broad definition of targets for law enforcement and spying actually plays out on the ground, in residential communities, will be of particular concern for many Muslim Americans.