Arab and Muslim Engagement

Reaching Out to Arab- and Muslim-Americans Preserves our National Security and our Heritage as Ohioans
by Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio
and Chair of the Civil Rights Subcommittee of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee

Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of OhioThose of us in law enforcement know all too well that terrorists continue to target the United States. We have seen the dangerous consequences take hold in places like Fort Hood and Times Square, and even reach here in Ohio, where our office and the FBI prosecuted a home-grown terror cell plotting to kill Americans abroad. Preventing these kinds of attacks is our top priority.

Our enemies seek not only to kill our citizens and destroy our cities, they want to attack the most fundamental American principle of all -- our free, open and diverse society. We cannot and will not let them succeed.

We find ourselves facing foreign-based terrorists, including Al-Qaida, seeking to radicalize people here in the United States in new ways. Using sleek ad campaigns on the Internet, these terrorists try to recruit Americans to attack their neighbors. We must counter these efforts, but must do it wisely and without sacrificing our ideals.

Some, however, have wrongly resorted to portraying American Arab or Muslim communities, or the Islamic faith itself, as a threat to our country. While we must repel attempts by foreign terrorists to radicalize Americans, vilifying Islam or all American Arabs will not make our nation safer. Indeed, suggesting these Americans are less loyal than their countrymen is not only inaccurate and irresponsible, it adds an air of legitimacy to violent extremism of another kind: directed not by American Muslims and Arabs, but at them.

In the past year, a passenger stabbed a New York cabbie after learning he was Muslim and an arsonist in Tennessee burned a mosque, among other examples. Such acts are not only illegal, they are profoundly at odds with one of our nation's bedrock values: "E pluribus unum," or "Out of many, one."

Stigmatizing Muslim communities not only contradicts our nation's commitment to religious freedom, it makes it easier for al-Qaida to radicalize Americans. A key tenet of al-Qaida's propaganda is that America and Islam are at war. This is not true. Since the day a band of religious refugees stumbled off their ship near Cape Cod, practitioners of every faith have come and worshiped freely in this country.

Acts of violence and hostility against American Muslims risk obscuring these truths and feeding the enemy's false narrative that America is at war with Islam.

We must recognize that American Muslim and Arab communities are a vital part of the solution to the problem of radicalization. Terrorists do not radicalize entire communities, they recruit individuals. American Muslims and Arabs who recognized threats have worked with law enforcement when they suspect a problem. For this we owe them gratitude, not sideways glances.

In an effort to improve communication, collaboration and trust with Arab and Muslim Americans, I have been part of a group of United States Attorneys across the country who are having a series of conversations designed to better understand the needs of these American communities.  These Ohioans should understand that the Department of Justice is here to protect them.Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, and various religious leaders after the sentencing for a church burning

I have met with hundreds of American Muslims in Northern Ohio over the past few months. Not surprisingly, they want for their children what everyone wants - a good education, freedom from bullying and the opportunity for their children to grow and become productive citizens.

I heard troubling stories from parents whose children's trust in this country was shaken by various indignities suffered in our community, which they perceived to have stemmed from their religion or ethnicity. This is wrong. It is not the Ohio I know and love, and none of us should stand silently by and tolerate such intolerance.

I heard from doctors, architects and workers who have a deep love for their nation. I spoke with their American-born children who, just like our Irish, Italian, and Eastern European communities, are working on their resumes, fiddling far too much with their Blackberry’s, and think of themselves as American more than anything else – because that is who they are.

Law enforcement alone cannot eradicate these root causes of terrorism and hate crimes. Each of us must do all we can to forge lasting relationships with our Muslim and Arab neighbors.  We need to affirm loudly that they, too, are Ohioans, our neighbors in a wonderfully diverse state that thrives on its many faiths, languages and ethnicities.