'This Was Terror' — What I Saw on Sept. 11

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My friends and colleagues are generally aware that before I began working at Sojourners, I was a patent examiner at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for six and a half years. What most of them do not know, however, is that I interviewed for that job — a five-minute drive from the Pentagon — on September 11, 2001.

Early that morning, I decided to take the Metro rather than drive to the USPTO’s offices in Crystal City, Va. I reasoned that if I got the job, I would want to get some idea about my future daily commute. This would prove to be a fortunate decision later on.

Even before the end of my trip to Crystal City, I had already heard news of the first World Trade Center tower being hit. When I arrived at the office, I hoped the interviewer would remember me after our conversation. He did — but considering the significance of all that happened that day, my concerns about employment now seem minuscule in hindsight.

Radicalization Is Not a ‘Muslim Problem'

Image via evgdemidova/Shutterstock

Extremist groups like ISIS and Al Qaida are trying to radicalize young Muslims through well-produced and elaborate online videos and sweeping Twitter campaigns targeted at disaffected young men and women around the world.

Three London school girls recently ran away to join ISIS in Syria after encountering recruiters on Twitter. A Sunday school teacher in Washington state secretly converted to Islam and planned to leave home to join the only Muslims she knew — Isis recruiters she encountered through social media. In Virginia, a local imam meets with young men and women whose families fear they will answer the call of ISIS sent through their cellphones.

As one member of the local law enforcement told our group of 17 international journalists, “There is a terrorist in your pocket and it is talking to you all the time.”

Israel’s Enemy Within: Young Militant Settlers

Image via RNS.

Elhanan Shmidov views this illegal Jewish outpost, within earshot of the drumming ceremonies of nearby Palestinian villages, as the epitome of "self-sacrifice," where "good Jews" like him carry out the holy mission of populating this contested land.

Shmidov, like many of his neighbors, said residents must defend their place in communities like his throughout "Judea and Samaria," the biblical name referring to land that was once the domain of the ancient Jewish kingdom. He takes no responsibility for the Jewish extremists — whom he calls "wild weeds" within the pro-settler community — who carry out violence against Palestinians.

The increasingly radical Jewish militants who target Palestinians are the latest front in Israel’s struggle against terrorism. Israeli security authorities estimate hundreds belong to the extremist groups, but only about 100 have been involved in the violent attacks.

Quebec Bills Aim to Prevent Islamic ‘Radicalization,’ Limit Face-Covering

Photo via REUTERS / Todd Korol / RNS

Imam Syed Soharwardy speaks at a memorial service in Calgary, Alberta, on Oct. 24, 2014. Photo via REUTERS / Todd Korol / RNS

The government of Quebec has introduced two bills, both aimed at Muslims.

The first would attempt to stanch the radicalization of Muslim youth through a 59-point plan that includes expanding the powers of Quebec’s Human Rights Commission to probe hate speech — enhancing training for police and teachers to recognize signs of radicalization, dedicating a police unit to patrol social media, and establishing a hotline staffed by social workers to advise families and friends of suspected extremists.

Divest from Terrorism: The Achilles' Heel of Terror

THE SO-CALLED WAR on terror has dangerous and shifting financial front lines. Since the 9/11 attacks, a series of “anti-terrorism financing laws” have been enacted that allow the government to designate certain charities as “terrorist” organizations or as financing terror. The government can effectively shut down organizations without ever bringing criminal charges or providing evidence against them, according to the ACLU. “As a result,” it reported, “American Muslim organizations and individuals are unfairly targeted.”

In addition to fostering Islamophobia in the larger society and fear within Islamic and other faith communities, overzealous application of these laws can actually inhibit the war on terror. It risks crippling the very Islamic charities that can effectively combat radicalization in places vulnerable to extremists. Stephen Bubb, head of a charity network in Britain, where financial terror laws are similar to those in the U.S., has emphasized “sensible, credible, proportionate regulation” of Islamic charities. “I have witnessed firsthand the difficulties faced by organizations in Pakistan fighting the same battle that we are: for security, for a better way of life, and for a better future for our children,” said Bubb.

Yet defunding terror groups can be an important strategy in combatting violence. A broad spectrum of groups in the U.S. today is finding ways to “divest from terror.”

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Why Does Islam Ban Images of the Prophet Muhammad?

Photo via Sadik Gulec / Shutterstock.com

Muslims waiting for the call to prayer in Aleppo, Syria. Photo via Sadik Gulec / Shutterstock.com

On May 3 in Garland, Texas, two gunmen opened fire at a “draw the Prophet Muhammad” contest sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiativelisted as an extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Police shot and killed the two gunmen. A security guard was injured. Most Muslims consider images of the prophet highly offensive, as Islam prohibits them. The attack comes almost four months to the day that four cartoonists at the French weekly Charlie Hebdo were killed by extremists offended at the magazine’s satirical depictions of the prophet.

Why do images of the founder of Islam — even cartoons drawn by amateurs — incite so much anger in some people that they are motivated to violence?

Everything Must Change: On Baltimore, Drones, and Resurrection

Tunnel, Annette Shaff / Shutterstock.com

Tunnel, Annette Shaff / Shutterstock.com

Everything must change.

Injustices around the world and here at home are coming to light despite a long, willful blindness. Half a world away, the long-muted voices of the victims of American military policy were allowed to break through the wall of propaganda and infotainment used to keep them hushed. A recent New York Times report reveals one of the worst-kept (actually un-kept, but vastly underreported) secrets of our government: that we often do not know who we are killing with drones.

And at home, in Baltimore, the death of Freddie Gray in police custody has caused long-simmering tensions – born of institutionalized segregation, nearly inescapable poverty, and a scourge of police brutality – to erupt in an uprising of passionate resistance, with destruction punctuating otherwise peaceful marches. Media coverage has given far more attention to the “riots” than to the systemic violence that has kept so many African Americans, not only in Baltimore but throughout the country, living in poverty and insecurity.

Syrian Catholic Leader Pleads with U.S. Christians Not to Forget His Threatened Church

Photo via REUTERS / Hosam Katan / RNS

A man reacts to a bomb in Aleppo’s al-Fardous district on April 29, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Hosam Katan / RNS

Just a few decades ago, Aleppo was home to about 170,000 Catholics, about a third of the city’s population. Since the war broke out, Jeanbart has seen a third of his flock reduced by death, dislocation, and emigration while Aleppo’s Muslim population has soared.

The threat of annihilation is constant, as Aleppo has become the main battleground between the government forces of President Bashar Assad and a motley assortment of rebels who include growing numbers of fighters affiliated with the fundamentalist terrorism of the Islamic State group.

Islamic State’s Sophisticated Recruiting Campaign Poses Persistent Threat in U.S.

ISIS online. Image via aradaphotography/shutterstock.com

ISIS online. Image via aradaphotography/shutterstock.com

The arrests of six Minnesota men accused earlier this month of attempting to join the Islamic State group highlights an unprecedented marketing effort being waged by the militant group in Iraq and Syria, U.S. law enforcement officials and terror analysts said.

It’s a campaign that is finding resonance from urban metros to the American heartland.

“This is not so much a recruitment effort as it is a global marketing campaign, beyond anything that al-Qaida has ever done,” said a senior law enforcement official.

The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said the Islamic State’s slick multimedia productions, its use of social media, and personal “peer-to-peer” communication are proving to be effective parts of a sophisticated program aimed at the West.

“I don’t think there has been one case in which we haven’t found some connection to the videos or other media the group has produced,” the official said.

Federal authorities have identified more than 150 U.S. residents who have sought to join the ranks of the terror organization or rival groups in Syria. There is evidence that about 40 of those have traveled to the region and returned to the U.S. Most have been charged; an undisclosed number are free and subjects of intense surveillance, the senior official said.

The smallest subset of the group, an estimated dozen, represents those who have actually joined the fighting ranks.

Kenya Cracks Down on Al-Shabab Funding and Recruitment After Garissa Attack

Photo via Fredrick Nzwili / RNS

Youth light candles at Freedom Corner to remember students killed at Garissa University College. Photo via Fredrick Nzwili / RNS

Faced with a fierce enemy driven by Muslim extremist ideology, the government has cracked down on funding for al-Shabab, the Somali group that claimed responsibility for killing 148 mostly Christian students at Garissa University College a week ago.

This week, Kenya froze the accounts of 85 groups and individuals, including bus companies and Muslim rights organizations, allegedly linked to the group. It has closed down one hotel in Eastleigh, a neighborhood in the Nairobi commonly known as Little Mogadishu because of its large concentration of ethnic Somalis.

But the freeze on Muslims for Human Rights and Haki Africa, two nongovernmental organizations, raised questions, since they are known for their work on improving the lives of Kenyans and fighting for human rights of all citizens.

“I am amazed that these human rights organizations are believed to have been supporting terror,” said Sheikh Juma Ngao, the national chairman of the Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council.

“I think the government needs to provide some evidence.”