Don’t Panic. Fear Is Al-Qaeda’s Real Goal

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Fareed Zakaria

In responding to the attempted bombing of an airliner on Christmas Day, Sen. Dianne Feinstein voiced the feelings of many when she said that to prevent such situations, “I’d rather overreact than underreact.” This appears to be the consensus view in Washington, but it is quite wrong. The purpose of terrorism is to provoke an overreaction. Its real aim is not to kill the hundreds of people directly targeted but to sow fear in the rest of the population. Terrorism is an unusual military tactic in that it depends on the response of the onlookers. If we are not terrorized, then the attack didn’t work. Alas, this one worked very well.

The attempted bombing says more about al-Qaeda’s weakened state than its strength. In the eight years before Sept. 11, al-Qaeda was able to launch large-scale terrorist attacks on several continents. It targeted important symbols of American power — embassies in Africa; a naval destroyer, the USS Cole; and, of course, the World Trade Center. The operations were complex — a simultaneous bombing of two embassies in different countries — and involved dozens of people of different nationalities who trained around the world, moved significant sums of money and coordinated their efforts over months, sometimes years.

On Christmas an al-Qaeda affiliate launched an operation using one person, with no special target, and a failed technique tried eight years ago by “shoe bomber” Richard Reid. The plot seems to have been an opportunity that the group seized rather than the result of a well-considered strategic plan. A Nigerian fanatic with (what appeared to be) a clean background volunteered for service; he was wired up with a makeshift explosive and put on a plane. His mission failed entirely, killing not a single person. The suicide bomber was not even able to commit suicide. But al-Qaeda succeeded in its real aim, which was to throw the American system into turmoil. That’s why the terror group proudly boasted about the success of its mission.

Is there some sensible reaction between panic and passivity? Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission and later a senior State Department official in the Bush administration, suggests that we should try to analyze failures in homeland security the way we do airplane catastrophes. When an airliner suffers an accident, major or minor, the National Transportation Safety Board convenes a group of nonpartisan experts who methodically examine what went wrong and then issue recommendations to improve the situation. “We approach airline security with the understanding that it’s a complex problem, that we have a pretty good system, but that there will be failures — caused by human beings, technology, or other factors. The point is to constantly fix what’s broken and keep improving the design and execution,” says Zelikow.

Imagine if that were the process after a lapse in homeland security. The public would know that any attack, successful or not, would trigger an automatic, serious process to analyze the problem and fix it. Politicians might find it harder to use every such event for political advantage. The people on the front lines of homeland security would not get demoralized as they watched politicians and the media bash them and grandstand with little knowledge.

Overreacting to terrorist attacks plays into al-Qaeda’s hands. It also provokes responses that are likely to be large-scale, expensive, ineffective and possibly counterproductive. More screening for every passenger makes no sense. When searching for needles in haystacks, adding hay doesn’t help. What’s needed is a larger, more robust watch list that is instantly available to all relevant government agencies. Almost 2 million people travel on planes in the United States every day. We need to isolate the tiny percentage of suspicious characters and search them, not cause needless fear in everyone else.

As for the calls to treat the would-be bomber as an enemy combatant, torture him and toss him into Guantanamo, God knows he deserves it. But keep in mind that the crucial intelligence we received was from the boy’s father. If that father had believed that the United States was a rogue superpower that would torture and abuse his child without any sense of decency, would he have turned him in? To keep this country safe, we need many more fathers, uncles, friends and colleagues to have enough trust in America that they, too, would turn in the terrorist next door.

Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International. His e-mail address is comments@fareedzakaria.com.

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ISPU Banquet Grosses $250,000

November 1, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Neda Farooqi, MMNS

ISPU annual dinner accentuates issues facing American Muslims; raises $250,000.

“It is not the building that makes us big, it is us, you and I, that make us big,” said Imam Hassan al-Qazwini, referring to the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, annual fundraising dinner in the banquet hall of the largest mosque in North America on October 24, 2009. “May Allah bless you all.”

The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) is a nonprofit think tank organization, originated in Michigan that researches and evaluates US and foreign policy.

“ISPU’s mission is to focus on education, research, and analysis with an emphasis on issues effecting the Muslim community,” said Dr. Nauman Imami, Director of the Glaucoma Service at the Henry Ford Health System and member of ISPU Board of Directors.

Imami drew an analogy between Google and ISPU. “Google does one thing and it does it very well. It answers any questions posed to it.” According to searchenginejournal.com, Google ranks as the number one search site in the United States.

Imami explained that a public policy is created when there is a defined problem, a perceived solution, and political alignment.

Imami posed the question: “How are Muslims in America portrayed?” ISPU’s research has impacted many media products, such as the Newsweek cover story titled, “Islam In America,” published on July 30, 2007. Other networks such as CNN, BBC, and The Economist compile studies and data from ISPU. Media outlets such as Christian Science Monitor and the Associated Press have referenced several ISPU reports.

“ISPU provides solutions based on evidence and data for American Muslims,” said Imami.

“ISPU focuses on topics that are important to the community. Your concerns, your families, and domestic & foreign policy,” said Farid Senzai, assistant professor in the political science department at Santa Clara University and Director of Research at ISPU.

ISPU released several policy briefs on foreign topics ranging from the Arab/Israeli conflict to the predicaments taking place in Pakistan.  ISPU also examines domestic issues such as divorce in the American Muslim community, Muslim youth and ratification, and health clinics in the US.

ISPU has recently published a brief, “Death by Culture,” that centers on domestic abuse. This publication exhibits violence that circulated around the Rihanna/Chris Brown case and Bridges TV case, whose founder decapitated his wife in their television studio.

Senzai informed the audience that ISPU policy briefs have a high impact on US & foreign relations. “Four distinctive ISPU reports on Pakistan translated into very direct impact in Washington,” said Senzai. ISPU has also worked on topics of US & Iran relations, hosting a conference that invited scholars from Iran delegations and Egypt Sate Department Delegations. He was also invited to go to Egypt after the release of ISPU’s publications on US and foreign policy. 

A massive, two-year study on Muslim divorce is yet to be released, soon available to the public. 

Apart from fundraising, ISPU recognizes scholars and philanthropists annually for their research and significant impact. The 2009 ISPU Scholar Award was presented to Dr. Juan Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan. “I shouldn’t be getting an award for speaking the truth,” said Cole, upon receiving the award. Dr. Anjum Shariff, a radiologist in St. Louis, was the recipient of the Distinguished Award for Philanthropy. His work entails helping refugee children attending struggling public schools and tutors high school students. Anjum Shariff has also formulated a program for students to shadow physicians at his workplace.

Soon after dinner and the award ceremony, keynote speaker, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf was invited on stage.

“It is nice to see chandeliers in the masjid, MashAllah, instead of lights flickering,” said Hamza Yusuf. Hamza Yusuf Hanson is an Islamic scholar who teaches at the Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California.

Yusuf reminded the crowd that Islam is not a monolith. “There is only one Islam,” he said. “But, there are multiple versions. Islam has many adjectives.”

The religion of Islam consists of different types of Muslims ranging from classical, traditional, Salafi, Sufi, Hanafi, Malaki and many more eclectic backgrounds. “The first and strongest strengths of Islam is Unity among diversity,” said Yusuf. “When you try to box people in narrow definitions, you are not acknowledging the depth of human beings.”

Yusuf also focuses on the difficulties that loom amongst Muslim Americans. “We are not recognizing that unity is not uniformity. That is the real problem of our community.”

Yusuf also spoke about western Muslim family and financial life.

“American Muslims have high levels of educations, with the average Muslim bringing in $70,000 [annually.]”

The Pew Research Center managed more than 55,000 interviews that were conducted in English, Arabic, Farsi, and Urdu. This information allowed the Pew to obtain a national sample of 1,050 Muslims, which assessed Muslim backgrounds, educational levels, and views on the western world. “We have potential to reinvigorate,” said Yusuf.

“What is driving us as a community? Where are we going?” Yusuf informs the crowd that the community has a lack of professionalism and strategy. “This is the purpose of think tanks like ISPU- to provide strategy and professionalism.”

Lastly, Yusuf directs the audience to avoid getting constricted in plots and conspiracies. Muslims know more about the conspiracies of September 11 than they do about the life of the Prophet Muhammad (s). “The Prophet never complained or played the victim card. The question is what are you doing, not what are they doing.”

Yusuf advises the 750 attendees to stick to the truth. “Truth is such an extraordinary rare,” he said. In addition, he recommends that American Muslims should not be judgmental and need to take advantage of the opportunities placed for them. “We have our own nutcases. We don’t like to be judged, so don’t judge others.”

“I don’t care what the enemy did to us, cause we wont be asked about that. What we will be asked about is how we responded,” concluded Yusuf.

Among local residents, dignitaries, such as Charlene Elder, the first Arab-American female judge on Michigan’s Third Circuit Court and Dearborn Heights Mayor Dan Paletko were in attendance.

The guests were given the opportunity to meet the speakers and take part in the book signing with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Dr. Juan Cole, and Dr. Farid Senzai.
The event raised $250,000, reaching ISPU’s goal Saturday night. ISPU tackles social challenges with the support of donations. To learn more about ISPU and its upcoming events, please visit www.ispu.org.

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