Washington, DC: The Muslim Public Affairs Council today launched a groundbreaking campaign called “Safe Spaces Initiative: Tools for Developing Healthy Communities.” The campaign seeks to help communities create spiritual safe spaces for open dialogue and debate while also providing physical safe spaces by helping mosque and community leaders deal with any misguided individuals.
After last year’s tragic Boston Marathon bombing , MPAC was approached by many communities on how to effectively address questions regarding those who prey on vulnerable youth, especially online. Over the past year, MPAC has researched and worked with Imams, counselors, youth workers and local community leaders to create a toolkit to help develop the understanding and requisite tools to address violent extremism.
“MPAC has been committed to working on this issue for more than 15 years, starting with the publication of numerous toolkits, research papers and analyses on this topic,” said Haris Tarin , the Director of MPAC’s Washington, DC, office. “We need to take proactive steps to ensure there are open spaces for dialogue and debate in our communities and also be prepared to take the necessary steps to make sure no one goes down a violent path.”
As the proverb says, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” MPAC has developed a three-tiered approach to addressing this issue -- the PIE model which stands for Prevention, Intervention and Ejection. The first step focuses on prevention of destructive ideologies or toxic religious narratives, especially those that emanate from the internet and grab hold of our youth. The ideal solution is to prevent a crisis from happening in the first place. In this regard, our toolkit provides suggestions that offer healthy outlets and guidance on issues ranging from increasing religious knowledge and political activism training to discussing hot topic issues such as foreign policy, gender relations and alcohol/drug abuse.
The second step is intervention -- by working with those individuals who may be traveling down a dangerous path before they commit to violence. Not every case of extremism has to end in an arrest or someone getting hurt. We believe the best approach in these situations, based on our research, is similar to plans created by schools and universities to prevent violent tragedies such as those at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech University .
The last resort is ejection. If there is no way to convince an individual to move away from an act of violence, communities should work toward safely removing that individual from the congregation and contacting law enforcement.
The American Muslim community should be known for its contributions to America, rather than the issue of violent extremism. An industry has developed that currently promotes the false narrative that American Muslims are a national security threat, which is far from the truth. This campaign is part of our effort to retake the narrative, define ourselves and provide our own solutions as mandated by the principles of our faith and the Qur'anic injunction.
“… Stand firmly for justice even if you have to testify against yourselves … ” [Qur'an 4:135]
The toolkit’s author is Alejandro J. Beutel , an independent research consultant to think-tanks, nonprofits, and corporate clients. From 2009 to 2012, Beutel was the Government and Policy Analyst at MPAC. He also is the author of MPAC’s publications “Building Bridges to Strengthen America” and the “Post-9/11 Terrorism Incident Database.”
Founded in 1988, MPAC is an American institution which informs and shapes public opinion and policy by serving as a trusted resource to decision makers in government, media and policy institutions. MPAC is also committed to developing leaders with the purpose of enhancing the political and civic participation of American Muslims.