Tags: Barack Obama | Homeland Security | ISIS/Islamic State | Middle East | War on Terrorism | Muslim | Islam

Obama Reaches Out to US Muslims Amid Concerns of Backlash

Wednesday, 04 February 2015 08:17 PM

The Obama administration is reaching out to American Muslim leaders as it tries to stem extremism in the U.S. while heading off a domestic backlash against mainstream Islam over atrocities committed by the Islamic State.

About a dozen leaders and other representatives of the U.S. Muslim community met Wednesday behind closed doors with President Barack Obama, a session that some of them had wanted for years.

Topics of discussion included anti-Muslim violence; safe-guarding civil rights; countering groups like the Islamic State (ISIS) that try to recruit Americans; and an administration summit on violent extremism that’s scheduled for Feb. 18.

"It was a listening session," Dean Obeidallah, a prominent Arab-American comedian, said of the meeting as he left the White House. "On some level it was relationship building."

The meeting was scheduled long before ISIS extremists this week released a gruesome video of a captured Jordanian pilot being burned to death as the country’s leader, King Abdullah II, visited Washington.

Attacks in Paris and Sydney by radical Muslims have heightened fears that similar violence could be copied in this country.

Obama on Tuesday called the killing of the pilot "one more indication of the viciousness and barbarity of this organization."

The president avoided associating the militants with Islam. "It also just indicates the degree to which, whatever ideology they’re operating off of, it’s bankrupt," Obama said.

Battling Bigotry

Obeidallah, who has a show on Sirius XM Radio and writes for the Daily Beast website, said that he brought up the "anti-Muslim bigotry" from some politicians.

"We are being demonized as Muslims," he said.

Hoda Elshishtawy, the national policy analyst for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, attended the meeting and pressed Obama to put more Muslims in high government positions. Those appointments, she said, help ensure that American Muslims are engaged and "participating in the civic process."

Most of the other attendees refused to talk to reporters waiting outside the West Wing when the meeting concluded.

Muslim groups say the rise of ISIS has fueled attacks against Muslims in the U.S. The FBI reported that 14.2 percent of all religious hate crimes were against Muslims in 2013, up from 12.8 percent in 2012.

South Asian Americans Leading Together, an advocacy group in the Washington suburb of Takoma Park, Maryland, documented 79 examples of what they called "xenophobic rhetoric" by political figures from January 2011 through April 2014. That’s up from a previous report the group did spanning 2006 to 2010.

'Ripple Effects'

"There are immediate ripple effects in communities across the country," said Suman Raghunathan, the executive director of the organization. "Muslim communities are increasingly being targeted and seen as prone to terrorism."

In one example last month, a state lawmaker in Texas demanded that Muslims who visit her office take an oath of loyalty and denounce Islamic terrorism. The lawmaker, state Rep. Molly White, posted on Facebook that she wanted Muslim visitors to "publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws." She also wrote: "We will see how long they stay in my office."

Meanwhile, the same Muslim leaders facing increased discrimination are being pressed by the Obama administration to help identify extremism within their mosques and neighborhoods, a tactic that has made some groups uncomfortable.

Security Conference

A pilot program within the Department of Justice that started mid-2013 sought to forge links between law enforcement and Muslim communities in Boston, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis. The "best practices" from those three cities will be discussed at the summit later this month.

The threat posed by ISIS and homegrown extremism will be among the topics at a security conference in Munich that Vice President Joe Biden is set to attend this week.

He will hold talks with other leaders about how the U.S. and European countries can cut off funding sources and better share information about individuals who may be threats, according to a White House official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity to preview the meetings.

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The Obama administration is reaching out to American Muslim leaders as it tries to stem extremism in the U.S. while heading off a domestic backlash against mainstream Islam over atrocities committed by the Islamic State.
Muslim, Islam, Obama, backlash, reaches out, concerns, US
Wednesday, 04 February 2015 08:17 PM
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