As widely reported, the five students now detained in Pakistan for allegedly seeking to become jihadists were from the D.C. area. This incident is the latest in a series of at least nine cases of homegrown Muslim extremism in 2009 and the disappearance in 2008 of about 20 Somali men from Minneapolis who returned to Africa to fight with the Al-Shabaab terrorist group. Disturbingly, in 2007, a Pew survey found a quarter of Muslim American men under age 30 thought suicide bombings justifiable.
Clearly, as Steve Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism tirelessly urges, a concerted effort must be made to combat the ideology that stokes such anti-American antagonism. According to a Canadian intelligence report, the most dangerous aspect of this mindset is ”the perception that Islam is under attack from the West.” This, as Emerson says, “is the most important factor in persuading would-be jihadists that they must preemptively and violently defend Islam from these perceived enemies.”
One of the groups that repeatedly drives home this extremist theme is the Muslim Students Association, which is active on campuses throughout the U.S. Indeed, one of the men now held in Pakistan, Howard University dental student Ramy Zamzam, has played a leadership role in the organization, serving as president of the MSA DC Council.
No program for drawing young people away from the snare of extremism – propagated by online jihadists, radical imams, et al — can be complete without taking a hard and very public look at the MSA’s message, activism, and enablers on the nation’s campuses.