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Susan Collins

Good Will Must Be One of Our Anti-Terror Tools
By Sen. Susan M. Collins
Mar 17, 2007 - 1:18:43 PM

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Sen. Susan M. Collins represents the state of Maine in the U.S. Senate.
Fighting terrorism requires more than high-tech surveillance, watch lists, and cargo screening. It also demands tolerance and good will.

That lesson was underscored at a recent hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, where I serve as ranking member.

Technology and active counter-measures are vital defenses against foreign terrorists who plan attacks against us. But we also need to deal with the threat of home-grown terrorists - think of Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City federal-building bombing, or the recent discovery of a group of Islamic extremists in California who were radicalized while in prison.

Whether fostered by extremist recruiters or by self-study of extremist literature and Internet sites, radicalization produces hate-filled individuals and groups bent on violence. A Senate hearing that I led last year showed that our prisons, in particular, are fertile ground for this activity. Whether they operate in prisons, in extremist-led mosques, or on Internet sites, the purveyors of hate are trying to raise a new generation of terrorists in our midst.

This is not, I emphasize, a problem confined to Muslims. Innocent Americans have died at the hands of fanatics like neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and others who have no ties to Islam. But given recent history and the state of world affairs, much of the concern about home-grown terrorism focuses on American Muslims, including converts to Islam, who may be radicalized by claims that America’s anti-terror efforts are nothing more than a "crusade" against Islam and all its adherents. This is untrue, but the belief could foster our own version of the home-grown terrorists in Great Britain who last year bombed the London transport system and were plotting to blow up jetliners bound for the United States.

As Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff told our committee, the vast majority of Muslims living in America are peaceful, tolerant, and involved in our national life. Treating our Muslim neighbors with respect and good will is more than good manners. It is a direct attack on the lies spread by those who try to recruit a few American Muslims into their violent aberration of Islamic belief.

Beyond personal diplomacy, confronting the threat of home-grown terror inspired by radicalization requires extra effort and innovation by our federal government to engage American Muslims in dialogue, and to show by deeds as well as words that they are valued members of our communities.

To their credit, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the FBI, and the Departments of State and Treasury have supplemented their homeland-defense activities with analyses of the concerns of Muslim Americans, and with outreach and engagement programs.

DHS, for example, has analyzed matters that cause concern among some Muslim-Americans, such as aviation watch lists, immigration processing, and perceptions of selective application of laws and procedures. Identifying concerns does not mean we must abandon essential security activities, but points out the need to ensure that the reasons for the programs are well explained and that their operation is fair and impartial.

Other federal initiatives have included community forums, contact with Muslim religious leaders, training for federal employees on Islamic culture and beliefs, and efforts to increase the numbers of Muslims in the federal workforce.

The overwhelming majority of faithful Muslims in this country are allies in promoting tolerance and protecting all of our citizens against attacks. They understand that our common enemy is violent absolutism of any stripe, whether the motivation is religion or another belief system.

In the past five years, America has made progress in improving our security against terror attacks. We have more secure airports, more information on incoming travelers, better tools to disrupt terrorist financial networks, more information sharing among intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, and new security standards for cargo ports and chemical facilities. I have  sponsored and managed legislation on all these matters, and I will work with my colleagues to do more.

These are all valuable efforts, but our anti-terrorist measures must also include devising ways to reduce the supply of new terrorists. Part of that effort is demonstrating to our Muslim neighbors that we respect them, and reassuring them that our historical and constitutional commitments to tolerance and freedom of religion apply to everyone.

Positive steps based on honesty and good will toward our Muslim neighbors will help deprive extremist zealots of their main tools for recruiting: misinformation, fear, and hatred. That is a campaign we can all support.

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