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How Can American Muslims Stop Radicalization?

By Kemal Argon, For Huffington Post, On 13 December 2016, Read Original

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Americans and other Westerners have been recently seeing some bad news about criminal and terrorist acts in our societies and this news can be especially bad for Western Muslims when a radicalized member of our own community has been involved in a criminal act that can lead to suspicion and distrust being cast upon the wider Muslim community. Normally no friend or relative of a Muslim wants to receive the bad news that their friend or family member has been involved in any crime. However, if any friend or relative is seeing evidence in a Muslim community member of a propensity to commit a crime, there may be direct action that can be taken by Muslim community members before any crime is committed and before it is too late, that is to say, before any crime is committed and the matter definitely becomes a question for law enforcement. If our community members know that a crime has been committed, is being committed or will be committed, they must report it to law enforcement.

For Muslim minorities in the West, one theoretical possibility would be to try to carry out a special family intervention for the subject, based on the intervention model often used with alcoholics and other chemically dependent persons. This intervention would be following some of the rationale of this chemical dependency intervention methodology adapted and applied instead to community members and persons who are communicating extreme radicalized opinions, possibly in conflict with the law of the land. (For more on intervention, see Vernon E. Johnson, “Intervention, How to Help Someone Who Doesn’t Want Help : A Step-by-Step Guide for Families and Friends of Chemically Dependent Persons,” Hazelden Publishing and Educational Services, 1986, 1998.) The ability to use a borrowed and adapted intervention model to confront radicalization in friends and relatives is based on the working assumption that the radicalization is partly a result of a factor of a radicalized ideology being adopted by a community member or person, this having aspects in conflict with the governing law of the land. For more on ideologies, see Najibullah Lafraie, “Revolutionary Ideology and Islamic Militancy: The Iranian Revolution and Interpretations of the Quran,”I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd, London, New York, 2009.

With respect to extreme ideologies generally, it is worth noting as Najibullah Lafraie describes within pages 5-10 of his first chapter, “Ideology, Revolution, and Revolutionary Ideology,” that, amongst other aspects, these can be seen to have a “false consciousness and apology” and an “action-oriented irrational idealization.” Ideologies themselves may be very good and useful but persons may blindly adhere to extreme ideologies while disregarding important applicable laws and societal norms. If family members and friends see evidence of radicalization in a friend or loved one in the form of an ideology with aspects that promote any kind of illegal act, an intervention may be planned. An intervention is essentially an invitation by loved ones and friends to come back to reality, out of fantasy, in this case the dangerous fantasies of extreme ideologies.

An intervention team assembled by family and/or friends for a loved one who may be becoming radicalized should include certain persons. These could be the friends and loved ones who are witnessing items of concern in communication with this person, the subject of the intervention. Additionally there should be a Muslim attorney who is familiar with the governing law of the land who can advise the persons planning an intervention on how to do so without incurring any legal risk and liability and who can credibly and authoritatively advise the individual intervention subject on specific legal matters, i.e. the risks and legal exposure that he or she may be taking by adhering to and promoting a radicalized ideology. Another person that can be seriously considered for inclusion on an intervention team would be a credibly trained and competent imam of a Muslim congregation, known to everyone involved, who can credibly and authoritatively advise the intervention team members and the subject on the difference between the intellectual formation and doctrines of classical mainstream Islam and the problematic and unacceptable aspects of a radicalized ideology that the intervention subject has been displaying. The persons planning the intervention may decide with the attorney and the imam if a competent mental health professional should also be included on the team.

A competent attorney is critical for planning an intervention and also for following up afterwards and should probably be consulted first. (An attorney in some instances could recommend contacting law enforcement without delay.) An intervention is a confrontational event and an attorney’s advice should be followed on whether or not an intervention can or should be be carried out, given the circumstances of each unique situation, and also how it should be carried out so that no legal risk or liability is incurred by the participants. There is also the chance that an intervention may not be successful and the intervention subject may reject the participants’ intended communications, at which point, the attorney should be consulted as for what options exist within the law that can be taken by the planners of the intervention.

Vernon E. Johnson’s intervention model is described in steps in his book, aspects of which might be borrowed and adapted to include proper preparation and planning, assembling the right intervention team, having a chairperson (probably the Muslim attorney is best for interventions with Muslims working closely with the Imam), determining beforehand what each person will attempt to communicate with the intervention subject, rehearsing an intervention, and determining desired and achieved outcomes/follow-up. This is an important point: whereas alcoholism intervention should lead to treatment and cessation of drinking, what would be the acceptable outcome of an intervention for radicalization? If mental health issues are detected by a mental health professional, a commitment to therapy might be in order. Certainly disavowal of any aspects of an ideology that are in conflict with governing legislation, if not the whole ideology could be required. However, there is the very real prospect that the intervention will have no clear positive results. At this point, intervention participants should consider the attorney’s advice and recommendations. 
With talk in the Western media of “Muslim radicalization” Muslim minority communities have suffered suspicion and distrust as the outcome of the actions of a few radicalized individuals. Members of minority Muslim communities should know that they may have the option to carry out interventions for radicalized community members before any crimes are committed, before more suspicion and distrust are inflicted on the larger community, and, in short, before it’s too late for that person.

Finally, friends and relatives in all cases when considering dealing with potentially radicalized individuals must be careful to protect their own safety and should follow the advice of the professionals consulted. It should be assumed to be best for relatives and friends to not attempt an intervention alone but better and safer to assemble and consult with an intervention team including intervention professionals: a competent attorney, a competent imam, and, as necessary, a Muslim mental health professional.

Special thanks go to Attorney Wilfredo Amr Ruiz of the Florida office of the Council of American Islamic Relations in Miami, Florida. For comparison see “How a Muslim advocacy group in Florida is doing what the government has so far failed to do” by Abigail Hauslohner in The Washington Post, July 4th, 2016.