Fighting Islamist Terror after Orlando

2768 - Gregg Roman is Director of the Middle East Forum (MEF)

The mass murder of 49 people at an Orlando nightclub on Sunday should precipitate as big a rethink of how we fight terrorism as 9/11 did. Let’s try to learn the right lessons this time.

First and foremost, we’ve got to wipe the floor with ISIS. Although the Islamic State caliphate in Iraq and Syria appears to have played little if any role in our nation’s largest-ever mass shooting, that’s precisely what makes it so dangerous (imagine if Hitler or Stalin could have summoned German and Russian Americans to autonomously plan and carry out mass killings). We should do what we can to prevent rival Sunni jihadists or Iranian-backed Shi’a militiamen from filling the vacuum, but we can’t let fear of what comes next dictate policy.

Second, we’re going to have to sacrifice some freedoms of convenience for the foreseeable future, as many other countries facing persistent terror threats have done. Most Israelis have never seen a club with security as lax as that of Pulse, and the French will soon forget such carefree days. The market will take care of some of this – try opening a nightclub without pat-down security anywhere in Florida now and see what happens – but Washington must be willing to take the lead on things like airport security.

We have to get over our hang-up about profiling Muslims.

Third, we have to get over our hang-up about profiling Muslims. The jihadists bent on terrorizing us have some obvious commonalities that the political and cultural establishment has continually enjoined us to ignore. Like it or not, Florida’s gay nightclubs are going to be giving that grim-faced Pakistani who shows up at the door a slightly longer pat-down.

France recently subjected Muslim employees at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport to special screening, withdrawing some 60 security passes for “inappropriate behavior” such as refusing to shake hands with female colleagues or praising the perpetrators of last years’ terror attacks. Whether or not it’s “fair” to single out Muslims in such sensitive jobs for closer scrutiny, we’d be fools not to.

Fourth, we must stop pretending that we can avoid trade-offs between civil liberties and security and start making tough choices. While we surely must control our borders if we wish to seriously combat the threat of Islamist terror in the years ahead, the barbarians are already inside the gates. Like San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, Omar Mateen was born and raised in this country.

Stopping homegrown mass murderers is going to require closer surveillance of Islamist mosques, community centers, and organizations. All individual Muslims who display evidence of extreme religious radicalization must be subject to some form of routine monitoring, not just those who show explicit violent intentions. Although Farook and Mateen both came to the attention of U.S. authorities for radical Islamist sympathies or affiliations prior to their attacks, neither exhibited whatever threshold of dangerous behavior would have triggered continuing surveillance under our existing protocols. Time to lower the threshold.

Expanded surveillance will be costly. If just one percent of the three-million-strong Muslim-American community deeply sympathizes with the global jihadist movement, that’s 30,000 people to keep track of.

We must ostracize mainstream Islamic institutions that preach intolerance.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must ostracize mainstream Islamic institutions that preach intolerance, ranging from Saudi-funded mega-mosques to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

We can no longer afford to pretend that Islamist hate speech has little to do with terrorist violence. Omar Mateen chose to target a gay club for the same reason that ISIS fighters in Syria throw homosexuals off roofs – and for the same reason that Muslim terrorists often seek out Jewish targets – he knows that most observant Muslims hate them. That Mateen may well have been himself homosexual would make the Muslim community’s intolerance even more instrumental to the crime. President Obama, who in February met with a Muslim preacher in Baltimore who calls homosexuality “shameful” and “immoral,” should keep better company.

Whether it’s time to consider legally silencing those who propagate radical Islamist ideology is a matter that will require more careful consideration than I can offer here, but if attaining a desired level of security from terrorist attacks requires either infringing on the rights of all Americans (NSA stuff) or lightly compromising the free speech rights of an odious few, I for one prefer the latter.

Of course, we must be mindful that Muslims, like all minorities, contend with prejudices in America. But nothing will set back their pursuit of the good life more than continued terror attacks of the kind we saw Sunday.

Originally published on Middle East Forum:

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Gregg Roman is an investigative journalist and Director of the Middle East Forum.

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