The Muslim American community faces continuous suspicions, misconceptions and fears from the rest of society. The image of the Muslim American in post-9/11 United States has become one of a bearded man who is an extremist and self-marginalizing, or a covered woman who doesn’t speak and is oppressed. “Those who have a positive perception of Muslims and Islam are those who actually know a Muslim,” comments J. Saleh Williams, Muslim Affairs consultant with the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), in 2010. “So it puts the imperative on individual Muslims to get out and be more pro-active in their community.”
Since this interview, MPAC has launched a series of initiatives to promote a positive image of Muslims in America as well as to combat and prevent extremism in communities across the nation.
In April 2013 a pair of Muslim brothers allegedly set off explosives at the Boston Marathon killing three people and wounding over two hundred more at the finish line. This bombing cast a dark shadow on the reputations of Muslim Americans on both a national and international level. However, this type of behavior has left a majority of Muslim Americans wondering why they have to apologize for something that has nothing to do with them. Why should they be responsible for the behavior of Muslim extremists who hold beliefs not consistent with the majority of Muslims?
Salam Al-Marayati, the President of MPAC, believes that the next potential extremist threat may be rehabilitated before becoming a threat to anyone’s safety.
In an effort to help prevent extremism and terrorism, MPAC developed a ‘Safe Spaces‘ initiative which launched at the beginning of this month. It is a new intervention project set up to encourage Muslim Americans to identify and address extremist behaviors, instead of shunning and ignoring them. The strategy stems from counseling techniques of rehabilitation and recovery, representing a departure from the approach of neglecting radical Islamic thoughts.
The Safe Spaces Initiative
Similar to an intervention initiative to prevent gang violence among teenagers, this project aims to address the extremist and violent thoughts in potential Muslim extremists. The premise is to offer “multiple opportunities for communities to protect their friend, family member or brother/sister-inIslam from going down a dangerous and destructive path.”
The Safe Spaces initiative utilizes the “PIE model” whereby the MPAC attempts to prevent extremist behavior and thoughts through social support, guidance, and healthy discussion outlets. Next, is Intervention through working with individuals who may show symptoms of violent extremism. Lastly, if all resources have been exhausted and the person seems beyond help, they are ejected from the community. Should ejection occur, law enforcement will be informed as a precaution.
The Safe Spaces project is a set of practical options for the Muslim American community to overcome extremist violence through education, rehabilitation and recovery instead of incarceration. To ensure that these applications work, people must feel comfortable discussing controversial topics in an accepting environment. This initiative is thus looking to enhance both the security of the community and spiritual well-being of the individual.