Whether somebody is moved by politics or moved by religion or moved by whatever angst, terrorist groups lure them in through that channel and give them answers that make sense for their particular need. Moving a young person from just asking questions to a place where they’ve bought in wholesale to the ideology—they’re now moving toward wanting to be a part of that extremist group. And now they have bought into the idea that violence in the name of this ideology makes sense.
CN: What’s being done to combat radicalization?
FP: The answers to stop recruiting are both available and affordable. We know we need to scale up authentic, credible voices at the local level. We know we need to do it 24/7, at the pace that the extremists are doing it. In order to fight back against the ideology of the extremist, we must get peer influencers that make sense for these young people. And so, whether it’s a graffiti artist, a hip hop artist, or an athlete, these young people can connect with them. We have one-fourth of the planet that is Muslim. Sixty-two percent of that number is under the age of thirty—that is the number from which the bad guys recruit.
CN: When you say “we need to do it,” who are you referring to?
FP: Communities around the world. This isn’t just a problem that governments have to solve. This is a problem that every citizen in the world needs to get engaged in: It’s politicians. It’s journalists. It’s businesspeople. It’s philanthropists. It’s regular citizens. It’s teachers. It’s peer groups.
Young people themselves have a lot of ideas on how to stop their peers from finding this appealing, but we have failed to take the ideas of young people and to scale them up. We need to seed a lot of ideas to see which ones sprout to defeat the appeal of extremist ideology.
What we are unfortunately seeing are gigantic statements from governments that say they want to defeat these terrorist organizations, and they’re only interested in looking at the military or law enforcement side of things. They aren’t looking at the pieces that have to do with ideology.
CN: The label “radical Islamic terrorism” is problematic and polarizing. Why is language so important here, and what is the path forward?
FP: Everybody is trying to find a term that makes sense, and it’s been fraught with difficulties since 9/11. When you see newer terminology that is connected to political constituencies here in America, that suggests that there is an “us” and “them.” That suggests that Muslims don’t belong in America. That suggests that Islam was not a part of this nation since the very beginning.
We must be a nation that abides by our constitution: that everyone is equal, that everyone can pray freely, that mosques and synagogues and churches and temples can exist side-by-side in America, that you can wear a turban or a bindi or a cross or a yarmulke or anything else to demonstrate who you are in any way, shape, or form without problems. When we begin to disrupt that and erode what is in our constitution, it gives the extremist groups an opportunity to tell their potential recruits, “You see? America, in fact, hates Islam and hates Muslims, and there’s no way that you can be both Western and Muslim.”
This isn’t about being P.C. It’s about protecting our nation and doing all that we can to stop extremist groups from trying to pretend that they are defining our country in a way that is not correct.