Whenever I see a problem, my instinct as an engineer is to try to find a solution. If there is a problem with radicalization of some Muslim youth in America today – and there is – then the solution lies within the Muslim community.
There is frustration on every side, and the solution is not being looked at. The solution must begin with goodwill and partnership between the Muslim community and federal lawmakers and law enforcement. Unfortunately, the necessary trust and cooperation are not there. They could be, though. And, believe it or not, not long ago they were.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States Department of Justice approached the Muslim community in Los Angeles, where I live, and a Multi-Cultural Advisory Committee (MCAC) was formed. It was clear that something had been boiling for a long time, that something was happening that we hadn’t been paying attention to.
Muslim youth had become angry and frustrated. And the community became the solution to its own problem. Leaders from different Muslim communities – including me – were asked to join the committee. Through it, the FBI became educated about the situation and concerns of Muslims in Los Angeles, and the FBI in turn communicated with us. Trust was being built.
MCAC was on the right track. The prominent advocacy organizations for Muslims in the United States – the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) – are only a small part of the solution, because they are too politicized. What was needed was a venue for communication between the government and respected leaders from grassroots Muslim communities, and in Los Angeles that is what MCAC became.
The other committee members and I battled Southern California’s notoriously bad freeway traffic to get to meetings. We gave a lot of time, and we gave it freely and willingly. But there was a lack of interest from the government side, and MCAC just faded away. That was a mistake of historic proportions on the part of the United States government. MCAC, and a small number of similar groups in other states, should have been nurtured so that they continued and became much more robust. Instead, while they still technically exist, they’ve been allowed to stagnate. Someone didn’t see the need for them to continue. That was stupid.
Now, fifteen years after 9/11, we have to start from scratch all over again. What a shame. The government must find a way to connect with Muslim community leaders around the country, and it must happen in local areas – not in Washington, DC. What is needed is eye contact: people who listen to each other rather than talk at each other. Eye contact leads to trust. And the issue of disaffection and radicalization among Muslim youth is international as well as domestic, so the State Department should be involved along with the Justice Department. But the Muslim communities need to be reached where they live – not summoned to Washington.
Pervaiz Lodhie is founder and CEO of LEDtronics, a pioneering LED lighting company based in Torrance, California. He is currently writing an autobiography, Lighting the Way: An Innovator’s Journey in Pakistan and America.