Police officers standing in front of the Manchester Arena in England, where a suspected suicide bomber killed at least 22 people on May 23. Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images

Rooting out extremism is an evolving battle


Less than a week before the May 22 attack at a concert in Manchester, England, I returned from a 10-day fact-finding trip to Europe on countering violent extremism.  

It is tragic that the trip, organized by the U.S. State Department, proved to be so timely. But I gained insights that helped me process and confront the all-too-frequent tragedies like Manchester. Despite countries’ differences in approaches, the core takeaways were consistent:  

1. “You can’t investigate your way out of this.” — A representative of New Scotland Yard SO15 (the London Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command)

Using only a criminal lens — surveillance, investigation, disruption, prosecution, etc. — limits the success of law enforcement in identifying threats. Our delegation heard from law enforcement and government officials across the spectrum that the most important tool in their kit is the trust of those communities most vulnerable to extremism.

Community-based organizations are essential to this strategy. The more robust the civic fabric, the greater the sense of social cohesion; the more people see themselves as having a stake and a voice in society, the less rationale there is for attacking the system. Communities most vulnerable are not blind to the problem in their midst. When engaged and supported as partners (not potential threats), they often will identify ways to address the problems with a greater cultural literacy and legitimacy than any government or law enforcement official could ever bring.

2. “Safeguarding against extremism is no different than safeguarding against drugs, gangs and sex trafficking. It’s out there and we want you to be able to protect yourselves from it.”— Prevent instructor to British students

Messaging matters. Great Britain’s Prevent program — a centralized governmental effort to safeguard against violent extremism — still suffers from a faulty launch that undermined its effectiveness. Many people perceived its focus to be solely on the Muslim community and treating the community as criminals in waiting.

By shifting to a message of safeguarding people vulnerable to recruitment by extremists and making it clear the program addresses all forms of extremism, Britain is just now starting to repair the perception and increase trust, though one nonprofit leader articulated concerns that the “horse has already left the barn” and that the program always will be tainted by the bad branding of its faulty launch.

Community leaders and parents need to know that when they have concerns about their kids or friends radicalizing, they will be given the intervention and help they need. The collaboration of mental health professionals, schools, faith communities and other community-based organizations are essential partners in identifying people who are at risk of or already on the path to radicalizing. Understanding this kind of violence as a public health issue can help engage a broader network of partners in the fight.

3. “Targeting Muslims is counterproductive. You have to identify extremist behavior.”  — Horace Frank, Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief of counterterrorism

Focusing exclusively on Muslims undermines the relationships needed in the Muslim community to identify and uproot real ISIS-inspired threats. It also ignores a rising statistical threat from extremist right-wing nationalists.

Nearly 20 percent of referrals for suspicious behavior in England are for right-wing extremism. While one might think that’s because the problem is grossly over-reported, about 10 percent of those serving time in prison for terrorism-related charges are radical right-wing nationalists.

In our American context, Muslim organizations correctly claim they are more likely to be on the receiving end of a violent hate crime than guilty of committing one. When law enforcement is present to protect minorities, it builds trust in those communities.

Like many Jewish institutions in Los Angeles, some local mosques received threats of violence in recent months. Those threats against the mosques were credible. Police arrested an Agoura Hills man with an arsenal of weapons and a plan to attack. The way that law enforcement stood with Muslim community leaders in that moment reflected the deep relationship-building that has happened for years at the local level.

Unfortunately, the rhetoric at the national level has framed violent extremism as an exclusively Muslim problem. It undermines the extraordinary work that has happened locally between Muslim leaders and law enforcement. Many Muslim organizations have built sophisticated programs to safeguard their communities from ISIS-inspired extremism.

But some are now having second thoughts about moving forward with these programs or are considering outright rejection of federal funds to support their work. This is not because they no longer think it is needed. They fear the money will come with problematic strings attached or that it may undermine their internal legitimacy for collaborating with those who amplify anti-Muslim sentiment. Local trust-building can go only so far in the midst of a toxic national conversation.

4. Despite our best efforts, governments now treat acts of violent extremism as a question of when, not whether, they will happen.  

Part of the holistic approach to this work also includes effective disaster response that can help contain the impact and lessen the casualties. In the aftermath of Manchester, there will be new lessons learned in this ever-evolving battle.

I also returned from the delegation with three lessons on how the Jewish community can be on the front lines of safeguarding against extremism.

First, our community must become more nuanced in our relationship with the Muslim community. The more integrated the Muslim community is in America, the less ISIS-inspired extremism can take hold here. We isolate and reject mainstream Muslim leaders at our own peril. Undermining these leaders empowers extremists who think ISIS is fundamentally right about the incompatibility of Islam and democracy. If you care about ISIS-inspired terrorism, then you also should care about fending off Islamophobia. We can and should disagree fiercely with our Muslim counterparts about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And we should not be afraid to call out when we see rhetoric cross the line into anti-Semitism. But isolation and exclusion feed the narrative of extremists. This is not merely a progressive talking point — it is a best practice from among the most experienced law enforcement professionals and government officials in the world.

Second, language matters. We must apply consistent rhetoric when speaking about various forms of extremism. The shooter at the AME Church in Charleston, S.C., and the thwarted attacker on the Los Angeles mosques are extremists just as much as the shooters in San Bernardino.

As part of this strategy of thoughtful language, I now will refrain from using the term Islamism when referring to extremism that emerges cloaked in religious garb. While this term seeks to differentiate ISIS and al-Qaida from Islam proper, it still retains the association that violence is inherent to Islam. I take my cue from a former Department of Homeland Security employee who uses the terminology “ISIS-inspired” or “al-Qaida-inspired” to refer to this kind of extremism. It ensures both that we avoid vilifying Islam and that we make it harder for vulnerable Muslim kids to see ISIS as a legitimate expression of Islam.  

Third, the great work of Jewish organizations in mental health, social services, refugee assistance and interfaith collaboration — from Jewish Family Service to NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change to HIAS — are going to be on the front lines of safeguarding against extremism in American society. They do this by serving the vulnerable in our midst, spotting potential issues before they become credible threats, and by modeling for other minority communities with less developed infrastructures.  

The Los Angeles mayor’s office frames this work as “building healthy communities.” The Jewish community has tremendous experience and expertise to contribute on this front. This week has taught us we have no choice but to work even harder toward our goal. 

Can institutions like UCLA ever truly prepare for campus shootings?


A good part of what was so distressing about this month’s active shooter episode at UCLA was the familiarity of it all.

The death of William Klug, a brilliant and affable young professor, at the hands of a mad former graduate student, was the chief tragedy. But as our campus was taken over June 1 by a veritable army of armed law enforcement personnel in helicopters, police cars and trucks, I couldn’t help but think: Here we go again.

The sight of high school and college campuses in lockdown, with one or more active shooters terrorizing hundreds or thousands of students, has become normal. Since 2013, there have been 186 school shooting incidents, according to the Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that began compiling school shooting statistics after the Sandy Hook, Connecticut, massacre in 2012. Last year alone saw more than 50 school shooting incidents, 23 of which were on college campuses.

In a society facing an epidemic of gun violence, universities are, at their best, havens of freedom—sites of the free exchange of ideas, free and open interchange between diverse groups, and free movement across the sovereign campus island. But our freedom is being eroded as we hunker down in preparation for the next burst of deadly fire. Indeed, the vigilance with which we act on our campuses today takes a toll on that exhilarating sense of liberation—from ignorance, bias, and convention—that the university once offered.

I remember well the sad realization I had after Sandy Hook, that it now made sense to introduce active shooter preparation training for the UCLA History Department, of which I served as chair from 2010 to 2015. In 2013, we had our first preparedness session with an officer from the University of California Police Department. The announcement to our faculty, staff, and students noted that:

 An “Active Shooter” is defined as a situation where one or more suspects participate in a random or systematic shooting spree, demonstrating intent to continuously harm others. 

It’s an unfortunate sign of the times that we need to think this way, but it is very important that we be as prepared as possible for such an event. In that kind of situation, there are specific things we can do to protect ourselves and those around us.  

In point of fact, the randomness of these acts constrains our ability to protect ourselves. If we are in the wrong place at the wrong time or are the intended target, there is little to be done. Nonetheless, the active shooter trainer tried to prepare those in attendance for what to do: run from open spaces, closet yourself in your classroom or office, lock the door, turn off the lights, and keep silent. 

These are all sensible suggestions. But I was struck, after a second preparedness session, by the indeterminacy of what to do in a situation in which you find yourself in the same room as shooters. The options, as the UCLA Emergency Management webpage tells us, are three-fold: “Stay still and hope they don’t shoot you, run for an exit while zigzaging [sic], or attack the shooter.”

Fortunately, most of us never have and never will have to face that rather harrowing set of choices. In the meantime, we on college campuses usually put this prospect out of our minds. The more vigilant among us may pay increased attention to our immediate environs, locate exits in rooms, or even run through versions of game theory as we contemplate escape scenarios in our minds.

My own sense of vigilance was heightened during the time I served as department chair, especially when I would meet with irate and sometimes disturbed students. I would ask staff colleagues adjacent to me to pay special attention to any abrupt noises. I would also sit relatively close to the students and follow their hand movements in order to be able to act quickly if they took out a weapon.

I chided myself for engaging in this kind of suspicion-ridden activity, for it seemed to violate the basic trust that underlies the teacher-student relationship. And yet, I couldn’t stop myself from going through a mental checklist of preventative measures.

This is our reality now. Of course, we should follow the Australians and set in place tighter regulation of gun ownership. And of course, we should develop far better strategies and devote far more resources to help those with mental illness. These are absolute no-brainers. What more needs to happen to demonstrate their necessity?

Active shooter preparedness sessions are highly imperfect. They reveal that emergency management is an art, not a science. But these sessions are the best we have at present. And it is all the more important to undergo such training in the absence of far-reaching policy changes necessary to reduce the number of shootings.

In the meantime, even as we know that there will be more episodes, we must fight against the understandable impulse to constrain ourselves even further by censoring our words or altogether altering the ways we interact with colleagues and students out of fear. Difficult as it may be, we must endeavor to preserve that essential freedom of mind and movement that propels the university to do its important work for students and society alike.


David N. Myers is the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA.

This article originally appeared on Zocalo Public Square.

The deadliest day in recent wave of violence across Israel


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Four separate attacks in one morning have marked Tuesday as the bloodiest day in the recent wave of violence plaguing Israel. Three Israelis were killed and more than twenty others injured in attacks in Jerusalem and the central city of Ra'anana.

It was the most violent day in Jerusalem since last November, when two attackers using knives and a pistol killed four Jewish worshippers and an off-duty policeman who tried to stop them.

The most serious incident Tuesday took place on a bus in Armon Hanatziv, a Jewish neighborhood in southern Jerusalem, when two Palestinian assailants, one armed with a pistol and the other with a knife, attacked passengers. The assault occurred in close proximity to the adjacent Arab neighborhood of Jabal Mukkabir, killing two and injuring 17 others.

“A report came in of a shooting incident. When we arrived on scene we found multiple gunshot wound victims inside the bus…. with severe injuries,” Ahron Adler, a paramedic with Magen David Adom, told The Media Line, with traces of blood still on his hands. Both perpetrators were shot by police during the assault, with one killed at the scene and the second arrested and taken to the hospital.

Minutes later, a Palestinian man drove a vehicle into a number of pedestrians waiting at a bus stop in Geula. The assailant exited the vehicle and began stabbing pedestrians before being shot and killed by a security guard. One of the victims of that attack was killed and two others injured.

The timing of both incidents so close together raised the possibility that the three assailants had coordinated the violence. “We’re obviously looking into seeing if there was any connection whatsoever between both attacks,” Micky Rosenfeld, the Israeli Police spokesperson, told The Media Line. A later police statement revealed that all three men were residents of Jabal Mukkabir and that it appeared likely the attacks were planned.

Outside of Jerusalem, two separate stabbings took place in Ra'anana, an upscale suburb of Tel Aviv home to many English-speaking immigrants to Israel. In the first incident an Israeli was injured and the assailant arrested. A second stabbing resulted in four people being injured and the perpetrator being apprehended after a passing driver prevented his escape from the scene by driving into him.

The continuation and apparent escalation of the violence has led to calls for the police and the Israeli government to act more decisively to stem attacks. Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat called for gun owners to bear arms as a response to the wave of unrest.

“I don’t have good news for people that are carrying knives. If you carry a knife and you want to kill… you won’t go back home,” Barkat said to journalists at the scene of the bus attack.

The mayor stressed the differences in how guns are perceived in Israel compared to other countries around the world and suggested weapons could make the streets safer, not the reverse.

“In Israel it’s a big advantage, if you look back at a number of cases, soldiers, ex-soldiers with rifles or pistols were actually the one who neutralized the terrorist,” Barkat argued.

Some Jerusalemites have argued that curfews should be placed on Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem as the majority of assailants have originated from there. This is something that the municipality is considering, Ofer Berkovitch, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, told The Media Line. “The security of the residents of Jerusalem is more important than freedom of movement for anyone and we need more drastic measures,” he said.

“The call to carry guns must be taken carefully – only those with experience, who have a license should carry. We are not talking about taking the law into your own hands,” The Deputy Mayor explained, adding that he considered the deaths of Palestinian attackers as a deterrent to those who would copy them.

Motivations for Palestinians to carry out attacks are complicated and stem from nationalism, religious conviction and the false belief that Israel is trying to change the status quo regarding the Al-Aqsa Moqsue, Berkovitch explained. But poverty in Arab neighborhoods did play a role, the deputy mayor acknowledge, saying, “There is no doubt that the fact that east Jerusalem does not look like west Jerusalem is significant.” This however was something the municipality was working to address and in no way justified killing people, Berkovitch concluded.

Today’s events brings the number of Israeli fatalities from attacks in the last month to seven. In the same time period at least 27 Palestinians have died violently. At least eleven were killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis according to security forces, while the others were killed during clashes between Palestinian protestors and security forces including at least nine killed on the border with the Gaza Strip during violent clashes.

French police close in on suspected killers, new shoot-out in Paris


UPDATE: French forces kill newspaper attack suspects, hostages die in second siege at kosher supermarket.


 

French forces sealed off a small northern town where police sources said gunmen had seized at least one hostage, and shooting broke out in Paris as the biggest security dragnet of modern times closed on chief suspects in an attack on a Paris journal.

The attack has raised questions in France about policing, surveillance of radicals, far-right politics, religion and censorship – all in a country still struggling to integrate its five-million-head Muslim population, the EU's largest.

On Friday, police vans, armored cars and ambulances ringed the town of Dammartin-en-Goele, set in marsh and woodland, and helicopters hovered overhead. Residents were told to stay at home and schools near a printing works where two gunmen were holed up were evacuated.

A second hostage-taking was reported at a Paris kosher supermarket. AFP news agency was cited by French media as saying at least two had been killed in a shoot-out there, but police said they could not confirm any deaths.

The Interior Ministry said security forces surrounding a small print works in Dammartin-en-Goele were trying to make contact with the gunmen, who had earlier in the day evaded police in a high-speed car chase on a highway to Paris.

“This can take a long time, hours and sometimes days,” Interior Minister spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said in a tweet.

Yves Albarello, local MP for the Seine-et-Marne department and member of the crisis cell put in place by authorities, told iTELE the two suspects had let it be known that they wanted to die “as martyrs”.

The gunmen had been on the run since they stormed the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical journal known for its ridicule of Islam and other religions as well as political figures. Western leaders condemned the attack as an assault on democracy. Al Qaeda's North Africa branch praised the gunmen as “knight(s) of truth”.

A senior Yemeni intelligence source told Reuters one of the two suspects was in Yemen for several months in 2011 for religious studies; but there was no confirmed information whether he was trained by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

THIRD PARIS ATTACK IN TWO DAYS

News of a further shootout, in Paris, a third in two days, demonstrated the scale of the threat facing French authorities and the force of nearly 90,000 mobilized nationwide for the search action.

A police source said several people were taken hostage at a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris after a shootout involving a man armed with two guns.

The source said he bore a resemblance to the gunman suspected of killing a policewoman in a separate shooting in southern Paris on Thursday and believed to be a member of the same jihadist group, Butte Chaumont, as the two Hebdo suspects.

Police released pictures of a 32-year-old man, Amedy Coulibaly, and a 26-year-old woman, Hayat Boumeddiene, wanted in connection with the southern Paris incident.

The prospect of multiple attacks is one that has troubled Western security services since Islamist militants hit a number of targets in Mumbai in 2008, killing 166 people.

Yohann Bardoux, a plumber whose office is two doors down from the printing shop where the hostage-taking was playing out stayed away from work after hearing gunfire. But he said his mother was in the building next door to the printing shop.

“Of course I'm worried about her, I hope it all comes down soon, and turns out well,” Bardoux said.

“They are everywhere. It's really jumping. They've blocked the whole zone, we've got helicopters overhead, the police presence is impressive.”

A spokesman for Charles-de-Gaulle airport said all its runways were open but that landings were only taking place at the two south terminals.

SUSPECT VISITED YEMEN

A senior Yemeni intelligence source told Reuters one of the two suspects was in Yemen for several months in 2011 for religious studies; but there was no confirmed information whether he was trained by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The gunmen shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) as they carried out the attack, which has been described by President Francois Hollande and other world leaders as an attack on the fundamentals of democracy.

The attack has raised fears in other capitals of similar actions. Western leaders have long feared Islamist militants drawn into fighting in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere could launch attacks in their home countries on their return.

London suffered an assault on its transport system in 2005, four years after the 9/11 attacks in the United States. More recent attacks have been carried out by militants in countries including India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Kenya.

The fugitive suspects are both in their early 30s, and were already under police surveillance. One, Cherif Kouachi, was jailed for 18 months for trying to travel to Iraq a decade ago to fight as part of an Islamist cell.

U.S. and European sources close to the investigation said the second, Said Kouachi, was inYemen in 2011 for several months training with AQAP, one of al Qaeda's most active wings.

U.S. government sources said both were listed in two U.S. security databases, a highly classified database containing information on 1.2 million possible counter-terrorism suspects, called TIDE, and the much smaller “no fly” list maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center, an inter-agency unit.

Amid local media reports of isolated incidents of violence directed at Muslims in France, Hollande and his Socialist government have called on the French not to blame the Islamic faith for the Charlie Hebdo killings.

QUESTIONS ABOUT SURVEILLANCE

Hollande has held talks with opposition leaders and, in a rare move, invited Marine Le Pen, leader of the resurgent anti-immigrant National Front, to his Elysee Palace for discussions on Friday.

Many European newspapers either re-published Charlie Hebdo cartoons or lampooned the killers with images of their own.

The younger Kouachi brother's jail sentence for trying to fight in Iraq a decade ago, and more recent tangles with the authorities over suspected involvement in militant plots, raised questions over whether police could have done more to watch them.

Cherif Kouachi was arrested on Jan. 25, 2005 preparing to fly to Syria en route to Iraq. He served 18 months of a three-year sentence.

“He was part of a group of young people who were a little lost, confused, not really fanatics in the proper sense of the word,” lawyer Vincent Ollivier, who represented Cherif in the case, told Liberation daily.

In 2010 he was suspected of being part of a group that tried to break from prison Smain Ali Belkacem, a militant jailed for the 1995 bombings of Paris train and metro stations that killed eight people and wounded 120. The case against Cherif Kouachi was dismissed for lack of evidence.

To Stay or Go?


Yossi Cohen, a Tel Aviv taxi driver, is taking it easy these days. He has been slicing time from his usual 10-hour shifts because there just aren’t many clients out there. At the same time, he wouldn’t consider leaving Israel for anywhere else.

"What, I need to be a cabbie in Queens?" asked Cohen, 47, shrugging his shoulders. "I’m right where I need to be, here, in my homeland, offering my bit of support."

That’s one of the typical reactions offered by Israelis after more than a year of violence. They’re tired of the drive-by shootings, the suicide bombings, the endless cycle of death and destruction. But they’re hunkering down in Israel, because this is their homeland and they’re not leaving.

But there also is an opposite reaction — the Israelis who decide to leave because they can’t take it any longer. They want to feel safe and secure. They want good jobs and nice homes and safe futures for their children. However, they don’t leave without a certain amount of guilt over "abandoning" their homeland.

The continuing Palestinian intifada, coupled with the global economic downturn — Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics announced this week that the country officially is in a recession — has forced more than a few Israelis to consider a temporary or permanent move.

"The decision to leave is very complex and usually comes about because of a number of factors," said Danny Gordis, who made aliyah with his family shortly before the intifada began in September 2000. "People are out of work and they’re hurting financially. You can sense a general societal unhappiness."

Yet being in Israel during the intifada forces Israelis to reexamine why they are here in the first place, Gordis pointed out.

"I think this has clarified for a lot of Israelis the degree to which they’re committed to the Jewish State," Gordis said.

No statistics have been gathered by Israeli organizations or government ministries on the number of Israelis who have left since the intifada began. According to the Jewish Agency for Israel, aliyah from Western Europe and North America has been affected slightly since last fall.

There were 1,159 emigrants from North America between January and October 2001, an 11 percent drop from the previous year. Another 1,382 Western Europeans made aliyah during the same time period, a 19 percent drop from the same period in 2000.

"The reasons for the drop could include the intifada and the current economic situation," said Yehuda Weinraub, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency. "But we can’t be certain."

Yet despite depression over the continuing violence and the worsening economic situation, only a small minority of Israelis — both Arabs and Jews — are considering emigrating, according to the monthly Peace Index.

The survey, conducted by the Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, asked 580 Israeli Jews and Arabs in August whether they have considered emigrating as a result of the situation. Fully 80 percent of Jewish respondents said they had no plans to emigrate even if they could, and only 14 percent said they would leave due to the situation. Of the Arabs surveyed, 94 percent said they had no intention of emigrating.

"It would seem that neither pessimism about chances of attaining peace, nor uncertainty about the present state of affairs, have caused the public to change its daily way of life," wrote Ephraim Ya’ar and Tamar Hermann, who run the center. "The ability to cope with the situation, as reflected in maintaining daily routine, is also reflected in the low numbers who announced that they were considering leaving the country, which is surprising."

Yet everyone seems to know someone who is leaving. People often say they’re going away for a few years, just to take a break. Some call it a sabbatical, others a breath of fresh air from the tension of life in Israel.

For Sissy Block, an American who made aliyah nine years ago and is now heading to New York, it’s a matter of weighing opportunities.

"The decision to leave was agonizing, because I had an image of being a successful Zionist," Block said. "I definitely [will save] Israel as an option, but I’m going. "