We are the only ones who can lead a winning fight against the radicalism crippling our faith.
The Black SUV involved in the Dec. 2 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif.PHOTO:ASSOCIATED PRESS
Dec. 9, 2015 6:49 p.m. ET
After San Bernardino, American Muslims have to come to terms with an ever more apparent truth: that we, and our mainstream Muslim brethren, are the only ones who can lead a winning fight against the radicalism crippling our faith.
What’s most troubling about the San Bernardino massacre is that Syed Farookseemed to have been, by almost all accounts, an ordinary American. He was an educated and employed 28-year-old first-generation citizen, born to Pakistani immigrants.
Like many Americans, I have a similar background, which makes the attack all the more concerning. It seems unthinkable that someone in such a position could be susceptible to radicalization. Yet we have seen this happen time and again, particularly among younger Muslims in the Middle East, Europe and now America.
Attacks like last week’s underscore the importance of countering extremist propaganda. While sophisticated attacks by terrorist groups can be effectively prevented by law enforcement and national-security measures, the truth is there isn’t much that can be done—not even stricter gun-control laws—to completely eliminate the possibility of a radicalized lone wolf wreaking havoc. Only defeating the ideology that inspires these attacks can do that. A propaganda war must be waged on radical Islam, and American Muslims have to be on the front lines for it to be credible.
It isn’t enough to condemn radicalism—we must actively engage in counter-extremism messaging. We must build an intellectual and theological case against radicalism. Our religious leaders must educate and warn our youth about the dangers of searching for spiritual guidance on the Internet. And we have to be vigilant. When someonestops coming to mosqueand disappears from a community, abruptly after marrying a Pakistani woman in Saudi Arabia whom he met online, it shouldn’t take two years and 35 Americans getting shot (including one from that very congregation) before we notice.
There is a war going on that extends beyond Syria, and American Muslims are under siege. Not by a fringe group of bigoted Americans, but by a fringe group of Muslims abroad who seek to tear our Western communities apart. They are trying to target the disaffected among us, hijack the mosque pulpit, and convince us that we’re unwelcome in our own country.
But in order to lead this fight with unified support, certain things will have to change. We can’t call out prejudice against our faith without also calling out the gender inequality and homophobia that we find in some of our communities. We can’t be champions of our own religious freedom without also championing the rights of all traditions across the globe that wish to peacefully practice, including other Muslim sects we may disagree with doctrinally. We have to change the way we think about Islamic law and vilify the medieval judicial practices that persist in the Middle East. And we must have uncomfortable but necessary conversations about where much of the funding for this cancerous supremacist ideology is coming from—Saudi Arabia.
We carry with us a responsibility to our country, our faith and our children. The majority of us are here because our parents or grandparents emigrated from oppressive and illiberal nations for the promise of a better life in America. But the way things are heading, our children may grow up with less opportunity and freedom than we did. I can think of no greater defeat and surrender to radicalism than that.
Mr. Dara, an attorney, is the author of “The Crescent Directive” (Tensile, 2011) and “Contracting Fear” (Cascade, 2015).