Denis McDonough Addresses the American Muslim Community

Sheila Musaji

Posted Mar 7, 2011      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Denis McDonough Addresses the American Muslim Community

by Sheila Musaji

On Sunday, March 6th, The All Dulles Area Muslim Society, ADAMS hosted Presidential Assistant, Denis McDonough to address the interfaith community.  This program was livestreamed on the ISNA site, and I was able to “attend” via this livestream. 

The program opened with a color guard of Muslim scouts and the pledge of allegiance followed by a student doing a recitation from the Qur’an.  They recited the verse that is posted on the front page of TAM.

Oh mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (Not that you may despise each other). Qur’an 49;13

Opening statements were made by:

Imam Mohammed Magid, Director of ADAMS, chair of Fairfax County Faith Communities in Action, President of ISNA.  Rev. Stephen Smith Cobbs of the Trinity Presbyterian Church.  Marshal Medhoff

, of the Beth Habirim Reform Jewish Congregation.

These speakers talked about long time interfaith efforts in their community and the importance of interfaith efforts generally.  Rev. Cobbs said “Whenever another has their ability to worship freely threatened, it is inevitably a threat to my ability to worship freely.”

Denis McDonough

opened by mentioning that Muslims have always been a part of the U.S. and that Thomas Jefferson held the first Iftar at the White House.  He then talked about the contributions of American Muslims in many fields including the military and said that “America a secure and pluralistic nation strengthened by diversity.” 

“You create jobs and opportunity as small business owners and executives of major corporations. You enrich our culture as athletes and entertainers. You lead us as elected officials and Members of Congress. And no one should ever forget that Muslim Americans help keep America safe every day as proud Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen. Indeed, some of these heroes have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation and now rest in our hallowed national cemeteries.”


He said that the White House will be releasing their approach to preventing violent radicalization in our communities in the coming weeks. 

He talked about al Qaeda’s attempts to exploit any vulnerabilities and the broader challenge of extremism generally.  “The most effective voices against al Qaeda’s propaganda are other Muslims.”  The overwhelming majority of Muslims reject al Qaeda. 

“Through our words and deeds we can either play into al Qaeda’s narrative or we can challenge and undermine it.  We know that al Qaeda extremists all share one belief, and that is the lie that America is at war with Islam.  We are determined to counter that narrative.”

“We must resolve that, in our determination to protect our nation, we will not stigmatize or demonize entire communities because of the actions of a few. In the United States of America, we don’t practice guilt by association. And let’s remember that just as violence and extremism are not unique to any one faith, the responsibility to oppose ignorance and violence rests with us all.” 

“In the United States of America, we don’t practice guilt by association. And let’s remember that just as violence and extremism are not unique to any one faith, the responsibility to oppose ignorance and violence rests with each of us. “

He talked about ways to undermine al Qaeda’s ideology.  For example by exposing the lie that they are acting on Islamic principles, and by showing that it is the power of peaceful, non-violent action that leads to change.

“Islam is part of America”.  He praised American Muslims for helping fight violent extremism and called on them to help undermine what it called the “twisted ideology” used by al-Qaida.

“We have a choice. We can choose to send a message to certain Americans that they are somehow ‘less American’ because of their faith or how they look; that we see their entire community as a potential threat ... Or, we can make another choice. We can send the message that we’re all Americans,”

“Al Qaeda is attempting to recruit terrorists here in the U.S.  We are not immune to this threat.  The threat is real and it is serious.”  He then mentioned some radical individuals from the Muslim community — Adam Gadahn, Anwar al Awlaki, Omar Hamami, Najibula Zazi, Daniel Patrick Boyd, David Headly, Faizal Shahzad. 

He said that disrupting plots is dealing with the problem at the back end after individuals are radicalized, and we need to stop this at the front end before they are radicalized.  “Our challenge, and the goal that President Obama has insisted that we also focus on, is on the front end: preventing Al Qaeda from recruiting and radicalizing people in America in the first place.  And we know this isn’t the job of government alone. It has to be a partnership with you — the communities being targeted most directly by Al Qaeda.”

He talked about the tactics that are used by groups like al Qaeda to radicalize individuals, and said that there are

three aspects of our approach

to countering this.


- how we think about this challenge - how can we reduce the chances that they will succeed in radicalizing individuals.  They target individuals who are unclear about their identity and who don’t have strong support - best defense against terrorist ideologies is strong, resilient individuals and communities.  Our words can either fuel or defuse violent extremism,  for example several unfortunate events occurred in the past few weeks that were caught on video and which do not represent America.  “We can send a message that we are all Americans and we don’t differentiate between them and us, it’s just us.”  The federal government is working to dispel “misperceptions” about American Muslims.


- the principles that are guiding our efforts - not to label someone as an extremist simply because of their opposition to U.S. policies or because of their religious beliefs.  “We must protect the rights and civil liberties of every American.”

In our determination to protect Americans we won’t demonize entire communities because of the actions of a few.  Instead of condemning whole communities we must join with them to help them protect themselves as well.

“American Muslims have taken unequivocal stands against terrorism.  In so doing you have sent a message that those who commit such acts do not represent you or your faith.”

“Imam Magid is one of those Muslim clerics who has been recognized by the FBI for his anti-radicalization efforts.  Most Americans rarely hear about such efforts but they are going on every day and they help to make us all safer.”

A number of terrorist incidents have been stopped due to the vigilance of American Muslims which is why Lee Baca has said that American Muslims have been pivotal - and why Eric Holder said that American Muslims have been absolutely essential in stopping such incidents.

“Efforts to protect communities against violent extremists must be led by those communities. Indeed, we’re fortunate that Muslim Americans, including organizations represented here today, have taken unequivocal stands against terrorism. … Many of the incidents and arrests that do make headlines are because of the good citizenship and patriotism of Muslim Americans who noticed something and spoke up.”

“American Muslims are not part of the problem, you are part of the solution.”

No one community can do this alone, or can be experts in terrorist organizations and their strategies.  We need to work together.


- how we partner with communities.  We are constantly working to understand the process of radicalization and the factors that make individuals suseptible.  We are devoting resources and expertise to understanding this challenge.  Equipped with this information we have increased our outreach to local communities to help local communities understand how they can help their young people.

We are increasing to the support we offer to communities as they build their own local initiatives - to empower them to disrupt, challenge, and counter propaganda.  The best expertise will be found in local communities.  The Federal Government will help communities find the resources they need

Local comunities understand challenges in their communities but have limited understanding of groups like al Qaeda and their tactics.  We’re working to improve the way we communicate with the American people about radicalization and what we are doing to counter it. 

We must work together to solve this problem of radicalization.

This event took place just a few days before Rep. Peter King’s schedule hearings on American Muslim Radicalization are set to begin. (See The American Muslim Community and Rep. Peter King’s “Islamic” Radicalization Hearings ) On the same day there were rallies for and against those hearings in New York City. ( See “Today I Am a Muslim Too” Rally in Times Square )

Denis McDonough never specifically mentioned the hearings, the anti-Sharia craze sweeping across the states ( see Islamic Sharia and Jewish Halakha Arbitration Courts ), or the current climate of Islamophobia - but these were the “elephant in the room”.  Some articles in the mainstream press about McDonough’s speech at ADAMS had titles like White House Seeks to Allay Muslims’ Fears on Terror Hearings and White House seeks to reassure Muslims and White House Sends McDonough to Ease Tensions With Muslims.
He did mention recent unfortunate incidents caught on video “which do not represent America”.  And, this may have referred to the protest in Orange County, California, and the anti-Sharia rally in front of the White House

Whether this address to the American Muslim community was simply a way to ease tensions, or a genuine statement of a determination not to allow the community to be demonized will be shown during the coming hearings.  The hearings will begin this Thursday, and according to King will continue for a year and a half.  We can only hope that the administration will stand by McDonough’s statement that “We must resolve that, in our determination to protect our nation, we will not stigmatize or demonize entire communities because of the actions of a few.” 


Islamophobia no longer questioned - even by our elected representatives