Dearborn Isn’t Molenbeek

Dearborn Demonstration

Muslim residents of Dearborn demonstrate against terrorism.

Both Dearborn in Michigan and Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, are strongly Muslim communities. However, there the similarities end. Molenbeek is a community in despair, whose residents have found it impossible to assimilate into Belgian society. Most of them have experienced job discrimination and other forms of prejudice. Unemployment and poverty are high. Trust of law enforcement is low. Hopelessness predominates. It should not be surprising that from this one ghetto both the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks were launched. Nothing can justify such violent acts, but it is not hard to understand them.

Some of our political and media people think that every Muslim community is another Molenbeek. In fact, Dearborn is nothing like that at all. Nearly a third of its 95,000 residents are Arab-American or of Arab descent, but compared with the alienated Muslim underclass in France or Belgium, its residents are far more assimilated and patriotic. Dearborn has the country’s largest mosque, an Arab Museum, Middle Eastern cafes, and halal (lawful for Muslims) beef burgers at the local McDonald’s. When Dearborn’s chief of police, Ron Haddad travels, he says, “Someone will come up to me and put their finger in my face, and they’re already angry,” he says. “They say, ‘Will the people in your community report acts of terror to you?’” He replies, “Not only would they, they do,” he says. “They’ve done it.”[1] Why are these two communities so different?

The difference is in the way the Muslim residents of this community have been treated. Haddad’s police force has led the way in massive outreach to that community. There is an annual awards ceremony for people who have reported crime. “At least twice in the past several years, fearing influence from ISIL or online propaganda on their children, Muslim fathers have turned in their own sons. In another case, it was students at a largely Muslim high school calling about a troubled peer.”[2] This outreach program has become a model for law enforcement agencies throughout the USA.

Haddad’s placement of informants throughout the community is more controversial. They listen for rumors and possible defections and are prepared to intervene quickly. This doesn’t seem to bother the local residents because of the good will shown by the Dearborn police. They and the community are on the same side in this effort to prevent Dearborn from becoming a center of jihadist rhetoric.

Authorities also have evidence now that to punish wayward young people is less effective than to engage them and “off-ramp” them into a more constructive approach to their lives. In Dearborn the FBI has dropped the use of “sting” operations, in which people are set up for a crime and then arrested when the start to do it. It has been found that this kind of entrapment causes resentment in the community and actually creates terrorists out of people who might not have gone that far apart from their encouragement.

This approach is being proven to work. “‘I can say unequivocally that in 10-plus years of my work in the federal government, Arab Muslim and South Asian communities across this country have become one of the greatest resources of protecting homeland security and promoting American values at the same time,’ says George Selim, the Department of Homeland security official who is taking charge of the new task force [to implement this approach more widely.

“Jessica Stern of Harvard, another expert who has spent years studying radicalization, says one problem for ISIS recruiters in America—where fewer than one-tenth as many Muslims as in many Western European countries have sought to join ISIS abroad—is that ‘American Muslims are just too happy. Polling shows that American Muslims are patriotic. They are significantly happier with the direction of the country than non-Muslims. When kids get seduced by the idea of joining jihadi groups, their parents are often desperate to stop them. Fortunately, in some cities in the U.S., law enforcement personnel have built up relationships of trust. This is why.’”[3]

“In 2010, Farooque Ahmed, a naturalized Pakistani from Loudoun County, Northern Virginia, who was accused of conspiring to blow up Metrorail stations, was turned in by another member of his mosque at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society. In 2014, the FBI was alerted by a local informant of plans by three Muslim teens to join ISIS in Syria.”[4]

FBI Director William Webster says, “It’s much more effective to make friends with people than to torture them.” [5]

“’The difference in Western Europe is a couple-fold,’ says Cohen. ‘One, they have pockets of immigrant communities that are very disenfranchised. There is much less trust with law enforcement and people. But another reason we’ve been able to spot and prevent so many attacks in this country is the intelligence flow has improved incredibly since Sept. 11 between local and national law enforcement.’”[6]

The picture in the US may not continue to be as rosy. “U.S. officials now worry that the anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail could set back their carefully laid programs, including the new task force starting up next week. When American voters look anxiously abroad, they see explosions, jihadis claiming credit, and echoes of 9/11. It can be hard to process the more complex message that this recent wave of attacks stems from problems our cities don’t have, abetted by intelligence gaps that—whatever the flaws of our system—the United States has largely corrected… For Haddad of Dearborn and other U.S. law enforcement officials, the fear is that this new wave of openly Islamophobic politics could resurrect the radicalization they have worked to neutralize.”[7]

Thankfully, on an overall basis, the efforts at outreach seem to be working. “‘Charles Kurzman, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, says, “The number seeking to travel overseas [presumably to join Islamic State] ticked up between mid-2014 and mid-2015, and then dropped dramatically afterward in the second half of 2015.’ One possible reason is that ‘the appeal of the Islamic State waned in the face of the images of violence and brutality.’

“‘The political rhetoric,’ Haddad said, ‘is more frustrating for the community than for me. I feel bad for the community. Those kinds of things are hard to ignore when they’re all over the 24-hour cable networks. People are very misinformed.’”[8]

[1] Michael Hirsh, “The FBI’s Secret Muslim Network,” Politico, March 24, 2016,, last viewed 4/13/16.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.


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