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Reaction From Muslims In Southern California


I want to bring another voice into our conversation from Southern California - from Southern California's Muslim community, in fact. His name is Jihad Turk. He is president of the Bayan Claremont Islamic Graduate School in Southern California. He's on the phone. Welcome to the program, sir.

JIHAD TURK: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: And I'll mention that we may have to cut away at any moment because of the president, but while we have a moment, let me ask you how large the Muslim community is in Southern California.

TURK: It's hard to put an exact number, but estimates put the number here anywhere between 400 and 750,000 Muslims.

INSKEEP: That is quite substantial. Of course, there are tens of millions of people in Southern California, but that's a big community.

TURK: Yeah, it's one of the largest concentrations of Muslims in the United States.

INSKEEP: And what are people saying in the 24 hours or less - less than 24 hours - since this has news broke?

TURK: Well, I have to share with you that my social media newsfeed and my conversations I've had with people from the region, as well as those across the country, has been one of apprehension. First, of course, deep sorrow for the victims, but then also this sense of fear of a potential backlash against the Muslim community, given that he had a Muslim name.

INSKEEP: And what are the fears? What are people afraid of?

TURK: Well, I think there's three fears. The first is that there is going to be an actual attack against the Muslim community or individuals who appear to be Muslim just by individuals who somehow affiliate all Muslims with what this one individual did. The second is that the - you know, there's this association with the religion over all, that somehow Islam is motivating what these individuals are doing. And having participated in the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism and having worked closely with the Department of Homeland Security, what was interesting in the profile of all the people who've been involved - and I'm not suggesting that this was a terrorist attack, but if it was, all of those individuals from the United States who have been involved in those - and there's only been, I think, less than 200 - they tend to be people who have what the Homeland Security called a cognitive opening, which is some kind of either mental illness or maladjustment in terms of their identity here in the United States, either because of issues of race or other issues of integration. And some kind of grievance - and in this case it might be a workplace grievance, it might be some kind of political grievance, it might be some combination thereof. And then, you know, there usually is some kind of follow-up or recruitment, whether it's via social media, with some kind of extremist group. And I'm not suggesting that that's what's happening here...


TURK: ...But I think the fear is that the society here overall will somehow turn against Muslims. And I just wanted to say the third fear was that somehow this would then marginalize the Muslim-American community and create, you know, a greater risk for people feeling disenfranchised and marginalized, especially young people.

INSKEEP: This is bringing me back to what we heard from John Cohen, the former counterterrorism coordinator at the Department of Homeland Security, when he talked about some underlying mental health issue that predisposed people to this kind of conduct. And they might pick up a political motive or some other kind of motive as they go along. You're saying that's exactly what you learned when working with the White House on this.

TURK: Yeah, and we also here work locally like Homeboy Industries, which works with former gang members here in Southern California, which is also a major problem here in Southern California. And they said that these kinds of cognitive openings - mental illness or maladjustments, poverty, illiteracy, etc. - can make someone more susceptible to joining a gang or being involved in other kinds of self-destructive behavior. And so, you know, we're working closely with all of those in this region that are trying to create more resilient communities and address the root causes that can lead someone to this kind of behavior.

INSKEEP: So keeping everything in this broad perspective, and understanding how much we don't know, but being frank here, there is a point at which extremist groups that associate themselves with Islam become a factor here. So let me ask you about the broad background - not about these specific individuals - but the broad background in Southern California. Have you noticed signs of extremist groups who have been in that area online or physically trying to recruit, trying to pull people in?

TURK: This is the kind of major dilemma, and I think the message that our community wants to express to the society at large - these individuals that are radicalized - and again, they're an extremely small percentage of the community - they don't participate in community. They don't go to the mosques. The mosques are institutions that help integrate a well-adjusted identity for American Muslims to be both fully American and fully Muslim. And these people who are on the fringes, they are not participating in these communities, which are an asset to the pluralism of our country. And so the mosques are our allies in the fight against this kind of radical extremism and violent extremism.

INSKEEP: But it's there. I mean, people are recruiting.

TURK: People are recruiting, but they're doing it online. They're not doing it in physical facilities because those institutions are well adjusted in their identity as both American and Muslim. And the kind of rhetoric that you would find from a recruiter is not welcome in those kinds of institutions.

INSKEEP: Jihad Turk, thank you very much.

TURK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.