A few weeks after 9/11, then-attorney general John Ashcroft said that "We're counting on each American to help us defend our nation in this war," but neither he nor other ranking officials have clarified what they are hoping citizens will do to forward the war on terror. My thoughts follow, starting with four old standbys and then going on to some more unusual ideas.
(1) Join and donate to organizations. Most individuals are not in a position on their own to make a difference but can do much more by joining organizations that subscribe to their views and giving generously to them. There are potentially many such organizations (including my own Middle East Forum) but, perhaps surprisingly, no single one exclusively and effectively devoted to strengthening governments in the war has yet emerged.
(2) Get active in the political process. Give of your time and money to candidates and, of course, vote. Write to elected representatives.
(3) Get involved in the public debate: Write letters to the editor, call talk-radio, get active in internet chat-rooms.
(4) Engage in private debate: Family, friends, co-workers, seat-mates on airplanes, persons introduced to at cocktail parties – all of them can learn from you.
(5) Engage in research. This is a new element. I am often asked – by well-intentioned government officials in policy positions, by members of law enforcement, by leaders of voluntary organizations, business executives, journalists, television producers, and others – for an assessment of a person or organization. Too often, I cannot reply because no one has done the work. Ideally, researchers will specialize and not duplicate, so as to build up real expertise and cover as many topics as possible. I advise researchers to focus on their geographic area – a city, a region, a university, or (in the case of small ones) a country. There is an unending need to look critically at Muslim institutions and individuals, so as to distinguish the extremists from the moderates, the enemies from the allies. Remarkable stories have emerged of private individuals becoming learned in the ways of radical Islam and their activities have led to all sorts of important results, including discrediting an expert witness, canceling an official reception, shutting down a conference, closing an Internet site, and getting a U.S. senator to retract an award. As a general rule, specificity is a good thing. Feb. 22, 2005 update: I offer some specific topics that need work at "If I Had Enough Time … Research Suggestions Given Away."
(6) Engage in Internet counter-jihad. This is even more novel. For the most striking success of Internet counter-jihad to date, one which lead to the prosecution and conviction of a jihadi named Ryan G. Anderson, see "Shannen Rossmiller, American Hero." As Rita Katz of the SITE Institute puts it in the current issue of Newsweek, "Almost every [Islamist] Web site has a section on how to do jihad over the Internet" which advise would-be holy warriors: "If you can't do jihad physically, do it on the Internet." The same applies to counterterrorists. (Feb. 9, 2005) Sept. 1, 2005 update: In an interview, columnist Michelle Malkin was asked what an average Americans can do to help in the war; her replies complement and extend my own ideas above.
(7) Get involved at the local level:
Pay attention to what their city council and police departments are doing with regard to immigration enforcement. Insist that their own local governments cooperate with the federal government in this area. A lot of people would be outraged to know that there are many cities across this country that defy war-on-terror strictures. You've got cities like Portland, Oregon that have declared that their police officers will not cooperate with the U.S. Joint Terrorism Task Force. Not just with the immigration enforcement, but with any terrorism investigation. You don't have to wait for the Department of Homeland Security or George Bush to rescue you; that's in your hands. If you've got a city council that's subsidizing with your tax dollars an illegal-alien day-laborer center, you can do something about that.
Oct. 10, 2005 update: For a good example of what Malkin encourages, see the local survey work of the Jamaat ul-Fuqra compound in Red House, Virginia. And if anyone else is following JF activities around the United States (also known as the Muslims of America), I would like to be informed. Dec. 1, 2005 update: In this spirit, the GatesOfVienna blog has run a valuable three-part series on Jamaat ul-Fuqra, dated Oct. 10, Nov. 7, and Dec. 1. Dec. 22, 2005 update: Likewise, the Politics of CP blog has unearthed and organized new information in a series of blogs dated Oct 25, Nov. 7, Dec. 12, Dec. 15, Dec. 19, and Dec. 22.
Nov. 17, 2005 update: Howard Altman writes in the Tampa Tribune today about "Web Warriors Track Down, Close Jihadist Internet Sites." They consist of
a small army of citizens who dedicate their lives to fighting jihadists, spending hours in front of computers, searching for sites, contacting companies [that host websites]. Among them are an unemployed van driver who lives near Stonehenge, a Texas homemaker, a Montana judge and an organization called Internet Haganah, "an open-source intelligence network dedicated to confronting Internet use by Islamist terrorist organizations."
The article then looks in some detail at Internet Haganah. Oct. 20, 2006 update: The website for Obsession: Radical Islam's War against the West contains a page, "What We Can Do," that offers suggestions under eight rubrics and complements the ideas offered here: "Media, Politics, Campus, Community, Campaigns, Host an Event, Think about what's important to you, Live what's important to you." Sep. 4, 2007 update: The important work of "Stop the Madrassa Coalition" in alerting the public to the danger represented by the Khalil Gibran International Academy, a taxpayer-funded New York City school, is a model for what activists can do. Mar. 19, 2009 update: Jeffrey Imms offers another idea for local involvement which I discuss at "Saudi Strong-arm Tactics in Virginia": "get out in public to defend equality and liberty as citizen activists."
(8) Adopt a free-thinking Muslim: Since shortly after the arrest of Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury on November 29, 2003, Richard L. Benkin, a Chicago-area doctor, has devoted great efforts to winning his freedom and security. Choudhury's crime was his intending to visit Israel for a writers' symposium. Benkin's efforts – which include bringing Choudhury's case to the attention of journalists, lobbying of the U.S. Congress, and pressuring the government of Bangladesh – culminated in Choudhury's release from prison in April 2005. Choudhury calls Benkin's efforts on his behalf "the best gift from God" he has ever received and states that without Benkin's support he would still be languishing in prison. Another case of adoption: Esther Kandel has worked for several years to promote the work and security of Mithal al-Alusi, an Iraqi politician who did visit Israel to attend a security conference. (Jan. 28, 2007) May 20, 2008 update: Jane Novak of New Jersey has done similarly effective work on behalf of a Yemeni journalist, Abdul Karim al-Khaiwani, who wrote about a rebellion in the north of Yemen and is now on trial for sedition, with possible infliction of the death penalty.
(9) Fight Islamist institutions: Officialdom generally has no problems with lawful Islamists, so preventing their mosques, schools, and cultural centers from opening devolves down to the citizenry. It's a job that has to be done carefully, without anti-Islamic overtones and without recourse to transparent ploys about traffic, parking, or zoning. The focus must be on the identity and record of the sponsors of their institution. One such success took place on Staten Island, New York, when community opposition in June 2010 prompted the Catholic Church to reconsider its sale of an unused convent to the Muslim American Society. (June 18, 2010)