Homeland chief talks Muslim outreach in Dearborn

Kyla Smith The Detroit News

Dearborn — U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson met with students and faculty at the University of Michigan Dearborn, Wednesday to discuss ways communities can boost talks with Muslim-Americans and quash extremism.

“We need to help bridge the gap between the Muslim and Arab communities,” Johnson said. “We must not vilify American Muslims or cast a net of suspicion forcing them to run and hide and retreat in the shadows. It’s un-American.”

Dearborn, which has one of the largest concentration of Muslim-Americans in North America, is among the cities the secretary has visited in the past two years about the approach Homeland Security is taking to counter terrorism.

In the wake of the San Bernardino and Paris terrorist attacks, Johnson said it’s more difficult to detect terrorism plans because the Islamic State group uses the Internet to recruit youth.

“They try to (lure) young people into thinking that it’s the best thing be a part of, but it’s our job to tell them that’s it’s not what it’s cracked up to be,” Johnson said. “Some that willingly go to Syria end up being sold into slavery or even killed. There are other ways to make a difference.”

Suehalia Amen, organizer of the event and international admissions and recruiting coordinator at U-M Dearborn, said recruiters look for those who are vulnerable.

“They look for someone that is weak, not getting enough attention, insecure or have low self-esteem,” said Amen, who was featured on the TLC reality series “All- American Muslim.”

“Unfortunately, there is radicalism in every community and all we can do is encourage the youth and provide them with other resources and outlets.”

When Nabih H. Ayad, founding chairman of the Arab-American Civil Rights League, asked about people whose names are on the No-Fly List in error, Johnson paused before responding.

“This is something that we are working to improve, but we are still doing the best we can to protect everyone from any type of terror threat or terror,” Johnson said.

Ayad and others were disappointed Johnson didn’t meet with Muslim leaders.

“This is my first time here in Dearborn,” Johnson said, “but it won’t be my last and I’m open to the idea of meeting with faith leaders in the future.”

Saidah Murphy, 24 of Detroit said Homeland Security’s task is large.

“Terrorism is such a big issue and it’s hard to have a hold on what everyone is doing throughout the country, let alone keep tabs on every individual,” said Murphy, who is a senior at U-M Dearborn. “The only thing they can do is try to do the best that they can and move forward.”

U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. and Debbie Dingell also addressed the students. Dingell, saying Johnson “reminded us that homeland security starts with hometown security,” said everyone is responsible for being aware and alert.

“It’s time for people to know what Michigan is about. We can’t target someone because of their nationality or religion,” Dingell said. “These are good, loyal Americans that love this country. United we win, divided we fail.”


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