ADL official offers tips for fighting Islamic extremism

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Tammy Gillies, San Diego regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, and her retired predecessor in that office, Morris Casuto, right, share a laugh with Oren Segal, ADL's national research director

Tammy Gillies, San Diego regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, and her retired predecessor in that office, Morris Casuto, right, share a laugh with Oren Segal, ADL’s national research director

 

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

LA JOLLA, California — The official of the Anti-Defamation League whose job in New York is to monitor and combat Islamic extremism in the United States told an audience at Congregation Beth El on Thursday night, Jan. 23, that it is just about impossible to remove all terrorist sites from the Internet.

Nor  is removing everyone of them–no matter how vicious their content–necessarily a good idea, Oren Segal told a group that had gathered in the Conservative congregation’s social hall. Terrorist-affiliated social media sites often inadvertently provide the ADL and law enforcement agencies with a lot of intelligence about where an attack or a bombing might occur, as well as about the individuals or groups who are likely to carry them out, he said.

In his speech and in an interview with San Diego Jewish World, Segal said that the ADL, which routinely  monitors extremist groups and stores information about them, often will provide this information to law enforcement if a threat seems imminent. Under the laws which law enforcement agencies must operate, the ADL often has more latitude than the agencies do to investigate extremist groups and to keep dossiers on their members.  So, he said, law enforcement is happy for ADL’s cooperation.

La Mesa Police Chief Ed Aceves

La Mesa Police Chief Ed Aceves

Segal was in San Diego to meet with 175 officers from a network of law enforcement agencies– the close alliance between the Jewish defense organization and those who keep the peace deemed  mutually beneficial.  Evidence of this close relationship came earlier in the evening’s program when Ed Aceves, the chief of police for La Mesa, spoke glowingly of a trip that he and 14 other Southern California law enforcement officials took to Israel last fall under ADL auspices.  As they toured the country, the group met with Israeli police and military officials. “It was probably the best law enforcement experience in my career,” Aceves said.

Phil Ginsburg, chairman of the ADL’s San Diego chapter, said security training, law enforcement training and hate crime training are important aspects of the local organization’s work.  “We are here to stamp out hate,” he said.

Rather than attempting the Sisyphean task of getting all extremist websites off the Internet — given the fact that no sooner is one taken down than others pop up — Segal suggested that more attention should be focused on understanding what turns seemingly average Americans from all backgrounds–Muslim, Christian, and even Jewish–into Al Qaeda sympathizers and recruits.

He said that the messages that extremist groups send can be very appealing to a teenager sitting in the basement in front of his computer, and added that ways need to be found to counter those messages before those American youngsters are ensnared in an extremist ideology– as several hundred Americans already have been.

Segal pointed out that when someone uses Google to search for an automobile, not very long afterwards they will be seeing advertisements popping up on their computers for different kinds of cars.  Using similar response technology might also work in the fight against extremism, he said.   Maybe the person who Googles “Al Qaeda” today should receive tomorrow well-written and compelling information about how the terrorist organization exploits its naive American recruits, Segal said.

Even though technology is advancing, Segal said, the fight against Islamic extremism can’t be left to computer programmers, researchers and hackers.  Ordinary citizens must also be on the alert for suspicious, potentially dangerous activity, he said.  He recommended adoption the anti-terror message well quoted in New York City: “If you see something, say something.”

In a question-and-answer session, Segal was asked if prisoners who convert to Islam while doing their time are often recruited for terror groups.  To the contrary, he said, most jailhouse converts drop Islam after they are released from prison–their motive probably having been protection while inside the prison’s gates.  Of those converts who remain Muslims, he said, only a miniscule percentage are attracted to Islamic extremism.

Asked if ADL shares its information with officials in countries other than the U.S. or Israel, Segal responded that while normal contacts are made with representatives of other countries at conferences, the ADL’s primary concern is the protection of Jews in the United States.

 

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Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted at [email protected]

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