Panel speakers included Salam Al-Marayati who is the president and co-founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Horace Frank, LAPD Commander Anti Terror, and Ambassador Rudi Veestraeten who is currently the Consul General in Los Angeles.
Salam Al-Marayati began by saying that extremism is an issue that we keep coming back to after 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Boston, and unfortunately, it is happening all around the world. He stressed that the word, Jihad, is being dragged through the mud. The word has constantly been used in a negative connotation and we give more power to the extremists by not truly knowing the actual meaning of the word. While the word Jihad has been used by extremists to launch violence against innocent people, it has also been used by middle eastern countries to declare war against each other and by those who run for political offices to suppress the rights of people and compromise what they believe is an open society in the west. Al-Marayati continued by adding that, until we know and understand the moderate interpretation of such words, we will continue to give power to extremists. He stressed that Jihad means striving and struggling, and not holy war. He also pointed out that defending justice, life, and the other are all strict interpretations of Islam and going against such values and killing people is simply murder. He then concluded his speech by stating that we must stop giving extremists the power and legitimacy and bring back the faith that is represented accurately by the mainstream Muslim community.
Horace Frank, LAPD Commander Anti Terror continued the panel by giving a description of the attacks that have happened from San Bernardino to Brussels. He then explained how LAPD approaches to address this broader topic of the global struggle against violent extremism. Chief Frank emphasized that our strength against extremism lies within the partnership of our own business and residential communities by utilizing our sources such as eye watch. Building trust and partnership to overcome these obstacles is a part of our American identity. He believes that the sooner we accept that this is not a Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or a religious problem, the more we understand that this is a human problem and the wiser we will be against violent extremism. He lastly states that the LAPD’s philosophy in standing against violent extremism is to build strong communities that have values in trust and deep relationships.
The event’s third and last panelist, Consul General Rudi Veestraeten emphasized the overwhelming reactions given by people, especially those in the United States, in response to the terrorist attacks that have happened in Brussels recently. He believes that the support expressed by these people is much warmer and deeper than a simple human reaction and that these marks of sympathy are quite special. Consul General Rudi Veestraeten extended the topic by advising people to avoid developing thoughts that such attacks in the United States, France, or Belgium occur because things are not done properly and in the right way. He believes that this a very dangerous thought because it leads to people thinking that it might be the mistake of the police to not have noticed such threats. He stressed that such thoughts are very dangerous and that the police are all working hard and doing their jobs properly. These attacks can simply happen anywhere and we must stand together because they are a problem for all of us. Consul General Rudi Veestraeten continued to suggest that everyone visit places like Paris and Brussel, who have been a victim to terrorist attacks, because their wounds are still fresh and nothing has changed. He concluded that when these places are not visited, they become more isolated and we must show our support by standing together.
The panel came to an end as each speaker addressed questions regarding the struggles we face because of violent extremism.