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Mohamed Nimer on the Americanization and Evolution of Islamism

American University Professor Mohamed Nimer spoke at START this month addressing “The Americanization and Evolution of Islamism.”

In discussing the evolution of modern Islamism, Nimer detailed a stark shift in Islamists’ focus. Formerly preoccupied with problems in Islamabad and Cairo, U.S.-based organizations that originated from Islamist political circles are now participating more fully in the American civil society, lawfully advocating within a liberal democratic political and legislative system while reconciling those evolving views with their understandings of Islamic moral values and jurisprudence.

Nimer also discussed the role non-violent Islamist actors can have in countering violent extremism saying that their main goal should be to “resolve the tension between their narratives and the demands of U.S. citizenship.”

Nimer said that these activists should do more to clarify their beliefs and how they have evolved, and outline the differences between themselves and their more radical counterparts like ISIL or al-Qaida. Only by clarifying those issues can American groups with Islamist activist origins attempt to counter anti-Muslim bias in the country and the subsequent marginalization that could lead to radicalization, Nimer said.

Nimer said he hopes his message serves as a scholarly way of calling for American actors with Islamist origins to free themselves of the “mental shackles that are holding them back” from broader engagement and legitimacy within American society. He put onus on such groups to better articulate the causes that they are against and also to shine a light on the causes that they are for.

In his research on countering violent Islamist and violent Far Right narratives START researcher Alejandro Beutel has found that some U.S. Muslim actors with Islamist origins have struggled to articulate the latter point and often find themselves engaged in the same discussions over and over again instead of providing a new message.

“To truly be successful in disrupting a violent narrative, you have to not only say what you’re against, but what you’re for,” said START Researcher Alejandro Beutel. Beutel and his team are working on a new START tool that will be released called the Narratives/Counter-Narratives Online Library.

An intern on the project, University of Maryland freshman Ryan Garfinkel, said, “Building the library allows us to create a central access point so that when people want to stimulate discussions within their own social circles they don’t have to rely only on one group’s narrative or perspective alone. They can reference multiple perspectives and formulate a broader understanding of the discourse of an otherwise decentralized community.”