“The Muslims I know and that I’ve spent a lot of time with in this country believe just the opposite,” he added.
Rebuffing any suggestion that he’s being “politically correct,” Johnson said “building trust” with Muslim community leaders across the United States is “fundamental” to the U.S. government’s counter-terrorism efforts.
Johnson has sat down with as many as 100 community members at a time – in meetings from Minneapolis to Maryland – to discuss how they can help identify and stop Americans like Abdulazeez from being radicalized by an onslaught of online ISIS propaganda in particular, the secretary said.
In each of those meetings, according to Johnson, he “consistently” hears this: “[ISIS] is trying to hijack my religion.”
“And so if you call it ‘Islamic anything,’ we are dignifying this terrorist organization with occupying a part of the Islamic faith which Muslims in this country I know push back very strongly on,” Johnson said. “If I went into these meetings calling it ‘Islamic extremism,’ I’d get nowhere.”
“I think it’s critical that in order to build our relationships and build our level of cooperation with the Islamic communities here, we have to say to them ‘Look, we understand that what this depraved terrorist organization is doing is no part of your religion,’” Johnson told those attending the Aspen Security Forum, which brings together some of the highest-ranking officials in counter-terrorism and intelligence from around the world.