All In   |  April 24, 2013

The real terror threat

Chris Hayes talks with Farea al-Muslimi, a Yemeni writer and youth activist whose home village was hit in a U.S. drone strike last week, about what happens to entire populations of people who live through drone strikes overseas.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

CHRIS HAYES, HOST: Good evening from New York . I'm Chris Hayes , and thank you for joining us tonight. I want to begin tonight telling you a story. It's an incredible story. And when I heard the details, I thought it was too incredible to be real, but it is real. It's a true story . And it's a story about a young Muslim man from another part of the world who came to the United States before he was grown, who came to assimilate quickly and rather seamlessly into American life . He made American friends and came to celebrate American holidays and love American high school sports and American culture . He went back to his home country , and then something horrible happened. Something horrible that threw him into a state of moral and political tumult. His home country was not Dagestan . It was not Chechnya . It was not in the Caucasus . It was Yemen . And this is not a story about either of the Tsarnaev brothers . On their account, I think the vice president told their at this point alleged story today with very apt phrasing.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Two twisted, perverted, cowardly, knock-off jihadis.

HAYES: Knock-off jihadis seems like a perfect way to describe the perfect that's emerging of the Tsarnaev brothers . Based on what we've learned so far, they do not appear to have been part of a vast network, training for months, employing expert trade craft and meticulous planning. Instead, the narrative that's taking shape around the Tsarnaev brothers is one of a couple of guys who sort of alienated from their local mosque, who more or less self-radicalized and look stuff up on the Internet . And that is a problem obviously. The alleged actions of the Tsarnaev brothers are abhorrent and young Dzhokhar , if he is guilty, should be held to account and we should do what we can to grant others who might follow the same path from accessing means to cause violence, death, and destruction. And we can and should ask all sorts of questions in the aftermath of an attack like theirs about where they got their guns and how they were able to buy and build explosives as cheaply as they seem to have done. But if we want to have a conversation about what kind of threat we are living under right now, Republicans seem to want to have that conversation, then the Tsarnaev brothers and their ilk would not be priority number one, because while the self radicalizing loner, Web -trolling violent extremist model of terrorism does represent a threat, it is not, it is not, the number one terrorist threat to America right now. The number one terrorist threat to America right now is not when individuals are drawn to support political violence , but when an entire geographical area , entire segments of societies rally to the cause of a more experienced network of people who risk harm and violence and ill upon the United States and its people. That process of radicalization, which is structural and systemic, is very different from the psychological one we've been focusing on with the Tsarnaev brothers . But it's by far a much bigger worry. And that's why the story I'm telling tonight is not about the Tsarnaev brothers . The story of the Muslim who came to America and embraced the country and culture here before returning home to his home country before something terrible happen, that is the story of a young man who came to Capitol Hill this week to explain in stark and moving terms what's happening with that bigger, scarier, more dangerous process of radicalization. His name is Farea al-Muslimi . He's from Yemen , and here is what he told a Senate subcommittee yesterday afternoon.

FAREA AL-MUSLIMI, YEMENI NATIONAL: Six days ago, my village was struck by an American drone in an attack that terrified the region's poor farmers. I spent there living with an American family and attended an American high school . That was one of the best years of my life. I learned about the American culture , managed the school basketball team , and participated in trick or treat and Halloween . I went to the U.S. as an ambassador for Yemen and I came back to Yemen as ambassador of the U.S. My understanding is that a man named Hamid al Radmi was the target of the drone strike . Many people in Wessab know al Radmi and the government could easily have found and arrested him. And the vast Wessab 's villagers knew of the U.S. was based on my stories about my wonderful experiences here. The friendships and values I experienced and described to the villagers helped them understand the America that I know and that I love. Now, however, when they think of America , they think of the terror they feel from the drones that hovered over their heads, ready to fire missiles at any time. What the violent militants previously failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant. There's now an intense anger against America in Wessab .

HAYES: A violent militant previously failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant. Farea al-Muslimi has said he's not even sure it's safe for him to return to his village anymore, because the instant radicalization caused by the U.S. drone strike was so complete that he thinks simply being associated with America and American values will make him a target in the village he grew up. Farea al-Muslimi is not alone in his review. The United States ' government actions are radicalizing populations of Muslims in ways militants have failed to do. None other than retired General Stanley McChrystal had this to say about American drone strikes in an interview for the latest edition of " Foreign Affairs ". Quote, "Although to the United States , a drone strike seems to have very little risk and very little pain, at the receiving end, it feels like war. Americans have got to understand that. If we were to use our technological capabilities carelessly, I don't think we do, but there's always the danger you will, and we should not be upset when someone responds with their equivalent, which is a suicide bomb in Central Park , because that's what they can respond with." In a week when the government seems trained on the threat posed by the Tsarnaev brothers of the world, here is a stark and vital reminder there is a bigger, more ominous threat out there that is largely being left unaddressed by the demagogues who want to attack the FBI and the Obama administration and it's for the screw-ups in the investigation. It's the one that we, the people, can have some effect on. There are people around the world who want desperately to love us and we should be looking for every possibility to take them up on that offer. Joining me now from Washington , Farea al-Muslimi , the Yemeni writer and youth activist who testified yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on drones . Farea , thank you for joining me. And the first question I want to ask about, how you came to go to high school in California in the first place , which is kind of the most amazing part of this story, because you are from a relatively remote farming village nine hours away from the capital of Yemen ?

AL-MUSLIMI: Thank you, Chris . Thank you. Thank you for the very warm introduction. It's a pleasure to be here. It was one of the very great things the United States is doing in Yemen . Unfortunately, it's now this, which is scholarships for exchange students and to teach students English and especially poor students with good ranking grades in school. I was one of those lucky people who heard one day in a random visit about the scholarship, and now, I am with you on TV , because of that thing that changed my life. It's an unbelievable thing that not just changed my life, but made a duty on my life forever to be an ambassador of this great country and these great people. And I had a great experience that I cannot ever get out of, and I cannot ever be less talkative about it, actually.

HAYES: You talked in your testimony about sort of coming to have a surrogate father who's in the Air Force and he went to mosque with you and you went to church with him, and that bond, when you went back to Yemen , you say you were an ambassador for America there. What does that look like? What did you tell people about America when you were back in your farming village of Wessab ?

AL-MUSLIMI: I just told them about my great time with my American high school friends, I showed them photos, I said everything about my basketball team , everything about my great host family, everything that I had, just my daily schedule and the warm and deep love that I had and I received and the great feelings I had in this country . All you have to do is just speak intensely and infinitely about your daily life and that is enough in an area that does not even -- it's like equal of the size of Bahrain , about three times. It does not have a meter of electricity, not a hospital, not a single college. That was the only way people would know about this place and about this great country from what I told them about my stories. I was like their, you know, unpaid, non-official ambassador of the U.S. to that village , which was a great honor and passion. I'll keep it for the rest of my life.

HAYES: And then what happened six days ago in your village ? Describe -- when we say drone strike , it sounds like something abstract to us or something removed. What does that actually look and feel like when you are there?

AL-MUSLIMI: Yes, I don't know what happened in D.C. or anywhere else in the world, but what happened in Yemen is exactly a lot of members while I was having a good time with my American friend in the capital, I received tons phone calls and messages from people about a weird bombing, something was thrown from the air into their heads and targeting someone. It ended up being American striker drones that terrified thousands of poor farmers, and more importantly, I think in one shot it raised the whole great public duplicity I have done or I have achieved with the United States in my village . It has been great sorrow. I was devastated, as I was already sad, about the Boston news. I was, again, sad about the village thing, especially that this is not just terrified poor people . But it also -- it kills any chance of a public -- of a great relationship of why the village should know about America and America should know about the village . It's killed every chance, I think. But now, there's probably there will be chance to fix this out, but it killed every story I have told about great America in the last few years. Whatever the radicals could not have achieved in many years was achieved in one shot when someone pressed the button thousands of years -- thousand of miles away from that place. And someone didn't even know probably how to pronounce Wessab . Thousands of farmers were being terrified. In the past, they knew America through my eye, they knew it about the striker drones . And Wessab was not a place that was always by any way hostile with America . It is a place -- there isn't war there. There isn't any -- it's one of the most peaceful places you can ever see in your life. And what happened after that, it became one of the places right now I think one of the places where America -- there's a lot there that I don't know how to fix. And that will take a lot of time. But the striker drones are not just in the village . The strike drones are also in other areas of Yemen have been the face o America to thousands of Yemenis . I was away also in Aden , the south of Yemen , where I met with some families who lost their innocent civilians for just simply by one shot. One of the -- it became a daily fear, not just my village , it was a daily fear for a lot of people in these other areas. Like in Al Badya in the middle of Yemen , where a man said in the past we used to tell women used to tell their children, go to bed or I will call your father. Right now, they tell their children, go to bed or I will call the drones . It has been horrifying fear at nights for thousands of people who have nothing to do with AQAP and who have never had any sort of sympathy for AQAP and rather than that, it was -- yes?

HAYES: Farea , thank you so much for telling your story and for coming to Capitol Hill and for your public diplomacy in both directions. They are greatly appreciated. Thank you very much .

AL-MUSLIMI: Thank you, Chris . Thank you very much . Thank you.

HAYES: The part of the world that most hates America is the part of the world where America has been droning the most. Someone who's actually been there joins us next.