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President Obama’s Counter-Terrorism Programs Target Muslim Students in Public Schools

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By Waqas Mirza

As the days of the Obama Administration near their end and cute photo collections and videos of the president’s relationship with kids are shared on social media, here is a closer look at some of his administration’s policy legacy when it comes to Muslim children [Editor’s Note].

obama-mosque-kids-2

Nearly fifteen years of the War on Terror may not have led to any appreciable decline of terrorist groups but they certainly have resulted in the US government coming up with some uniquely comical ideas on how the war should be fought. The State Department once spent millions of dollars for its Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications division to troll Islamic State accounts on Twitter. Earlier this year, the State Department offered a $1.5 million grant to produce a “television drama series” aimed at “countering violent extremism among young people in contemporary Afghan society.”

One of the more recent ideas, however, is more frightening than funny. The FBI’s strategy for Preventing Violent Extremism in Schools aims to recruit teachers and school officials to monitor students for signs of radicalization. The criteria for what may constitute radicalization may as well be designed to facilitate racial and religious profiling and quash political dissent. It includes those who criticize US government policies, have qualms about “western corruption,” use “code word or unusual language,” and travel to “suspicious” countries. It also reinforces the mistaken belief that there are reliable indicators which may help predict who becomes a violent extremist.

The FBI’s strategy came under immediate fire for instructing teachers to effectively “act as puppets of federal law enforcement” and using the threat of terrorism to “justify a massive surveillance apparatus.” A coalition of 14 civil liberties organizations pointed out to FBI Director James Comey that the Bureau’s strategy “perpetuates profiling and negative stereotypes that Arabs, Sikhs, South Asians, Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim are prone to engage in extremist violence…”

Muslim students already face abuse and bullying in schools and the FBI’s strategy is likely to exacerbate this trend. In a study published last year, the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CA) reported that 55% of American Muslim students it surveyed admitted being subjected to “some form of bullying based on their religious identity,” a rate that was twice as high as the national average.

In addition to the threat of bullying, the FBI strategy also compromise the trust teachers strive to cultivate with students as well as teachers’ attempts to encourage original and creative thinking in students. As Congressman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) warned in a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, having teachers participate in the FBI’s strategy may “chill relationships with students or, for that matter, undermine a supportive learning environment.”

These concerns are not merely theoretical. The FBI’s strategy is modeled after UK’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program known as Prevent. Since the British Parliament passed the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act in 2015, public sector workers such as teachers and doctors have a statutory duty to identify students and patients at risk of violent extremism and report them to Channel, the government’s deradicalization program. Some recent reports on Prevent illustrate the problems the FBI’s strategy is likely to encounter and the impact it will have on students and teachers.

A survey of 507 social workers carried out by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) found that more than 40% were “unconfident about being able to assess an individual’s vulnerability to being drawn into terrorism.” This is no shock since academic studies suggests there are no reliable indicators which can help predict who will become a violent extremist. A subsequent analysis by CAFCASS of 54 family court cases involving radicalization confirmed that “it is not possible to create a profile of children at risk of radicali[z]ation.”

This flawed methodology has resulted in some pernicious effects, as delineated by a recent report by Rights Watch UK. The report assessed that Prevent stigmatizes Muslim students, stifles creativity and free expression, interferes with the right to education, undermines privacy, and may actually promote the very extremism it seeks to curb.

A few examples highlighted by the report provide a snapshot of the effects Prevent has had on students. An eight year-old boy in east London was referred to social services for wearing a shirt with the words, “I want to be like Abu Bakr al-Siddique” (considered to be one of the first converts to Islam and the first Caliph after Mohammad’s death). A 17 year-old north London boy was questioned by a “special constable” responsible for Prevent in schools for “handing out leaflets … highlighting the humanitarian emergency and water shortages in Gaza.” He was further questioned by two police officers who informed him they were “only looking for certain types of Muslims.”

In perhaps the most outrageous case, a 16 year-old Hampshire student with special needs was referred to Prevent for borrowing a book on terrorism from the school library. Understandably, the child’s mother was infuriated with this arrangement. In an interview with Rights Watch UK, she asked the most obvious question: “If a child isn’t allowed to take a book out of a library and read it, what do they have it for? If that book is in a library any student can go and read it, then if he can’t read it, who is allowed to read it?”

As is to be expected, Muslim students are disproportionately targeted by school and government officials under Prevent. According to the most recent data, as the report notes, 57.4% of all referrals were Muslims, despite making up just 4.8% of the UK’s population.

In no uncertain terms, the report concluded that the UK government needs to abolish Prevent and provide “reparations to those children and families harmed by the strategy.”

There is no reason to believe the results of the FBI’s strategy will be any different.

Equally alarming are localized versions of the strategies which are being pursued under the aegis of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). Boston’s CVE framework, for example, insists on the need for behavioral assessment of students from kindergarten all the way to colleges. According to documents released through a Freedom of Information Act request, students in Montgomery County, Maryland, can been identified as vulnerable to extremism simply for exhibiting signs of stress, alienation, and homesickness.

In the UK, Prevent has already faced resistance from community groups. The National Union of Students attacked the strategy for assuming “all Muslim students are suspect before proving otherwise.” At their annual conference, the National Union of Teachers voted overwhelmingly to pass a motion opposing Prevent.

In the US, too, there is growing opposition to the FBI’s strategy, led by civil rights and Muslim groups. The American Federation of Teachers has recently joined the opposition. In an open letter to the FBI Director James Comey, it argued against “[i]ncreased ideological policing and surveillance efforts” which will “have a chilling effect on our schools and on immigrant communities, jeopardizing children’s sense of safety and well-being and threatening the security and sense of trust of entire communities.”

Despite the objection of educators, civil liberties groups, and Muslim organizations, the FBI is proceeding with its strategy, subverting the primary functions of schools and turning them into “mini-surveillance states.” By alienating students and treating them as suspects, it is likely to encourage violent extremism rather than challenge it.

Waqas Mirza is a writer and journalist focusing on US foreign policy, War on Terror, Islamophobia, surveillance, policing, and development. You can follow him on twitter @waqasahmi.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Hue Man

    October 18, 2016 at 10:51 AM

    Most fascist regimes have some sort of secret police throughout society to spy on and control citizens. They idea is not necessarily to prevent violence, rather to control behavior and prevent people from openly disagreeing with the status quo. Unfortunately, the average American does not realize that the government will start with Muslims, but eventually this method of control will spill over to the average citizen. In an odd way, we Muslims are at the forefront of protecting the average Americans civil liberties, yet most of them do not realize this to appreciate it.

  2. Avatar

    Ash

    November 5, 2016 at 6:51 PM

    @Mohammed A you seriously think anyone is going to believe your very poorly written bit of Fiction!… I think your extremism is natural product of a strict Zionist upbringing.

  3. Pingback: The spectacular failure of American Muslim politics – Spearhead Research – Pakistan

  4. Avatar

    Khurshid Syed

    December 17, 2016 at 2:31 AM

    And now we are facing a bigger problem in the form of Trump:
    (Monica Crowley, new member of Trump national security team)
    “Islam is no mere religion. It is an all-encompassing ideological system that dictates everything from law (Shariah) to personal relationships which also have religious elements. Conquest and subjugation of the infidel lands are integral to this totalitarian ideology, by the sword, if necessary. It therefore requires that we fight this war the way we fought the Nazis in World War II and Soviet communists during the Cold War: comprehensively and strategically, with every available military, economic, ideological, diplomatic, cyber- and religious lever. We must stop this threat before it metastasizes further and fully consumes Western Civilization”.

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Politics

Imam Omar Suleiman Calls for Unity at Bernie Sanders Rally

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Imam Omar Suleiman made a special appearance at a Texas rally for the supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders. In his speech this February 16th, Imam Omar Suleiman called for “[a]n America of safety, dignity, love and unity. An America where we uplift our most vulnerable, celebrate our diversity, and unlock our collective genius.”

The video of the full speech may be viewed on his official Facebook page.

When asked whether his presence at the Sanders Rally served as an official endorsement of Sanders by Iman Omar Suleiman, he responded on Instagram, “Not an endorsement just yet, but genuine appreciation for his time, listening, and authentically engaging the community.”

Although Imam Omar Suleiman has not endorsed any specific candidate, he has previously stated,

“I don’t believe in uncritically adopting a platform, or letting a party take advantage of our vulnerability. We need to challenge Democrats just as strongly as we do Republicans, while remaining independent and principled. We have a right to an agenda like any other community. Politicians should have to work for our vote, and we shouldn’t shy away from where we differ with candidates even when we vote for them.

You can read my article on voting here in which I lay out those principles.”

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Civil Rights

Podcast: Muhammad Ali, Superhuman and Super Human | Amaar Abdul-Nasir

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Why is Muhammad Ali the only one known around the globe simply as “The Greatest”?Click To Tweet

It is in part because Ali wasn’t just a boxing superstar. Rather, he played a large role in creating what the definition of a boxing superstar has become. And he wasn’t just a social activist; he was a cultural trail blazer.

In that respect, Ali holds a place on the most exclusive of sports lists: His name sits next to Jackie Robinson as athletes and historical figures whose impact on sports and society leaves them without peer.

From putting America on blast for its racism and hypocrisy when it was still very dangerous for a Black man to do so, to taking a loud and very public stance against the Vietnam War when it was dangerous for any American to do so, to in later years lending his resources to a variety of social and political causes, Ali’s strength and compassion shined even when his body couldn’t always keep up.

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#Current Affairs

Coronavirus And The Impetus To Close The Chinese-Run Concentration Camps

My Appeal to the International Community to Save the Lives of 3+ Million Uyghurs in China’s Concentration Camps

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According to Dr. Adrian Zenz, an independent researcher based in Germany who has testified on several occasions on Capitol Hill, the concentration camps in East Turkestan number up to 1,400 (8 Nov 2019, [1]). It has been estimated that the number of the Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Turkic minorities being held in those concentration camps can add up to more than 3 million.

On February 5th, 2020, when the official Chinese government’s media were reporting that coronavirus death toll on mainland China was 600 – 700 [2], Tencent briefly listed 154,023 infections and 24,589 deaths from Wuhan coronavirus [3]. That is, the actual death toll is about 40 times higher than what the Chinese government reported. East Turkestan (known as Xinjiang) is far from the epicenter of the outbreak and just 55 cases have been reported in the region so far [4]. We can easily believe that the actual number of the people who fell victim to coronavirus in East Turkestan is tens of times more than the above figure.

Among those who died in Wuhan, 61% died in their homes. Currently, almost all the Uyghur population in East Turkestan is locked up in their homes. 

The situation of the 3+ million Uyghur concentration camp detainees is worse by several degrees. Keeping 3+ million Uyghur alive detainees is a complex, expensive and extremely difficult project. Are the 3+ million detainees still alive? Are they still being fed? How and from where? 

There is a real reason to fear a rapid spread of coronavirus in the controversial Chinese camps. “The virus spreads from person to person through droplets disseminated by sneezing or coughing, and confining large groups of people together, possibly without adequate access to germ-killing soap and water, will increase the likelihood of an outbreak.” [4] 

I have started to panic. Most Uyghurs in the United States have families there, and they are dealing with the camps and the virus, and we do not know if they have enough to eat, have masks and enough heat to survive.

“If the international community fails to pressure China to take adequate actions to prevent outbreaks in the region, the nature of its mass network of concentration and forced labor camps will add an entirely new dimension to China’s ongoing genocide against the Uyghurs.” [5]

“Uyghurs in the diaspora fear if the virus isn’t already in the camps, when it does reach them, the consequences will be catastrophic, leading to mass outbreaks and high mortalities very quickly given reports of overcrowding, starvation, forced labor, sexual abuse and torture in the camps. As China has largely ignored the issue of the virus spreading in the region and its crimes against humanity in the region are ongoing, it’s unlikely the Chinese government will allocate resources to address the issue.” [5]

I call for:

  1. UN to send a delegation to the region to find out if the concentration camp detainees are being provided with enough food and heat to survive.
  2. WHO to send a delegation to the region to evaluate the spread of the virus, assess the risks in the camps and take all measures necessary to prevent mass outbreaks and deaths. 
  3. WHO, the UN, international human rights groups, national governments and the rest of the international community to pressure China to close the camps and release the millions detained immediately as part of the global response to the coronavirus outbreak.
  4. Global health and humanitarian organizations to send medical supplies and teams to screen, diagnose and treat affected individuals in the Uyghur region including those in China’s concentration camps. (Items 2 – 4 are almost identical to those in [5])

[1] https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/detainees-11232019223242.html

[2]https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/02/cloneofcloneofchina-coronavirus-outbreak-latest–200207231158175.html

[3]https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3871594?fbclid=IwAR1k3x27tW2jNmmQzbaNOWtciIwlP3z70GWvj2XcRhestwB6T6l16pSqL18

[4] https://www.france24.com/en/20200212-exiled-uighurs-fear-spread-of-coronavirus-in-china-camps

[5]https://www.change.org/p/demand-china-release-3-million-uyghurs-before-coronavirus-outbreaks-in-concentration-camps?utm_content=cl_sharecopy_20183581_en-CA%3Av2&recruiter=53261213&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition

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