The main idea behind Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), is that there is a way to intelligently articulate a future “path” to something called “radicalization” by Muslims, and this can be stopped before crimes are committed. The Intercept last month exposed a secret study by one of the principal purveyors of CVE, the FBI, that there is no such thing. It is important for Muslims to understand that CVE is not only damaging to the community, it is fraud.
The ISPU Debate
On Labor Day Weekend in Chicago, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) hosted a debate at the annual ISNA Convention on the Federal Government’s Muslim-only “Countering Violent Extremism” (CVE) initiative, if it was beneficial or harmful to “engage” with law enforcement on such programs.
Both Dr Muqtedar Khan and Kamran Bokhari, who spoke in favor of Muslim participation in CVE agreed there was no net-benefit in doing so, and yet despite this lack of net-benefit insisted that the Muslim community should do it anyway. The reasons to support CVE had to do with dealing with “extremism,” “radicalism,” and “anti-Americanism” that exist in the Muslim community. Never mind that even if eliminating these things were laudable goals, (they are not) it is clear this is impossible to achieve through CVE. Furthermore, attendees were told Muslims do not have a choice in the matter – either they choose to serve the government to help do away with these things or risk the government engaging with Islamophobes like Daniel Pipes to do this instead.
While all sides agreed CVE offers “no net-benefit,” there was no serious discussion of what the real benefits were and who within the community stands to benefit. Sahar Aziz and Dawud Walid argued forcefully against CVE, citing the harms to individuals, families and the community as a whole, which was what they were supposed to do.
Despite clear indications most American Muslims who know about the issues – including the speakers who spoke in favor of CVE – appear to hold a negative opinion of it, the benefits may be powerful enough for the pro CVE side to prevail. We need to understand what we are up against.
ISPU, the convener of the debate, unfortunately failed to question or disclose whether the two speakers favoring CVE personally benefit financially from the national security state. Neither of the speakers disclosed at the event what financial remuneration they receive from the Federal Government, foreign governments, think tanks and corporations with an interest in CVE, either directly or indirectly through their employers.
To his credit, Kamran , a former “extremist” who has since become an “expert” on “extremism” was at least up front in that he did not speak as a “Muslim activist,” but rather as a “professional” who deals with “extremism.” It is too communal a view, from his perspective, to consider things such as “benefit” or “harm”, but rather Muslims should adopt the government program targeting the Muslim community because it is the right thing to do, and because supporting CVE was somehow “logical.”
Muslims should do the right thing even if there is no financial benefit. Doing the right thing is inherently beneficial if you are Muslim. But is it really the right thing if a privileged few stand on the “benefit” side of the ledger while the most marginalized fall on the “harm” side? For the Muslim community, the benefit and harm should be subject to more scrutiny. An early “Pilot Program” City, the Muslim community in the Los Angeles area had some early experience with CVE. The community contemplated both benefit and harm.
The Southern California Muslim community was virtually united in opposition soon after February 2015 “CVE Summit” at the White House ended. That the Government’s CVE program in Los Angeles has been stuck in a ditch for nearly two years is no accident. It took an organized effort, though keeping CVE out of our community continues to be an uphill struggle. At an Imam teach-in in those early days and in many other public and private meetings on the subject, Muslim leaders and activists used a wide range of historical analogies or explanations for what it was. It was alternately or simultaneously “white supremacy” or “Cointelpro,” or portrayed as something like the Raj in India.
One Islamic Educator then said it was like “Braveheart” because it appeared the Federal Government was creating “lords,” a special class of official Muslim leaders. CVE documents and prior experience with “Prevent” in the UK (to be renamed “Engage”) led to a similar conclusion: CVE will divide the Muslim community between the “engagers”- those who will do law enforcement’s bidding – and the non-engagers, which comprises of everyone who disagrees with the government’s preferred narrative about the Muslim community. The creation of “engagers” sometimes involved use of “astroturfing” by funding “Muslim leaders” that claimed to be independent, but upon further inspection, turned out to not be. While I had written about an example of this in the United States, the British Human Rights Group CAGE found several in the United Kingdom. It is the nature of Astroturf groups to claim they are independent while in fact being severely compromised by financial rewards and government endorsement.
The medieval British nobility did not merely “engage” with the King or act as a class of official sycophants; they were oppressors who oppressed primarily to benefit themselves. As Michelle Alexander points out in her book “The New Jim Crow,” all oppressive systems have people from within the targeted group that benefit from the oppression. This was the case in American slavery, South African Apartheid, the occupation of Palestine, and everywhere else where a group was oppressed. There are always people from within the targeted group who serve as apologists for the system, justifying the fraudulent frame of dangerousness of their own group and profiting from the popular narrative they help nurture and sustain.
Muqtedar Khan, Associate Professor at University of Delaware, who has been the recipient of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the US Government for his work dealing with Islam and Muslims, relied on what could only be described as nihilism when he argued for a program with no net-benefit and in a moment of candid confession admitted that CVE was “awful.” Khan implied all government programs were bad anyway. He is wrong of course. The National Parks Service is an excellent government program, as are plenty of others.
Muslims, according to Khan, cannot afford to be seen as being “dissidents” and at one point compared the Muslim community to a watermelon and the government to a knife. Either you get cut falling on the knife, or you get cut with the knife falling on you. The Muslim community will be cut. Get over it. Khan readily admitted the program would do nothing to prevent any harsh treatment of Muslims that is a daily part of life in the war on terror (a frequent and easily refuted talking point by some). All we can do is assist the government so that some of us may be respectable. Nobility is nothing if not respectable.
Muslims should disagree with Khan. We should be a community of dissidents when policies are unjust, and advocates when policies are just. We enjoin the good and forbid the evil. This is not complicated.
Neither CVE opponents Dawud Walid and Sahar Aziz’s central arguments concerning the harmful effects of CVE on the Muslim community were seriously disputed. You can see the entire debate here. The conclusion that CVE is a loathsome program and should be defeated is not a difficult one, unless a leader or activist stands to gain financially, or in some other way that provides the badges of nobility.
Advocacy has been important nationally, and organizations such as CAIR (despite some unfortunate disarray), Muslim Advocates, Muslim Justice League and others did exactly that. One insight in Southern California added a step: CVE was not merely a government program, but a system where newly constituted Muslim nobility, deputized by law enforcement to push a harmful narrative of the Muslim community and divide it. Petitioning the King would not be enough. If you want to stop it in its tracks, you must challenge the legitimacy of the nobility created by the government.
In the Los Angeles area, we were fortunate. The Muslim community has been generally well organized with solid leadership. There was just one significant organization in Southern California that supported CVE. They were unusual in that they also previously supported the Egyptian coup by General Sisi and the religious and ethnic profiling by police in Los Angeles. Their support of CVE was in character and easy to dismiss. They were exposed as compromised, which helped diminish their pro-CVE advocacy. A unanimous vote by the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California against CVE sent a clear message to Law Enforcement and all government agencies: We will not violate our community’s trust. We will not be servants of the national security state. We will not accept the narrative that our children are more dangerous than non-Muslim children. We will not be the oppressors.
Either the Southern California Muslim community is made of stronger stuff than watermelon, or the knife has been unusually dull.
Unfortunately, other Muslim communities in the United States have not been so fortunate. For example, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC), which serves as the regional council for Muslim groups in Chicago, developed its own CVE Program, funded by both the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. Amazingly, it utilizes the “four stages of radicalization,” from the New York Police Department. This includes the notion that indicators of religiousness, such as giving up cigarettes, gambling or growing a beard can lead to terrorism. The concept was so obscene that the NYPD, after a lawsuit, agreed to remove the report “radicalization theory” comes from. Yet, an organization of Mosques was somehow using this Islamophobic garbage as the basis for their program.
One speaker at the ISNA convention, in a panel unrelated to CVE, veered off his subject and spoke about his work with CIOGC in “deprogramming” Muslim youth as part of CVE. The narrative of Muslim leaders promoting CVE is to dehumanize Muslim youth and peddle Islamophobia by this portrayal of the future of our community as budding T-1000s, programmed killing machines in need of fixing. In exchange, Muslim leaders receive financial compensation and perhaps earn the respect of law enforcement and politicians.
The CIOGC move results in a community organization accepting government funds to act as a servant of law enforcement interests and against the interests of the most marginal within the Muslim community. Moreover, Muslim leaders are taking dictation from the government based on a fundamentally Islamophobic frame. This is perhaps an example of what Muhammad Ghilan recently referred to as the world’s largest Pavlovian experiment. CIOGC is financially dependent on the fame of Muslims as inherently violent. If they don’t perpetuate this frame, the money will stop.
As Dawud Walid pointed out recently, CVE programs are a particular danger to Imams, and participation in CVE represents a fundamental breach of trust. By obvious extension, it is a breach of trust for any Muslim leader to financially benefit from the exploitation and stigmatization of our community. This needs to stop.
In Greek legend, King Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia so his ships get some fair wind on the way to Troy. Are we as a Muslim community willing to sacrifice the most marginalized and defenseless among us to avoid being seen as a “dissident community,” so some of us can perhaps get that fair wind?