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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 8/5/11

Decoding the White House Strategy on Preventing 'Violent Extremism'

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The White House has released its strategy for "countering violent extremism in the United States." The strategy seeks to encourage the development and use of community approaches to addressing "all types of extremism that lead to violence, regardless of who inspires it." It immediately makes clear that Muslim Americans have "categorically condemned terrorism" and have worked "with law enforcement to help prevent terrorists attacks" and even gone so far as to help with "programs to protect their sons and daughters from al Qaeda's murderous ideology."

Unequivocally made clear is the fact that the White House rejects a framework that specifically sets out a strategy, which focuses efforts and resources on Islamic extremism. It promotes the idea that all groups and individuals are susceptible to violent extremism and not all violent extremists are or have been Muslims. It concludes, "Any solution that focuses on a single, current form of violent extremism, without regard to other threats, will fail to secure" America and America's communities. It finds government officials and the American public should not "stigmatize or blame communities because of the actions of a handful of individuals."

Political leaders like Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) might take issue with the notion that all extremism is equally threatening. During a Senate hearing, "Ten Years After 9/11: A Report from the 9/11 Commission," Lieberman declared:

...We've been so frustrated that the administration continues to resist identifying the ideology; preferring instead to say that we're in a conflict with violent extremism. Well, it is violent extremism, but it's a particular kind of extremism. In our report on the Fort Hood attack by Hasan, we pointed out that the Defense Department has even tried at one point to characterize the threat represented by the Fort Hood attack as workplace violence. But, of course, it was lot more than that.

So you know, I guess I understand what's going on here, which I think somebody thinks that if we use the term "Islamist extremism," it's offensive to Muslims. But I think it's quite the opposite, because it's -- We're talking about, as you said, [Thomas Kean], a very small group within a larger community, certainly here in America, people who are followers of Islam, not Islamist extremism...

Yet, this strategy clearly rejects the dogma of Lieberman. It also entirely snubs the efforts of Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who in the past months has held three "Muslim radicalization" hearings. And, it is much more in line with Rep. Yvette Clarke's (D-NY) views on extremism than King's:

Radicalization is cross cultural, cross religious cross ethnic for us to focus on very specific communities and not putting the full gamut in perspective opens us up to the disdain of others. That then perpetuates the notion that we're trying to combat. I really want to discourage us from stigmatizing and ostracizing communities. This is a nation of diversity and for generations Muslims have been a part of the fabric of this nation.  For us to focus in and say Muslim Americans specifically are this threat  when I can also talk about gang radicalization, domestic terrorism in my community. I don't see the same type of resources being put into communities that are poor where young people are being jumped into gangs. And, I think that the lives that have been taken from that type of activity [are] just as valid. So, we need to take a look at our motives here and certainly wanting to educate the public is fine but when we become fixated on a particular group of people we take our eyes off the prize. And then we become even more vulnerable because the unexpected happens. The unexpected happens like in Norway.

The strategy provides justification that could be used by the White House to ensure King never chairs another hearing that explicitly singles out Muslims. The strategy states, "Misinformation about the threat and dynamics of radicalization to violence can harm our security by sending local stakeholders in the wrong direction and unnecessarily creating tensions with potential community partners." King's hearings could be considered a security threat because they do just that: create unnecessary tension and pull security policy in the wrong direction.

No Definition of "Extremism" or "Extremist"

The framework seems to be a reasonable and well-rounded approach to any current or future threat of violent extremism. However, the strategy does not define "extremism." It doesn't define what the White House considers to be an "extremist." The strategy makes numerous statements that would essentially exclude certain individuals. It notes, "A particular ethnic, religious or national background does not necessarily equate to special knowledge of violent extremism." It finds strong religious beliefs do not equal violent extremism. And, it makes clear "opposition to government policy is neither illegal nor unpatriotic and does not make someone a violent extremist."

*Read the rest of the article at FDL's The Dissenter.

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Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure." He was an editor for
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