Civil advocacy organizations and Muslim groups have expressed grave concern about the Federal Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program that was a focus of Feb 17-19 White House summit on terrorism. Many organizations are concerned that countering extremism programs that only focus on Muslim communities ignore the real threat of extremists in other communities while increasing negative public sentiment toward American Muslims as a whole.
According to The Intercept, "are you, your family or your community at risk of turning to violent extremism?" is the premise behind a rating system devised by the National Counter Terrorism Center to identify any potential terrorist.
The Intercept has acquired a copy of the NCTC 36-page document titled "Countering Violent Extremism: A Guide for Practitioners and Analysts." The NCTC document dated May 2014 suggests that police, social workers and educators rate individuals on a scale of one to five in categories such as: "Expressions of Hopelessness, Futility," "Talk of Harming Self or Others," and "Connection to Group Identity (Race, Nationality, Religion, Ethnicity)." The ranking system is supposed to alert government officials to individuals at risk of turning to radical violence, and to families or communities at risk of incubating extremist ideologies.
Families are judged on factors such as "Aware[ness] of Each Other's Activities," as well as levels of "Parent-Child Bonding," and communities are rated by access to health care and social services, in addition to "presence of ideologues or recruiters" as potential risk factors.
A low score in any of these categories would indicate a high risk of "susceptibility to engage in violent extremism," according to the document. It encourages users of the guide to plot the scores on a graph to determine what "interventions" could halt the process of radicalization before it happens.
Though the White House has insisted that Countering Violent Extremism is not directed at any specific group, however, the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) guide only cites examples drawn from Muslim communities.
"The idea that the federal government would encourage local police, teachers, medical and social service employees to rate the communities, individuals and families they serve for their potential to become terrorists is abhorrent on its face," The Intercept quoted Mike German, a former FBI agent as saying. German is now with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. German called the criteria used for the ratings "subjective and specious."
Arun Kundnani, a professor at New York University, told The Intercept that enlisting communities in the way the administration suggests in the guide, "leads a range of non-policing professionals to cast particular suspicion on Muslim populations and profile them for behaviors that have no real connection to criminality." Kundnani also questioned the science behind the rating system. "There's no evidence to support the idea that terrorism can be substantively correlated with such factors to do with family, identity and emotional well-being," he said.
The Muslim Student Associations (MSAs) across California have expressed grave concern over the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) framework. In a joint statement on Feb 21, 24 MSAs, said they oppose the creation of pilot programs that are planned to be launched in various cities across the nation, including Los Angeles, Boston and Minneapolis. "As MSA leaders, we are concerned about the reinforcement that CVE provides to the stereotypes that Muslims are security threats, as well as the climate of fear the surveillance program will create, especially amongst Muslim youth," the MSA statement said.
The US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), a coalition of several leading national and local Muslim organizations, on February 21, reiterated its stand against the CVE taken at its earlier gathering. On February 10, around fifty U.S. Muslim leaders gathered in Washington to discuss the CVE. The forum adopted the following points on CVE: (a) The USCMO endorsed an ACLU-led letter addressing the current countering violent extremism initiative that was sent to the Obama administration. We are disappointed that the administration has not responded to the fair concerns raised in the letter. (b) Based on the shared experience of summit attendees and recent media revelations, the USCMO is very concerned that law enforcement outreach and CVE programs may be accompanied by intelligence gathering activities or other abusive law enforcement practices. The concern is particularly acute in relation to the FBI. (c) The USCMO is concerned that the Muslim community has been singled out by the administration for CVE. This singling out is Constitutionally-questionable and morally problematic.
While Muslim Advocates has been critical of the White House CVE summit, it was also invited to attend. It sent legal director, Glenn Katon, to share the group's viewpoint.
"They seem to focus primarily on Muslim communities, which account for only a small fraction of terrorist activities carried out in the United States," Farhana Khera, executive director of the group Muslim Advocates, said in an interview with Washington Post. She added that any faith community -- including Christians and Jews, "would be horrified to learn that their religious leaders were asked by law enforcement to monitor their congregants' religious views and opinions and report back to them."
The killing of Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, (on February 10, 2015) "really underscores how dangerous it is for the US government, including the White House, to focus its countering violent extremism initiatives primarily on American Muslims", said Farhana Khera.
Not only the Muslim groups but the mainstream civil advocacy organizations have also opposed the CVE framework. On December 18, 2014, American Civil Liberties Union joined 26 other civil advocacy groups to send a letter to Lisa O. Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, expressing concern about the targeting of American Muslim communities and communities presumed to be Muslim through activities conducted under the auspices of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE).
The letter said one purported method of CVE is to provide a space for community discussion of alternative political opinions and religious viewpoints, without the threat of government surveillance and monitoring. Yet CVE may also task community members to expansively monitor and report to law enforcement on the beliefs and expressive or associational activities of law-abiding Americans. "That approach to American Muslim communities--or any belief community-- reproduces the same harm as government surveillance and monitoring. The result of generalized monitoring--whether conducted by the government or by community "partners"--is a climate of fear and self-censorship, where people must watch what they say and with whom they speak, lest they be reported for engaging in lawful behavior vaguely defined as suspicious."
"We note the consensus of Muslim institutions and Muslim student leaders across the [California] state in expressing concerns about the narrow scope of the federal government CVE program," said Council on American-Islamic Relations-LA (CAIR-LA) Executive Director Hussam Ayloush. "The best approach to accomplish the goals of any countering violent extremism program is to build trust and treat the community as a partner, not as a collection of potential suspects."
CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Ayloush said that CAIR-LA, along with other local organizations serving American Muslim communities, previously issued a statement outlining their grave concerns about the proposed CVE program.