Trump Administration Should Avoid Anti-Muslim Bias in its Counter-Extremism Program
By Neil Hicks
This is crossposted from The Huffington Post.
Proposals from the Trump administration to change the countering violent extremism (CVE) program started under President Obama to a one focused solely on “Islamic Extremism” or “Radical Islamic Extremism” would be counterproductive and discriminatory.
First, it would shift attention away from averting terrorism and violence perpetrated by non-Muslim violent extremist groups, a growing threat in the United States. People are motivated to carry out acts of violence and terrorism by a variety of hate-filled ideologies. These may have a racial, nationalist, anti-Semitic, or religious basis. They are all potentially lethal, and present the government and law enforcement with the challenge of identifying and restraining a small minority of dangerous people within the general population.
Unfortunately, there will always be individuals who perpetrate acts of terrorism for unfathomable reasons, who don’t fit into the patterns of extremist behavior, but that does not mean that there is nothing to be done to prevent and minimize incidents of violent extremism.
Islamist violent extremist groups like ISIS believe in the power of propaganda and use social media and the Internet skillfully both to fuel a sense of grievance among their supporters and to encourage and incite acts of violence. Far-right white nationalists have their own grievances and their own Internet and social media sites to demonize targets of their hatred and to incite violence against them.
The common methodologies of violent extremists, especially their boundless global reach attributable to the ubiquity of social media and the Internet, point to the importance of developing effective methods to counter all kinds of violent extremist propaganda through counter-messaging, monitoring, cooperation with Internet and social media companies, and, where appropriate, prosecution.
Too often violent hate groups fuel each other’s extremism, creating a vicious cycle where an act of violence against one group is exploited to incite violent revenge from within the target group. This makes it essential to break the cycle of polarization or risk an escalation of reciprocal violent incidents. Highlighting extremist violence from one source while overlooking or de-prioritizing attacks against the group the extremist claims to be protecting or avenging is a recipe for more violence.
As research has shown: in France, “Islamophobia—a response to cultural difference—has encouraged Muslim immigrants to withdraw from French society, which then feeds back into French Islamophobia, thus further exacerbating Muslims’ alienation, and so on.” The situation in the United States has been better, with Muslim communities relatively well integrated into America’s increasingly diverse society.
There is a limit to what government can do to counter the threat of violent extremism. Effective counterterrorism policy depends on cooperation and good relations between the authorities and communities particularly targeted for radicalization and recruitment by violent extremists. Muslim communities will be rightly aggrieved if they are unfairly singled out by a biased and discriminatory counter-extremism program, such as the one under consideration by the Trump administration. Trust and cooperation between the authorities and Muslim communities will erode, opening cracks where the cycle of polarization will take root, increasing the risk of terrorist attacks from both those inspired by Islamist extremist groups and those motivated by anti-Muslim bigotry. The Trump administration should avoid going down this destructive path.