By CELYNE CAMEN and KAREN SCHRAUFNAGEL
Trump’s ban on Muslims, which tens of thousands protested at airports across the country, was the most recent escalation of an ongoing assault on the rights of Muslims and youth from Africa and the Middle East. This group has been targeted continuously at least since the beginning of the so-called “War on Terror.”
In the fall of 2014, the Obama administration announced that a new program called “Countering Violent Extremism” (CVE) would be launched, with pilots in three cities—Minneapolis, Boston, and Los Angeles.
Minneapolis, not coincidentally, has the largest Somali immigrant population in North America. The Somali people have faced deep political and economic instability because of war and monumental environmental destruction and drought, forcing the people to flee to the U.S., where they have been facing undue profiling, racism, and discrimination.
The Boston Marathon bombing in April of 2013, attributed to two Muslim brothers, made that city a second logical choice. Funds were filtered through the Massachusetts State Department of Health as “Peace Grants,” the largest amount going to the Boston Police Foundation, an NGO that funds the police department. The rest went to groups that work with youth and the Somali immigrant community.
Although the administration gave no reason for its choice of Los Angeles, the region is home to one of the country’s largest Muslim populations. According to a Los Angeles Times article from September 2014, Fatima Dadabhoy, senior civil rights attorney of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA), responded to the announcement by saying: “If it’s going to lead to more profiling and surveillance, that’s clearly going to be problematic. Is it really a project to counter violent extremism, or is it really a project to counter violent extremism in the Muslim community?”
CVE is based on PREVENT, a “counter radicalization” program introduced in Britain in the wake of the 2005 London bombings. Based on misconceptions about how “radicalization” happens, PREVENT has pushed health professionals, including mental health workers, to violate professional ethics regarding privacy and confidentiality. It has undermined health, social service organizations, and educational institutions that have partnered with the program, making them ineffective in providing needed services to their clients.
It has also damaged communities’ trust in agencies that have received funds or collaborated in the program due to law enforcement pressures to participate in surveillance of those they serve; deterred those in need from seeking treatment (many British Muslims are afraid to seek medical and mental health service for fear of being targeted); divided communities and engendered suspicion in Mosques and community centers, denying the community the right to speak freely about political or social views for fear of being wrongly reported; and created good Muslim-bad Muslim scenarios, pitting neighbors and friends against each other.
The entire rationalization for the PREVENT program has been discredited. It is not possible to disentangle the alleged signs of “radicalization” from the personality traits displayed by the vast majority of youth. Nor has any connection been demonstrated between so-called radicalization and actual acts of violence. But this did not stop the Obama administration from importing the program.
The initiative works without apparent transparency—offering funding to nonprofit health and social service agencies like schools, hospitals, health clinics, youth programs, and places of worship. It seems that in some instances the groups receiving funds may be unaware of the surveillance role they will be obligated to take, while in other cases the organizations are fronts in themselves.
One recipient of funding is Empower Peace, a program to bring young people in the Middle East in contact with American high school kids. Empower Peace is connected with the Rendon Group, a spin-doctor communications firm operating in at least 98 countries, often under U.S. auspices. Rendon has made millions off U.S. government contracts since 1991, when it was hired by the CIA to help “create the conditions for the removal of Hussein from power.”
Before the Obama administration left office, the Department of Homeland Security announced a $10 million round of grants, authorized by Congress in 2016 and set to be distributed in 2017. The announcement, coming one week before Trump’s inauguration, shows that the program had already advanced well beyond the three pilot cities:
Awardees by Category and Areas Served
- Police Foundation – $463,185 (Boston)
- Ka Joog Nonprofit Organization – $499,998 (Minneapolis)
- Heartland Democracy Center – $165,435 (Minneapolis)
- Leaders Advancing and Helping Communities – $500,000 (Dearborn, Mich.)
- Tuesday’s Children – $147,154 (Nationwide)
- Music in Common – $159,000 (Nationwide)
- Peace Catalyst International, INC – $95,000 (Nationwide)
- Coptic Orthodox Charities – $150,000 (Nationwide)
Training and Engagement
- City of Houston, Mayor’s Office of Public Safety & Homeland Security – $400,000 (Houston)
- City of Arlington, Police – $47,497 (Arlington, TX)
- Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority – $187,877 (Illinois)
- Global Peace Foundation – $150,000 (New Jersey)
- Nebraska Emergency Management Agency – $300,000 (Nebraska)
- City of Dearborn Police Department – $51,521 (Dearborn, Mich.)
- City of Los Angeles, Mayor’s Office of Public Safety – $400,000 (Los Angeles)
- Denver Police Department – $240,000 (Denver)
- National Consortium for Advanced Policing – $200,000 (Nationwide)
- City of Los Angeles, Mayor’s Office of Public Safety – $425,000 (Los Angeles)
- Crisis Intervention of Houston, Inc. – $400,000 (Houston)
- Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department – $425,000 (Las Vegas)
- Life After Hate Inc. – $400,000 (Nationwide)
- Muslim Public Affairs Council Foundation – $393,800 (Nationwide)
Challenging the Narrative
- Project Help Nevada, Inc. – $150,000 (Reno, Nev.)
- Unity Productions Foundation – $396,585 (Nationwide)
- America Abroad Media – $647,546 (Nationwide)
- Rochester Institute of Technology – $149,955 (Nationwide)
- Masjid Muhammad, Inc. – $450,000 (Nationwide)
- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – $866,687 (Nationwide)
- Muslim American Leadership Alliance – $40,000 (Nationwide)
- Counter Extremism Project – $298,760 (New York)
- Claremont School of Theology – $800,000 (Los Angeles)
We now have some details about how the Trump administration will continue these programs. Katharine Gorka, a Trump transition team member, told officials involved in DHS’s CVE program that the Trump administration was likely to rename the program “Countering Violent Jihad or Countering Radical Islam.”
Reuters reported on Feb. 2 that five people briefed on the matter said the program would change to “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism” and drop any pretense of targeting groups such as white supremacists. Some Republicans have been pushing for such a change. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul recently called for the Trump administration to “repeal and replace” President Obama’s “failed, politically correct” CVE program and instead “target the specific threat we face from radical Islamist terror.”
The explicitness of the Trump administration is already having ripple effects. A New York Times article also dated Feb. 2 reported that both Ka Joog (in Minneapolis) and Leaders Advancing and Helping Communities (in Dearborn, Mich.) would not accept their half-million-dollar grants, while the Muslim Public Affairs Council was “waiting to see what changes will take place in the program before making a decision about keeping the money.”
The morphing of counter-terrorism efforts, from those that employed neutral-sounding rhetoric while very specifically targeting Muslim communities to those that acknowledge directly what such efforts are really about, has forced groups like Ka Joog to withdraw what had been overwhelming support for CVE. And it has broader implications for our work.
The Trump administration is signaling an end to “good Muslim-bad Muslim” divisive rhetoric. Those who hid behind the pretense that CVE was actually meant to help the communities it targeted cannot pretend this is the case with Trump’s version.
The new program will further institutionalize Islamophobia but it will also trigger broader resistance. We must shut down these programs and purge them from our hospitals, clinics, workplaces, schools, community groups, places of worship, and local law enforcement. Those of us who are non-Muslims can stand up vocally for those individuals and groups who are wrongly labeled and punished as “extremists” and “terrorists,” simply because of their religion, their skin color, or their political ideology.
Say no Islamophobia! Stand with the Muslim community!