DOES ENGAGEMENT IN CVE PROGRAMS ATTENUATE ISLAMOPHOBIA OR AGGRAVATE CIVIL RIGHTS?
At a high profile meeting in the White House on the subject of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), President Obama was very circumspect in the choice of his words to characterize the terrorists orchestrating mayhem in the name of Islam. In not branding the miscreants as ‘Islamist terrorists’ or as ‘martyrs’ of ‘radical Islam’, Mr. Obama faced scathing criticism from political rivals, segments of the media, and a wary public confounded by how such atrocities could not be associated with Islam. He refrained from the use of the cliché ‘Islamist terrorists’ or proponents of ‘radical Islam’, because there is nothing ‘Islamic’ (sic ‘Islamist’) about terrorism, and there is no such entity as ‘radical Islam’, (“How ‘Islamic’ is Isis”, Juan Cole 2015). President Obama then pointed out that the ball is in the court of the Muslims. They can choose to be a part of the solution or be targeted as a part of the problem. Only they can gouge out the heresy embedded in their religion.
Muslim leaders responded by perceiving more of a threat than an opportunity in this initiative. Thus instead of hammering home the message for the benefit for all would-be terrorists, whether nominal or fanatical Muslims, acting alone or as a group, that the slaughter of any innocent person of whatever religious background is not an act of jihad but one of unmitigated terrorism whose only destination is a one way ticket to hell, they bemoaned the unfair targeting of Muslims that violated their civil rights. Such targeting they argued merely reinforced the negative stereotype of Muslims and provided armamentarium for Islamophobes.
This statement from the Islamic Council of New England which has spent three decades in promoting the image of Islam and confronting negative stereotypes acknowledges the concerns expressed by several responsible Muslim leadership organizations that some of their previous experience with law enforcement and other governmental agencies had led to violations of their civil rights. These included the unauthorized surveillance of Muslim premises, spying on mosques, luring informants from the Muslim communities, acting as agent provocateurs, and using entrapment as a means of conviction. Such perceived malfeasance led some to the decision to walk away from ongoing dialogue despite the fact that such interactive partnerships, with caveats, such as the implementation of the ‘Samaritan clause’, amongst others, could enhance the already established genuine mutual trust, respect and cooperation that exist in Massachusetts.
That Muslims need such a partnership is underscored by the fact that they are marginalized and demonized in our society. Apart from being viewed by the majority of fellow citizens with some degree of suspicion or unease if not considered a fifth column, Muslims are constantly demonized by professional Islamophobes, politicians, antagonistic religious leaders from various faith communities, members of the armed forces and even law enforcement agents. Every time some token Muslim in any part of the world with little or no understanding of Islam commits an act of ‘terror’ all Muslims in the US are tarred with a collective guilt and expected to explain the heinous act over which they have no control and which betrays the fundamental values of Islam. The more recent escalation in tensions against Muslims in this country has been generated by the acts of psychopaths in Europe and the psychotic actions of Isis. The current trial of the Boston marathon suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev rips open raw wounds in those horribly victimized and subconsciously turns the spotlight once more on the benighted Muslim community.
At a time when respect for the President of the USA is at an all-time low with virtually undisguised racism prompting comments such as ‘he does not love our country’, what measure of respect, tolerance, or sympathy can Muslims expect from a citizenry already programed to view Muslims as potential terrorists? To the extent that they even refuse to cooperate with its government to ‘counter violent extremism’ in a bid to ensure the security of all of its people, how self-serving can they get? It is ironic that for his tireless efforts to explain to ordinary American citizens what Islam is and what it is not, President Obama is on the one hand denigrated by racist bigots as a ‘closet’ Muslim with relatives in Isis, while through their preoccupation with the ‘protection’ of their ‘civil rights’, those Muslim groups who are critical of the President’s deployment of a government sponsored CVE, pull the rug from under the feet of about the only protagonist they have in government!
The claim that those guilty of conducting greater and more frequent acts of homegrown terror than Muslims and yet are not subjected to humiliating ‘inquisitions’ is a valid argument. But given the ‘reality of the situation’ these monstrous killers (such as Wade Page, Jared Loughner, Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Anders Breivik and the latest Craig Hicks), are less ‘misunderstood’ and considered less of a threat than that posed by the ‘global terror network of Muslims’. If the government fails to go after ‘lone mentally deranged gunmen’ who then wreak mayhem, the problem is not one that directly impugns the reputation or safety of Muslims. If the government fails to foil an act of terror by a Muslim, especially if Muslim participation could have helped abort any planned violence, one can only expect an intensification of Islamophobia. Thus walking away from meaningful dialogue because of the fear that our civil rights are being eroded is not the way to overcome Islamophobia. Rather than obsessing about the insidious erosion of our ‘civil rights’, Muslims should focus on the more immediate risk of being blind-sided by the overwhelming tsunami of Islamophobia.
Muslims are in a sinking ship caught between the competing forces of erosion of civil rights and the destructiveness of Islamophobia. If they attempt to jump ship by refusing to cooperate with the government for the common good of all, regardless as to how other groups who are not viewed by the general public with such suspicion and malice choose to respond, Muslims will rightly or wrongly be held accountable for any terror wrought by a Muslim terrorist. On the other hand if such an atrocity should occur and Muslims are visibly and positively seen and reported to be supporting the government in its efforts to thwart terrorist actions by participating in a CVE program, the repercussions on the Muslim community will hopefully be more muted. Such a course correction may allow Muslims to navigate through both the riptide of civil rights erosion as well as the devastating tsunami of Islamophobia.
For these reasons those of us in the Boston Muslim community who deeply believe in engaging in all aspects of our communities’ welfare and security will not walk away from the table on which ‘Countering Extremist Violence’ is on the menu! We prefer to dine with colleagues rather than be the main course for Islamophobes! As leaders of the Muslim community we have delegated our representatives to commit to serve on the CVE Committee as equal partners in a joint venture to keep our citizens and our country free from violence and the extremism that promotes such action.
Abdul Cader Asmal, Contact and Co-Chairman of Communications | firstname.lastname@example.org
Mazen Duwaji, Executive Director
Islamic Council of New England