Muslims With Opinions, You May Be On An FBI List

The world wouldn’t be what it is today if young inquiring minds didn’t question, challenge or think outside of mainstream dogma. But young Muslims now may be at risk of being labeled a security threat for vocalizing their opinions, according to a fairly new program set out by the  United States Department of Justice.

On September 15, 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice, in partnership with the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center are launching pilot programs all across the country to bring together community representatives, public safety officials and religious leaders from all faiths to counter violent extremism.

According to the White House, here are some of the main points of the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program that are being addressed:

  • Building awareness — Including briefings on the drivers and indicators of radicalization and recruitment to violence.
  • Countering extremist narratives — Directly addressing and countering violent extremist recruitment narratives, such as encouraging civil society-led counter narratives online.
  • Emphasizing Community-Led Intervention — Empowering community efforts to disrupt the radicalization process before an individual engages in criminal activity.

According to this program, based on certain factors such as political beliefs and/or behavior, you could pose a potential security threat and be categorized as a terrorist, and ostracized by community leaders, religious officials and public health officials based on their discretion.  Some of these individuals who are reported and “policed” by community members will then be either counseled or reported to the police, or even to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This can potentially be dangerous and discourage the youth from vocalizing their views, as well as having their views challenged. This can also limit creativity and make it difficult for kids to fully express themselves, their interests and their opinions for fear of being labeled a terrorist.

Now, I completely understand their intentions behind this program — to protect us — and if you see something suspicious, of course you should say something. What constitutes suspicion, though? Skin color? Religion? We saw what happened with Ahmed Mohamed, and I’m genuinely curious to know how his school would have reacted had the intelligent inventor been white.

I support action on being more pro-active about noticing violent behaviors and addressing them early on, but what constitutes violence? What are the parameters? Who is making this final decision? What about kids who are on psychotropic and anti-depressant drugs, who go on massive gun rampages in schools? Are they considered violent or is this only targeting brown Muslim kids? CVE completely sets us Muslims apart and creates division, it subjects us to complete suspicions and fear.

According to the White House “fact sheet” on CVE, it seems as though they want to invest in “supporting young leaders in the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, including through projects that provide youth a sense of belonging, as well as technical skills and vocational training, scholarships, opportunities for civic engagement, and leadership training.  As part of these efforts, the United States trains, mentors, and provides seed funding to young leaders, for example, who are working to counter extremists’ narratives, reintegrate former violent extremists, and promote tolerance and non-violent dispute resolution.”

It’s great that they want to help Muslim kids overseas, but I’m curious how many Muslims were consulted on this and are helping run the CVE? Are there young Muslim leaders in America being supported?

I personally believe we need to start focusing more on educating leaders within communities on the beauty of Islam and spend less time on “countering terrorism.” The constant use of the word terrorism perpetrates fear; the teachings of Islam generates love. Let’s generate some love and start focusing on the truth about Islam from our best Muslim scholars and teaching that to community leaders, instead of fear-mongering tactics on how to spot a terrorist.

Image by WFAA