How the United States Creates Terrorists

A string of recent attacks in Paris and Orlando have led to renewed calls for surveillance of American Muslim communities from both Republican and Democratic politicians. Donald Trump wants surveillance of “certain mosques.” Ted Cruz thinks mosques are only the beginning and law enforcement should “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods.” Liberal darling Barney Frank has similarly called for “significant surveillance” of Muslims who adopt “angry Islamic hate views,” regardless of whether there is any reasonable basis to believe they pose a threat.

Such misguided calls for surveillance have recently become far more common, along with an upsurge in violence against American Muslims. They also betray a complete ignorance of the ongoing surveillance efforts against American Muslims, a luxury not afforded to those who have been on the receiving end of such untoward government attention. Various law enforcement and intelligence agencies have pursued extensive surveillance of American Muslim communities since 9/11, a project which now includes the Obama administration’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program.

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CVE Watch

I have been working with MuckRock on an investigative project around Countering Violent Extremism programs being developed and implemented around the country. Here is a brief synopsis of the project:

The programs being designed and implemented across the country under the auspices of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) have drawn fire from Muslim community members and civil rights activists. They are criticized for unfairly targeting Muslims, being used for surveillance under the pretext of community outreach, and being based on an unfounded theory of radicalization.

Despite the heavy criticism CVE has been subjected to, there remain lingering questions about precisely which communities are targeted, what research (and which experts) agencies are relying on for their approaches, how (or if) government agencies are planning to safeguard civil liberties, which community leaders are being supported and for what reasons, etc.

By making the relevant government documents public, we hope to help answer some of these questions.

You can read my introduction to CVE (and the project) here and an analysis of documents on the drafting of Boston’s CVE strategy here. The project page will be updated as I publish more stories. You can also subscribe to the blog if you want to stay updated.

National Security & Muslims

Last month, lawmakers in the state of Minnesota introduced legislation to invest $2 million in youth development schemes aimed at the state’s Somali-American population. The House minority leader Paul Thissen noted that such programs have a “positive impact” on the community and lawmakers should “continue that progress by passing this legislation.”

Around the same time, $300,000 of federal and private funding was being allocated to six groups in Minnesota working on mental health and after-school sports. This funding was also aimed at helping the state’s Somali-American population.

Such interest in the economic well-being of the state’s Somali-American population should certainly be welcomed by all. Who, after all, could possibly be against state and federal investment in local communities? Unfortunately, in this particular case, the government’s interest is less in the economic well-being of the state’s Somali-American population and more in the hope that these programs would deter its members from becoming terrorists.

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The Making of a Terrorist

Published on teleSUR as
The Surveillance State and the Making of a Terrorist

New York Times has published a lengthy profile of the Islamic State bomb-maker involved in the recent attacks in Brussels and Paris. In the latest attack in Brussels, Najim Laachraoui demoted (or promoted, depending on one’s feelings about life) himself from bomb-maker to suicide bomber, blowing himself up along with 15 bystanders. Much of the article, focusing on Laachraoui’s “radicalization,” follows the soporific pattern mainstream media outlets have by now mastered in their coverage of “homegrown” terrorists.

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Article on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE)

I have an article in Jacobin on the recent Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) summit held at the White House. It briefly traces the history of the Pakistani Taliban to look at some of the underlying causes of terrorism. An excerpt:

The problem is not that the Obama administration lacks the information to formulate an effective counter-extremism strategy that doesn’t scapegoat Muslims. The problem instead is that the most effective way to reduce the threat of terrorism is to retreat from empire.

It is no surprise that imperial wars and longstanding alliances with authoritarian states responsible for funding right-wing Islamist movements do not reduce the threat of terrorism. This holds true not just for “homegrown” terrorism but also for terrorist groups abroad. Unwilling to abandon policies that continually produce recruits for militant Islamism, the US falls back on blaming an ideology and the community which supposedly harbors it. Hence the focus on Muslims and the battle for “hearts and minds.”

Read the full article at Jacobin.

A War of Ideas: Terrorism and Ideology

For those of us who have ever felt a serious lack of hackneyed and discredited ideas in our political culture, James K. Glassman has done us all a service by writing this article in Politico. Glassman was a former chairman of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors in the George W. Bush administration and is currently a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. With his recent article, he follows an illustrious pedigree on the right that has expressed effusive praise for Obama’s war efforts against The Terrorists.

Specifically, Glassman congratulates Obama for finally appreciating the importance of “ideas” in the War on Terror (as demonstrated by the recent Counter Violent Extremism Summit) and volunteers his own expertise to help the Obama administration formulate a strategy. After all, a “war of ideas” is not like other wars, you see. It relies less on blunt force and more on delicate diplomatic manoeuvring. Fortunately, Glassman is willing to guide us through it.

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