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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The Gray Zone and the Clash of Barbarisms

Recent attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, California have led to some unduly assessments of terrorist threats faced by Western societies. British Home Secretary Theresa May was quick to label Islamist militancy the greatest terrorist threat in British history. Referring to the Islamic State, former US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel confessed to Foreign Policy that he believed the United States was “up against something … we had never seen before.” US Senator Lindsey Graham was much more apocalyptic, telling an interviewer that the Islamic State “will open the gates of hell to spill out on the world.”

That these exaggerated appraisals have become common among politicians is unfortunately no surprise given the irrational fear of terrorism prevalent in the West. Each new attack serves only to compound this fear and leaves even less room for sober analysis. Politicians attempt to outdo each other with hawkish proposals to defeat one or other extremist group and an accurate diagnosis of the problem falls to the wayside.

Jason Burke’s book The New Threat: The Past, Present, and Future of Islamic Militancy is a welcome antidote to contemporary hysteria about terrorism as well as an insightful account of the history and evolution of Islamist militancy. Throughout the past decade and a half, Burke has remained an indispensable guide to various strands of political Islam and what he now characterizes as the “monumentally misconceived” War on Terror. His previous books Al-Qaeda and The 9/11 Wars are essential readings for anyone wishing to understand the nature of al-Qaeda and the foundering responses to Islamist militancy which exacerbated the very problems they were supposed to solve. In his new book, Burke turns his focus to the threat Islamist extremism poses to the West.

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The Chapel Hill Murders

10897956_503582333113071_8859037425654407539_nViolence against Muslims is not an exceptional event in this country. It is the norm. The triple homicide in Chapel Hill is no outlier. It is only the most recent and brutal manifestation of the pervasive Islamophobia in this country. Michelle Golberg, writing for The Nation blog, captures some of this:

According to the latest FBI statistics, there were more than 160 anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2013. Mosques and Islamic centers have been firebombed and vandalized; seven mosques were attacked during Ramadan alone in 2012. Several Muslims, or people thought to be Muslim, have been murdered or viciously attacked. In 2010, a white college student and self-described patriot tried to slash the throat of Bangladeshi cab driver Ahmed Sharif. The white supremacist who slaughtered six people in a Sikh temple in 2012 may have thought he was targeting Muslims. So, apparently, did Erika Menendez, the homeless New Yorker who pushed a man named Sunando Sen in front of a subway train that same year.

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Racist or French? The Charlie Hebdo Quiz

Since the attack on Charlie Hebdo a few writers have offered to explain the uniquely French context of the magazine. Voltaire and Diderot are invoked, as is the spirit of May ’68. Those who think the cartoons are racist simply do not understand the French political context, the argument goes. Charlie Hebdo follows a distinctly French tradition of anti-clericalism and laïcité, as is evident by its far-left and anti-authoritarian history. While they may appear racist to those outside of France the cartoons in fact lampoon racism. I have explained my own misgivings with Charlie Hebdo in a previous post (also worth reading is this 2013 letter from a former Charlie Hebdo staffer). Here I merely want to see if the enviable history volunteered by those explicating Charlie Hebdo‘s cartoons has any bearing on its obvious racism.

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