Testifying before Homeland Security: Identify the enemy

Testifying before Homeland Security: Identify the enemy
Comment: Sahar Aziz's testimony before the US House of Representatives on the government's 'Countering Violent Extremism' programmes, lays bare a deeply flawed approach.
4 min read
26 Sep, 2016
The government's 'Countering Violent Extremism' Programme is ineffective and baseless, writes Aziz [Getty]
On September 22 2016, I testified before the US House of Representatives about the US government's "Countering Violent Extremism" (CVE) programmes. I argued that CVE is fatally flawed for at least four reasons.

First, CVE programmes are counterproductive as they feed into Daesh's narrative that America is at war with Islam; second, CVE programmes are unnecessary; third, they are a waste of government resources; and fourth, funds for community development and resilience programmes should be administered by social service agencies without law enforcement control.

National security is a priority that crosses partisan lines. Americans of all races, ethnicities and religions are equally concerned with ensuring our country is safe from violence - whether politically motivated terrorism, state violence, or violent crime. Furthermore, we all share an interest in preventing violence before it occurs.

To that end, as citizens and elected officials we have a responsibility to carefully examine whether the methods we are using to prevent terrorism are effective.

The Obama administration's CVE programmes are managed and funded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). And as a result, they securitise government-community relations such that Muslims are perceived and engaged with primarily through a security lens.

Muslim Americans are potential terrorists first, and citizens second.

Such securitised treatment of an entire religious community is counterproductive. CVE programmes signal to the public that Muslims warrant collective suspicion. According to a December 2015 Gallup poll, 43 percent of Americans harbour prejudice toward Muslims.
Muslim Americans are potential terrorists first, and citizens second
These biases have contributed towards an alarming spike in anti-Muslim discrimination and hate crimes. Among the most troubling trends is the bullying of Muslim students.
In 2016, a survey in California of more than 600 Muslim American students in middle and high school found that 55 percent reported being bullied or discriminated against, twice the number of students nationally who reported being bullied.

Additionally, a report by California State University found that anti-Muslim hate crimes increased 78 percent in 2015 at 196, compared to 110 hate crimes in 2014.
Watch Sahar Aziz's testimony before the US House of Representatives at 1:49

International terrorists point to discrimination and selective government targeting of Muslims in their recruiting efforts to gain followers and sympathy for their perverse political agenda. Daesh in particular relies on marginalisation and alienation to fuel its narrative that America is at war with Islam.

Moreover, CVE programmes are unnecessary for preserving American national security. Muslims - like other Americans - do not need a special programme for them to be good Samaritans who report suspicious criminal activity about which they have knowledge.

A 2016 Duke University report found that Muslim communities across the country have a positive relationship with their local police or express a willingness to engage with police departments based on principles of fairness and equal treatment.

According to the New America Foundation, approximately 60 percent of terrorism plots have been prevented due to traditional investigative methods, including approximately 18 percent by initial tips from Muslim communities without the need for costly and counterproductive CVE programmes.

CVE is also a waste of resources because Muslim Americans know less about potential plots by individuals acting alone, in secret, and online than law enforcement agencies with a sophisticated array of investigative tools at their disposal.
Resources should be managed by agencies whose missions are to develop communities
For example, the Boston Marathon bombing, Orlando and San Bernadino mass shootings, and attempted Times Square bombing were all perpetrated by individuals whose families and friends were as shocked to discover their illicit acts as any other American.

Finally, the tens of millions of dollars spent on CVE programmes are better spent on programmes administered by social service agencies with the expertise to assist the multitude of American communities in need of job training, mental health services, refugee resettlement, youth programmes, and other services that promote safe and healthy communities.

Resources should be managed by agencies whose missions are to develop communities, not prosecute and incarcerate individuals based on religious and ethnic stereotypes.

Muslim Americans have made significant contributions to our society and economy as doctors, teachers, engineers, politicians and entrepreneurs. They deserve to be treated with the same dignity, equality and presumption of innocence as all other citizens.

A video of the full testimony is available here (starting at 1:49) and the text Policing Terrorists in the Community was published in the Harvard National Security Journal.

Sahar Aziz is associate professor at Texas A&M University School of Law and nonresident fellow at Brookings Doha
Center. Prior to joining Texas A&M, she served as a Senior Policy Advisor for the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the US Department of Homeland Security and an associate at Cohen Milstein Sellers and Toll PLLP in Washington, D.C. where she litigated class action civil rights lawsuits. Follow her on Twitter: @saharazizlaw

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.