TIM 24 Hour Debate – CVE

June 27, 2015 12:50 am1 commentViews: 869

The following is a Live Online Debate.

Updates to the debate will be made daily.  Like us on twitter for the most up to date information as this debate continues @islamicmonthly

UPDATES: (all times in USA EST)

7/6/15 4:46pm Sahar Aziz posts a rebuttal.  Granted by Noah Feldman

7/6/15 6:08am Salam Al-Marayati responds

7/3/15 10:54am Noah Feldman poses a question. Response time extended in light of July 4th holiday.

7/2/15 5:27pm Salam Al-Marayati responds

7/2/15 9:52am Sahar Aziz responds

7/1/15 8:00pm Noah Feldman poses a question to both debaters 

7/1/15 2:30pm Sahar Aziz response posted

7/1/15 11:20am Salam Al-Marayati response posted

6/29/15 1:52pm Noah Feldman poses questions to both debaters

6/28/15 6:01pm Both opening statement submitted to moderator



Noah Feldman

Professor of Law, Harvard University, moderates the following conversation on the Counter Violent Extremism (CVE) program.

The Motion posed by Noah Feldman is:  Resolved that some joint government-private initiative such as a modified or improved CVE would be valuable for reducing violent extremism in the United States.



Salam Al-Marayati

President of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which focuses on policy and media that impact American Muslims, and which develops young leaders in public affairs.  He has been following US counter terrorism policy, including CVE, for over 20 years and spoke at the White House CVE Summit.


Sahar F. Aziz

Associate professor at Texas A&M School of Law, where she teaches and writes on US counterterrorism and civil rights law, including CVE.  She previously served as a Senior Policy Advisor in the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.




Both debaters, and approved by the moderator, agreed upon the following rules:


Noah Feldman poses a Motion. Motion to be sent via email.

Both parties are asked to respond. They are asked to begin their opening statement with I agree, I disagree or something else (i.e. I partially agree, etc.) followed by a 1000 word or less opening statement. Debaters have 48 hours to write and submit opening remarks.

Moderator Noah Feldman then poses questions addressed to one or both parties but all parties included on all email correspondence. Debaters have 48 hours to respond to questions, however it is strongly recommended to send responses in 24-36 hours to allow for more discussion time. Rebuttals are allowed when moderator permits. Answers, responses and rebuttals must not exceed 500 words.  All responses must be made to the live email list with all parties included.

Moderator Noah Feldman determines when the debate concludes and that both parties were given equal air time.  At this point, with prompting from the moderator, concluding remarks of 1000 words or less must be submitted within 48 hours.


  1. ALL communication via this email chain is considered LIVE and publishable.
  1. TIM will not edit the pieces aside from minor punctuation or spelling.
  1. The opening and closing statements will be sent to the TIM facilitator only so that both pieces are sent to the group at the same time.
  1. ALL subsequent responses are to be made to EVERYONE ON THE LIVE EMAIL (Moderator, TIM facilitator, two Debaters and assistant)
  1. Any piece that exceeds the word count will be cut off at that maximum word count permitted.
  1. Opening statements and closing statements need to be no more than 1000 words and due within 48 hours.
  1. NoahFeldman will pose questions to one or both parties and specify to whom with all parties always on email correspondence. Responses must be made within 48 hours and not exceed 500 words.  Content is simultaneously published online.
  1. TIM facilitator will always email and state deadline, date and word count in those responses.
  1. Rebuttals to statements made must be granted permission by moderator. If a question is posed to one debater only and the other wishes to respond he/she must ask the moderator to be offered the time to respond. Rebuttals are limited to 500 words or less.
  1. Moderator will determine when the debate is closed.  At this prompting, the debaters will be told to prepare their closing statements to be submitted within 48 hours. Closing remarks can be 1000 words or less.

Both opening and closing statements are published at the same time.


Motion: Resolved that some joint government-private initiative such as a modified or improved CVE would be valuable for reducing violent extremism in the United States.

Update: Opening Statements submitted to moderator January 28th 6:01pm

Salam Al-Marayati Opening Statement

salamI agree that some government-private initiative such as a modified or improved Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) would be valuable for reducing violent extremism in the United States, but that means overhauling the current CVE framework, not simply tweaking it.  The current CVE structure is neither a program, nor is it a policy.

CVE, as it stands currently, is a means of engaging communities, and what that engagement entails is vague.  The budget for CVE in 2016 is $15 million, compared to $2.5 billion to be spent on counter terrorism programs in the same fiscal year.  The bulk of CVE funding, which is to be disbursed by the Department of Justice (DOJ), is designated for research, training and supporting local law enforcement agencies.  So no one knows, and no one from the federal government can answer, how that funding translates into any positive CVE programing for communities.

Another major problem in CVE is that there is no coherent federal government strategy among agencies — the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center each has its own approach and engagement.  CVE is not getting support for its name, neither by those in the nonprofit sector or even by some within the federal government.  Its purported purpose is to involve communities into countering groups like ISIS and Al-Shabaab. Therein lies another legitimate critique of CVE, i.e. that it should be addressing all violent extremism including right-wing extremism, which is responsible for the highest number of fatalities in the US driven by ideological violence since 9/11.

Notwithstanding these policy weaknesses by the US government – and most government policies (involving everything from education at home to peace-making abroad) are riddled with contradictions and setbacks- we must proceed in a partnership with government allies to deal with the threat of ISIS to our communities.  Two areas we can consider are:  supporting community-led initiatives and bolstering the counter-narrative to ISIS on social media.

There is an ISIS threat directed at our communities, and we must therefore deal with this danger.  There are repeated cases of young American Muslims leaving the U.S. to join ISIS, including 25 arrests this year alone.  Parents are concerned about young Muslims being lured to join ISIS or Al-Shabaab. Communities are discussing means of preventing radicalization and asking Imams to intervene with young people who are thinking about joining ISIS. Many forums on “The Crisis of ISIS” have taken place throughout the U.S.

Community leaders are concerned about youth who suffer from an identity crisis.  Many mosques are anemic in programming that is relevant to contemporary issues.  Many youth do not find mosques relevant to their daily lives and have left the mosque and other faith-based community organizations all together.  Imams, community leaders and youth counselors are not supported in dealing with these increasing challenges. Different groups must come together to create inter- and intra-community programs that can reach all corners of our community, not just mosque-goers.

Imams and youth counselors are not supported in dealing with the increasing challenges which include a major demand for mental health support as well.  We, therefore, support the federal government’s goal of dealing with the ISIS threat, but vary on effective tactics and areas of government jurisdiction.  One necessary change in the current CVE framework is to have non-law enforcement agencies determine the allocation of resources for communities in order to  bolster counselling services and intervention programs.  The Department of Health and Human Services, not the Department of Justice, should be engaging communities on the needs for these services.

Parents, Imams and community leaders want to know how to protect their youth. ISIS and its supporters tweet 50,000-90,000 times a day on social media.  We absolutely need initiatives, whether they are independent from or supported by the government, to prevent young people from being lured into destructive behavior.   The US government can be a convener between community-based organizations and social media powerhouses like Google, YouTube, and Facebook to bolster the message from the grassroots.  At the White House CVE Summit last February, President Obama asked for communities to get involved in this battle of ideas.  He conceded that military might alone will not win the war against ISIS.  His Administration needs to do more to specify how people can get involved and in what structure.

The bottom line is we must work together to counter the ISIS narrative and its social media machine that exploits Islam to recruit young people to a cult of death.

We must engage the government to effectively deal with the ISIS threat while adhering to standards of civil liberties.  Communities have not been able to muster any counter campaigns to ISIS.  Radicalization is happening on laptops and cell phones.  The problem is ubiquitous and amorphous.  Mosques and Muslim organizations need resources, whether from private foundations or public funds, which are our tax dollars to begin with.

Sahar F. Aziz Opening Statement

saharI disagree because the proposal as stated implies four problematic assumptions.  Specifically, a government-private initiative under the rubric of countering violent extremism presumes the following: 1) Muslim American communities have superior access to relevant information than other communities in the U.S. or law enforcement; 2) Muslim communities have a unique obligation to counter terrorism more than any other racial, ethnic, or religious community in the U.S.; 3) CVE programs are disconnected from intelligence-driven, adversarial criminal law enforcement; and 4) CVE initiatives are arms-length agreements between two parties with equal power, resources, and access to information.  So long as these assumptions shape joint government-private initiatives seeking to reduce violent extremism, they will do more harm than good by not only increasing the risk of violating the civil liberties and rights of Muslims in America, but also be ineffective in reducing violent extremism.

First, CVE programs as currently articulated are founded on the assumption that the diverse Muslim communities across the country have access to information about terrorist plots or suspects unavailable to law enforcement.  Since the 9/11 attacks, this assumption has been proven false each time a terrorist suspect is charged in the U.S. For instance, the suspects in the attempted New York subway bombing in 2009, the attempted Christmas Day bombing in December 2009, the attempted Times Square bombing in May 2010, and the Boston Marathon terrorist attack in April 2013 were not trained or directed by an American mosque or religious leader.  To the contrary, they were either loners or a few individuals whose violent extremism beliefs were adopted while traveling abroad or via the internet from international sources.  According to news reports and government press releases, there was no evidence showing that American Muslim communities had knowledge about their criminal plots.

Indeed, past terrorist plots on U.S. soil by Muslim individuals are similar to the recent terrorist attack on the AME church by a White Supremacist male.  Muslims in America are no different with regard to terrorist acts committed by Muslims than whites in Charleston, South Carolina who expressed surprise and disgust at Dylan Roof’s racist terrorist act.   And yet, the government is not proposing a joint initiative with the white or Christian communities to soliciting their assistance in decreasing violence arising from White Supremacy ideology.

This leads to the second false assumption – Muslims in America are exceptional in that they have a higher or different obligation to counter violent extremism than other racial, ethnic, or religious communities with individuals who commit terrorism or other crimes.  The result is a racialization of counterterrorism where violence committed by Muslims is viewed as representative of a problem within those communities in stark contrast to violence committed by whites that is viewed as an individual disorder, not a community problem.  Thus, we must be cognizant of how CVE programs impose onto Muslim American communities an underlying racialized criminal justice that disproportionately harms other minority communities.  Until CVE initiatives are de-racialized and objectively focused on the crime rather than the identity of the criminal and his or her religious and ethnic community, it is merely a guise for deputizing well-intentioned Muslim leaders to gather intelligence on their constituents that places their civil liberties at risk.

Third, CVE programs are misleadingly portrayed as community outreach and human development projects notwithstanding that they are led by law enforcement agencies in the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.  Although social service agencies have been included in pilot CVE programs as a result of assertive community advocacy, CVE strategies and goals continue to be dominated by officials within law enforcement agencies whose training and agency mission is to combat terrorism.  Hence CVE is merely a component of an intelligence-driven, adversarial criminal justice system whose purpose is to investigate, indict, prosecute, and incarcerate.  When Muslims voluntarily and in good faith participate in CVE programs, they have no legal protections that their words, actions, and disclosed associations will not be added to intelligence databases that inform criminal investigations.  They also have no guarantees that their cooperation may inadvertently cast unwarranted suspicion on their friends, family, and associates.  Indeed, individuals participating in CVE programs may be under criminal investigations themselves.  Thus, their trust may be abused to deprive them of their liberty.  Similarly, parents who approach a government official through a CVE program to express concern about their children’s extremist views may discover they were used to prosecute and incarcerate their own children as opposed to rehabilitate them through social services.

This exposes the fourth flawed assumption with CVE programs – that the parties involved possesses equivalent power, resources, and access to information such that Muslim communities can hold government officials accountable for promises not to use CVE to violate their civil liberties.  If CVE programs are a manifestation of racialized criminal law enforcement that subordinates Muslim American communities, as I proffer in “Policing Terrorists in the Community,” then why do some Muslim communities agree to participate?  The answer paradoxically lies in leaders’ good faith attempts to shield their communities from collective blame for domestic terrorism attacks committed by Muslims.  In allying with the government, these leaders believe they can restrain government over-reaching through established relationships that over time educate government officials that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in America do not support terrorism.  This produces an unspoken quid quo pro where in order to protect their civil liberties and receive much needed social services for refugees, low income families, and new immigrants; Muslim communities must cooperate with the government on countering terrorism beyond what is expected of any other communities within America.

In the end, while noble in intention, the risks associated with joint private-government CVE initiatives dwarf the potential benefits because law enforcement’s power and access to information far outweighs that of Muslim communities with significant liberty interests at stake.


Update: 6/29/15 1:52pm Moderator poses questions

noahFor Salam: Are you concerned at all about the risk that government funding of community programs might involve the endorsement of some religious messages over others, potentially in violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution and the separation of religion and government?

For Sahar: The president and others have called Dylan Roof’s attack in Charleston terrorism. If a CVE-like program were genuinely extended to oppose violent radicalization of all kinds, including white racist and sovereigntist radicalization, and did not focus exclusively on Islamic radicalism, would that alter your view? And if so, how?


Updated 7/1/15 11:20am Salam Al-Marayati response posted

salamI agree that any government initiative on countering violent extremism, whether in partnership with communities or not, should not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.  That is exactly why a partnership is necessary: to ensure that government actors do not encroach on the sanctity of houses of worship and do not police ideology or foreign policy perspectives within the community.  There must be a division of labor, whereby government actors focus on public safety and criminal behavior, and communities focus on social and religious affairs.  Without a partnership, government will pursue both domains.

In proper policy, government funding is solely for the purpose of supporting any social benefit or preventing public harm, similar to government funding for any initiatives dealing with gang violence prevention. Government funding should be used to support social service agencies and non-profits, which in turn, would distribute relevant services and resources to communities. These organizations are better equipped to identify where there is the greatest need and would not run into problems with endorsing ideology.

In fact, government-endorsed ideology has failed to change the situation in Europe and the Middle East. In the UK, several programs have been ineffective if seen as a government-sponsored religious program.  In France, the government determines legitimate Imams for communities.  In the Middle East, the governments are the sponsors of mosques and imams. They have all been unsuccessful in lessening the influence of ISIS and other media-active groups. When government biases views and/or programs for or against any particular religion, it renders itself ineffective in pursuing its policy goals and entraps itself into the narrative that the West is at war with Islam (Middle Eastern countries being framed as puppets of the West).  Both classical Islamic law and the Bill of Rights of the Constitution demand separation of clergy and state. In this regard, the Obama and Bush administrations correctly framed the issue without religious characterizations, and in doing so denied legitimacy to groups like Al Qaeda, ISIS or Al-Shabaab.

The removal of CVE programs will do nothing to prevent violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. The problem is much deeper than an initiative.  When the United States and Western Countries deemed current “radical Islamic fundamentalism” equal in threat to Nazism and Communism of the past, it entrapped itself into fighting a religious war.  It has since attempted to rectify the problem by removing religious labeling in defining the conflict.

Properly funded and structured mentoring, civic engagement and intervention activities could empower communities to counter ISIS threats to families without violating the separation of religion and state.  We need to focus on the micro, not the macro. Families are threatened when their young people are potential prey for violent extremist recruiters.  It is the parent or the mentor or the friend who might know that an individual is going down that ramp of joining ISIS.  Our responsibility is to help them without risks of law enforcement intrusion into their family or community.


Update 7/1/15 2:30pm Sahar Aziz response posted

saharThe question assumes that a CVE program focused on white supremacist or white sovereigntist ideologies and groups is politically possible in America.  I posit that it is not because CVE is premised on a long history of racial subordination wherein racial minorities are collectively treated different than whites in our criminal justice system. Indeed, when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a report in 2009 entitled Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment the outcry from Congress and the public was swift and harsh.  House Minority Leader John Boehner called the report“Offensive and Unacceptable.”  The political backlash ultimately forced then Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to issue a public apology, rescind the report, and shrink the domestic terrorism office.  This is despitewarnings by Gary LaFree, director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism that “the greatest threat of large-scale attacks come from individuals and small groups of extremists who subscribe to radical Islamic or far right-wing ideologies.”

And yet we have not heard any demands from Congress or initiatives within the executive branch to start CVE programs in white communities that have some members who subscribe to far right-wing ideologies or Christian communities with members who subscribe to white supremacy based on their warped interpretations of the faith. Nor do we have proposals to increase social services to these communities on condition that they work with the government to counter right-wing extremism.   To the contrary, merely alluding that right-wing extremism is a serious security threat in the United State is political suicide.  The explanation lies in the sad reality that U.S. counterterrorism, like other areas of criminal law enforcement, is driven more by the racial and religious identity of the suspects than the nature and extent of the security threat.

That being said, the U.S. government should take seriously all forms of violent extremism regardless of its origins or ideological basis.  Hence the problem with CVE is not the stated objective to stop terrorism on U.S. soil.  Rather it is the securitization of an entire religious community by conditioning social services on Muslim communities’ cooperation with government on counterterrorism that often leads to pressuring law-abiding American Muslims tobecome informants against their own communities.  In doing so, the government legitimizes guilt by association and contributes toward the vilification of Islam.  Ironically, this is precisely what violent extremists who claim to be Muslim want the United States to do as this facilitates their preying on young, vulnerable youth to join their criminal organizations.

In the end, social service agencies should work with all people in need of higher quality schools, youth programs, job training, affordable mental healthcare, and other services for the purpose of building healthy, thriving, and productive communities in America – not to coopt or coerce them into securitizing their communities and perpetuate their subordination.


Update: 7/1/15 8:00pm Noah Feldman poses a question to both


You both are very clear on what doesn’t work.

But would you please each say with specificity what steps SHOULD be taken to counteract radicalization?

Please be detailed about what WOULD work or help –by anyone.



Update 7/2/15 9:52am Sahar Aziz responds

saharI assume you mean counter violent extremism because the First Amendment includes protection of free speech and expression rights of individuals who hold beliefs perceived as “radical” by the mainstream.  Thus, we should be cautious not to conflate criminal activity with political, religious, or social ideologies we may find offensive or radical, as that is often the first step toward criminalizing thought and normalizing censorship.

Countering violent extremism is part of the government’s law enforcement mission.  It is not the responsibility of Muslims in America to detect and stop such violence.  Thus, the guiding principle should be that Muslims (both collectively and individually) are as unrelated to violent extremism in the name as Islam as are whites toviolent extremism committed in the name of Christianity or white supremacy.

If Muslim communities want to take the initiative to meaningfully address social and economic problems facing youth or low-income families within their communities (which exist in many other communities) through provision of social services and community support, they are free to do so. But such initiatives should not be funded by or be related to the government’s counter terrorism work, for the reasons I stated in my previous responses.

Thus far, the government’s counterterrorism strategy appears to be focused on ensnaring vulnerable or mentally ill Muslim men in the US (an increasing number of whom are recent converts to Islam with minimal understanding of Islam) into FBI sting operations.  Putting aside the problematic civil liberties implications, thisapproach is not data driven and does not address the root cause of the terrorism located in the Middle East, not the United States.

Al Qaeda and ISIS are products of a toxic combination of Western-backed brutal dictatorships that violently created a zero sum political environment, an American occupation in Iraq that birthed ISIS, increasing poverty, and minimal investment in human development in the region.  Thus, if the U.S. is serious about preventing terrorism, CVE should be focused on developing an effective strategy to stop the rampant violence that is killing tens of thousands of Muslims and Christians in the region.

To stop attempts by foreign terrorist groups seeking to engage in terrorism on U.S. soil, law enforcement should rely on best practices that adhere to the constitution and do not violate civil rights.  This entails conducting investigations based on articulable and credible intelligence that establishes individualized suspicion of a particular individual(s) rather than assume an entire faith community is guilty.  Similarly, law enforcement should not be wasting their time creating plots that would unlikely have occurred but for their intervention.

In a legal system where law enforcement has experience, extensive resources, and broad legal authority to combat crime, the government does not need Muslim communities to counter terrorism.


Update 7/2/15 5:27pm Salam Al-Marayati responds

salamCommunities can and should be involved in the prevention of and intervention with individuals going down the path of violent extremism. The US government has a role as well, and its contribution will be addressed at the end.

The ideology of compulsion and violence that exploits Islam as the vehicle for messaging is the problem, and counteracting by empowering communities to address this phenomenon is part of the solution.  For one, those who fail to find constructive means to resolve injustices (an oppressive American foreign policy, inequity, racism and bigotry, Islamophobia, degradation of human rights, etc.), let alone a  forum to discuss them, are left with the choice of doing nothing or joining extremist groups. By opening our Muslim communities to honest conversations about issues of concern, young people can find forums to seek positive solutions to these problems, rather than being shunted or resorting only to the internet for answers.  Most radicalization takes place online and not within mosques or communities.

The disenfranchised are offered a sense of belonging in groups like ISIS. Given that many mosques lack resources and support for engagement with youth and in offering social support services, bolstering communities in this regard is an imperative.

As an additional preventative tool, our communities must play a larger role in offering counter narratives to the religiously-based messages of violent extremists. ISIS pushes an image that it represents the only legitimate Muslim community–the Caliphate.  Efforts in a counter narrative by the US government in this regard lack authenticity. Local religious scholars and Muslims actively push back against ISIS and extremist narratives on social media. See my article on the way an Islamic narrative can be used to counteract violent extremist narratives, in addition to MPAC’s video, “Injustice Cannot Defeat Injustice”. There is room for partnership with Hollywood and technology companies in Silicon Valley, like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to amplify these voices.  More importantly, projects that galvanize the grassroots and not just community leaders in this regard can deliver ISIS and other violent extremist groups a fatal blow.

Regarding intervention, teams of religious counselors, therapists, social service workers, and peers within our communities can help those who have been identified by parents, mentors or friends for ideologically supporting violent extremist groups. Resources for assistance to families and communities need to be widely available. Genuine attempts at rehabilitating these individuals, rather than incarcerating them, should be supported. Nonetheless, law enforcement should be brought in cases where real threats are posed and criminal activity is involved. More details on community-led initiatives for prevention and intervention can be found in MPAC’s Safe Spaces Initiative.

With regards to the US government, its primary role is to counter the narrative fueling the fire of extremist groups, i.e. America is at war with Islam. If the government can actively counter anti-Muslim sentiment at home, while pursuing just policies that are respectful of Muslims here and abroad, perhaps we can curb much of the major recruiting propaganda used by extremists.


Update 7/3/15 10:54am Noah Feldman poses a question

noahBoth of you have expressed serious skepticism  about any government role in preventing  radicalism from becoming violent extremism. When it comes to what might work, Salam seems to be saying something like, “empower the American Muslim community” while Sahar seems to be saying something like, “it’s not the community’s responsibility.” Number one: Does this reflect a meaningful disagreement? And number two: is either of you willing to be specific about how human beings, of any community, should be trying to reduce the likelihood of violence against  civilian victims — Muslims and non-Muslims alike — committed in the name of Islam by people who aren’t themselves directly oppressed or denied economic opportunities?


Update 7/6/15 6:08am Salam Al-Marayati responds

salamI agree with Sahar in that the Muslim community should not be held responsible for the criminal actions of a few.  Is it fair to blame Christians for the actions of white supremacists, or Jews for the actions of racist settlers in the Occupation over the Palestinian people?  What have Christian and Jewish communities done to stop their violent extremists who fuel war against defenseless Muslim populations?  The acceptance of the premise that Islam is responsible for violence amounts to scapegoating the Muslim community.

With regards to ISIS and Al Qaeda, they are not an existential threat to the United States.  In fact, their tactics are defined as “low intensity conflict” according to the US government.  If the Western world, with all its military might and financial power, cannot reduce the violence of Al Qaeda and ISIS, then how can we place the burden on a community to do any better?

I believe that resources are needed for the American Muslim community to amplify its voice against ISIS, but this support is simply the use of our tax dollars, i.e. those of the community, to bolster grassroots initiatives in countering violent extremism.  It is important for us to engage the US government in navigating a constructive course of action and policies that impact American Muslim communities.  How we engage the government is where Sahar and I have what you call a meaningful disagreement.

Terrorism thrives not by military prowess but by influencing audiences.  Terrorists are successful because we, the American public, provide them the reaction they seek.  Terrorists will be weakened when we stop reacting to them with replay after replay of their gruesome videos.

As Muslims, we are in the midst of a battle of ideas, and ISIS is a threat to the future of the Muslim world and Islam.  We are fighting terrorism in the name of Islam because it is our Islamic obligation.  We will help those who are confused about ISIS by exposing its moral bankruptcy.  We will show the light of Islam to expose the darkness of ISIS.  We will counter the cult of death by promoting the Islamic theology of life.  This effort applies to those who are not only oppressed or poor.  In fact, many terrorists in the Middle East come from middle-class, well-educated families.  It is a political struggle.

Our disadvantage is that the Muslim world, and namely the Middle East, is disintegrating into war-torn regions.  Those not infested by war either lack a strong central government or are ruled by authoritarianism.  Our fight against terrorism is in tandem with our fight against tyranny, whether sponsored by a secular group or a religious group.  The regional powers in the Middle East share an ideology of compulsion with ISIS.  Reform, therefore, is the imperative for a change in the conditions in the region to counter violent extremism effectively and to empower the mainstream here and abroad.


Update: 7/6/15 Sahar Aziz posts a rebuttal, granted by moderator

saharSalam and I agree that ISIS does not represent mainstream Islam in America, or in the broader Middle East for that matter. ISIS is a violent political movement that misappropriates religious doctrines and exploits sectarian conflicts arising from multiple complex factors.  Such factors include: a struggle for regional hegemony between Iran and Saudi Arabia, deeply entrenched resentment by Iraqi Shi’as after decades of oppression by Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship, an Iraqi Sunni population that feels under siege by the post-Saddam government, tens of thousands of unemployed and disgruntled Baathist Iraqi military personnel categorically fired after the American occupation, and a bloody proxy war in Syria exploited by the Saudis and Iranians each with their own external backers.  Furthermore, the fragile political legitimacy of most Middle Eastern regimes makes the region fertile grounds for terrorist groups – whether Al Qaeda, ISIS, or their progeny.  Hence rather than use CVE programs to scapegoat Muslims, terrorist prevention should be focused on the root political, social, and economic causes.

Most Americans are woefully unfamiliar with the Middle East, which makes them easily manipulated into supporting ill-fated, expensive, and arguably illegal wars such as the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.  Until Americans are educated about the colonial history of the Middle East, they will continue to misguidedly focus on symptoms and blame Muslims in America instead of confronting their government’s flawed foreign policies.

This is where Salam and I may have a difference of opinion – where should people of conscience (Muslim and non-Muslim alike) be spending their resources and efforts to prevent terrorist groups from thriving and preying on vulnerable Muslim youth abroad for recruitment?  Rather than attempt to persuade the U.S. Department of Justice or Homeland Security that Muslims are “good” and patriotic Americans or deputize leaders to serve as internal watchdogs at the government’s urging, the Muslim communities’ resources are better spent working with other communities to educate the American public about the underlying causes of the political volatility in the Middle East.  That includes addressing the reality that America’s foreign policy has contributed towards, though certainly is not the sole cause of, the ongoing violence through its support of dictatorships, state-sponsored torture in Guantanamo, Bagram and CIA black sites that legitimizes human rights violations, and military aid to authoritarian regimes who use the weaponry against their own people when they demand democratic reforms.

Relatedly, if the government wants to partner with Muslim communities it can start by viewing the rich ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity within Muslim American communities as an asset rather than a threat.  By hiring or consulting with Muslim Americans with the requisite expertise in shaping American foreign policy, rather than placing communities under surveillance or securitizing them through CVE programs, the government would better serve the American people – Muslim and non-Muslim alike –  in working towards creating a more stable, democratic Middle East where groups like ISIS will have no space to take root.


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  • AhmedShaikh

    Noah, when did the President call Charleston terrorism? I did not see that (not saying it did not happen, I could not find it) His FBI Director explicitly stated it was not terrorism.