Donald Trump’s “ban all Muslims” policy proposal is despicable, vile, contemptible, bigoted, and would be unconstitutional, to say the least. It is also dangerous and feeds Islamophobia, as many have pointed out.
But it may be most dangerous just because it makes President Obama seem so reasonable.
During his Oval Office address on Sunday evening, the President sanctimoniously told us to “reject proposals that Muslim Americans should be treated differently.” But then he went on to hold the diverse American Muslim community responsible for the thoughts of other people who happen to also be Muslim, saying it “is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization.”
Agreed that this doesn’t seem to come close to the Trump level of bigotry, but Mr. Obama is the President, and has at his command the vast surveillance-repression-industrial complex, which is being aimed at people who share some characteristics with some people who commit acts of terrorism.
One of the problematic programs to come out of the Obama White House is Countering Violent Extremism. Officially, CVE brings together law enforcement with “a wide range of social service providers including education administrators, mental health professionals, and religious leaders to provide more robust support and help facilitate community-led interventions,” according to Department of Justice spokesperson Marc Raimondi. Who could object? CVE looks like a softer, more gentle counterterrorism program, but in reality it targets whole communities based on the actions (or potential actions) of a very few, and it deputizes teachers, social workers, neighbors, and other community members to act as thought police for the FBI and DHS.
History shows that the outreach programs that form the core of many CVE efforts have frequently been subverted into intelligence gathering operations. Most recently, the FBI announced a plan for establishing “Shared Responsibility Committees,” comprised of community leaders and FBI representatives. Through the SRCs, community leaders would be tasked with meeting with youth identified by the FBI as potentially radical, speaking with their mental healthcare providers or other “mentors,” and reporting back to the FBI. Arab and Muslim groups who represent communities most impacted by these programs have raised serious concerns about this initiative, including that it would “institutionalize an informant system.” A similar Montgomery County, Maryland CVE program that has been touted by the White House as a national model was described by local police officers as an intelligence tool.
The program is gaining support in Congress, and a bill (HR 2899) has been introduced to establish an Office for Countering Violent Extremism within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with an annual $10 million budget, and headed by a new Assistant Secretary. This would institutionalize an unproven program that poses serious risks to the freedom of speech, religion, and association enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
Yesterday, we learned that the text of HR 2899 will be attached to the House omnibus bill (a must-pass spending bill), which will prevent any debate about the merits of the CVE program. Last week dozens of civil society groups, including BORDC/DDF, signed a letter opposing this move.