Privacy SOS

Countering whose violent extremism?

Less than 6% of domestic terrorist attacks are perpetrated by Muslims, according to the FBI. Nonetheless, the White House this week held a three day conference to launch its “countering violent extremism” program, which despite administration denials appears to focus exclusively on Muslims and Muslim communities. Boston was one of three cities including Los Angeles and Minneapolis chosen as pilot sites for the program.

The ACLU and ACLU of Massachusetts have criticized the so-called CVE initiative as potentially discriminatory and a threat to civil liberties and rights. By targeting Muslims—a community that has now experienced more than a decade of unrelenting FBI harassment and intimidation—law enforcement threatens to further strain relations between American Muslims and the police, thereby also endangering public safety.

Muslims nationwide are speaking out against CVE, too. Yusufi Vali, executive director of Boston’s largest mosque, wrote a scathing dissent of the program, arguing it is

founded on the premise that your faith determines your propensity towards violence. It clearly appears that the CVE initiative is exclusively targeting the American-Muslim community, in spite of the best efforts of the local US attorney to redefine it expansively…

For the government to offer us services based on concerns of violent extremism in our community – as implied by this framework – seems to reinforce the same stereotype that society holds of American-Muslims: that they or Islam are inherently violent. This is unacceptable to our Boston-Muslim community.

It’s unacceptable, and as the FBI’s own statistics about domestic terrorism show, it’s also completely false. Despite surround-sound media and law enforcement obsession with the supposedly grave threat posed by “homegrown” Muslim extremists, the majority of domestic terrorist attacks are perpetrated by white supremacists and other right-wing, non-Muslim actors.

That’s just one reason why the CVE program is ill-fitting as a public safety initiative. Making matters worse, the White House’s plan sends a dangerous message to the general public at a time when racist threats and attacks against American Muslims have been steadily increasing in number after the horrific shooting of three Chapel Hill Muslims in early February. Unfortunately, the government’s focus on Muslims as deserving of special suspicion and scrutiny likely exacerbates this crisis. That begs the question: Whose extremism is really the issue here?

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.