Efforts to Counter Violent Extremism Questioned As Obama Administration Issues Funding

Last year, the White House hosted a three-day summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) to bring together federal, local, and global leaders from the public and private sectors, and non-profit world to discuss strategies to counter extremist ideologies that radicalize young people, and potentially make them vulnerable to terrorist recruiters.

The Obama Administration focused on three programs to aid its efforts:

  • Building awareness—including briefings on the drivers and indicators of radicalization and recruitment to violence;
  • Countering extremist narratives—directly addressing and countering violent extremist recruitment narratives, such as encouraging civil society-led counter narratives online; and
  • Emphasizing Community Led Intervention—empowering community efforts to disrupt the radicalization process before an individual engages in criminal activity.

To further its support of local community groups working to reduce the number of youths vulnerable to radicalization by terror groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS), Somali-based al-Shabaab, and al-Qaeda, the Obama Administration announced last week the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Grant Program, a $10 million fund administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). “As I have said before, given the nature of the evolving terrorist threat, building bridges to local communities is as important as any of our other homeland security missions,” said DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson. “This new grant program is an important step forward in these efforts and reflects the Department’s continued commitment to protect the homeland and uphold our values.” 

State, local, and tribal governments have been invited to join non-profit organizations and institutions of higher education to apply for grants under the new program. Funding from the grants will support training, community engagements, and activities that challenge violent extremist narratives used to recruit and radicalize individuals to violence. 

Critics argue that CVE and similar initiatives can do little to stop attacks. They point to the 12 June mass murder of forty-nine people in an Orlando LGBT nightclub by self-declared ISIS supporter Omar Mateen. Brookings’ Sahar Aziz points out that calling on Americans, specifically Muslim-Americans to help counter violent extremism is not enough. “An individual cannot prevent a criminal act about which s/he has no knowledge. Past cases show that Muslim leaders, or the perpetrators’ family members for that matter, do not have knowledge of planned terrorist acts.,” she wrote. Even in cases where members of a Muslim community might have knowledge of radicalization, past and on-going acts of surveillance, investigation, and discrimination from federal agencies and the general public discourage those members from reporting to or communicating with law enforcement. “Muslim youth are reminded in their daily lives that they are suspect and their religion is violent. Students are subjected to bullying at school. Mosques are vandalized in conjunction with racist messages.  Workers face harassment at work. Muslim women wearing headscarves are assaulted in public spaces,” Aziz adds.

Mohammed Malik, who once reported Orlando shooter Mateen to the FBI in 2014 after Mateen confirmed his admiration for Anwar al-Awlaki- a senior recruiter involved in planning terrorist operations for al-Qaeda-, recently noted that after his report to the FBI, “I never heard from them about Omar again, but apparently they did their job: They looked into him and, finding nothing to go on, they closed the file.”




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