On Friday, March 20, representatives of the Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA), the Muslim Student Association of the West Coast Region (MSA West) and the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC) hosted a town hall meeting to discuss the federal government’s countering violent extremism (CVE) program.
Held at the Islamic Society of Orange County (ISOC) in Garden Grove, the town hall gave local community members a chance to better understand the grave concerns many have raised about the program’s framework.
CAIR-LA Public Affairs Coordinator Haroon Manjlai began the discussion by explaining how the government-led CVE program is ill-conceived, ineffective and most significantly, stigmatizing of the American Muslim community. Manjlai spoke about the selective nature of the program and described that government engagement with American Muslims from a CVE standpoint sets Muslim communities apart as inherently suspect.
"The best approach to accomplish the goals of any countering violent extremism program is to build trust and treat the community as a partner, not as a collection of potential suspects," said Manjlai. “The narrow scope of CVE not only defines relationships with the American Muslim community based on a security lens, but fails to address the lack of trust Muslim Americans feel towards federal law enforcement agencies, as well as root causes of terrorism.”
Manjlai also noted the consensus of the majority of Muslim institutions and other civil rights organizations across the state in expressing their concern that countering extremism programs which only focus on Muslim communities ignores the real threat of extremists in other communities such as radical white supremacists, while increasing negative public sentiment toward American Muslims as a whole.
He also noted that CAIR recently issued a brief on the White House’s CVE initiative.
MSA West president Ahmed Abdelgany, who represents Muslim student leaders at a national level, spoke to how the framing of CVE fuels anti-Muslim sentiment. He talked about a recent increase of threats and hate crimes against young Muslim Americans, referencing the most recent national tragedy of the Chapel Hill Shootings in which three young visibly Muslim students were killed.
“We are concerned about the reinforcement that CVE provides to the stereotypes that Muslims are security threats, as well as the climate of fear the surveillance program will create, especially amongst Muslim youth,” said Abdelgany. “We firmly stand in opposition to the Countering Violent Extremism programs to ensure that our American Muslim community is not mistreated and that our youth are able to live their lives free from fear of surveillance, racial and religious profiling, and as strong, active members of their communities."
Margari Hill, the co-founder and programming director of MuslimARC, detailed the different forms of racism including interpersonal and institutional racism, drawing on past racially-discriminated communities and how they were discriminated against at an institutional level.
She went into detail about how notable Black-American figures such as MLK and Malcolm X and members of the Selma march were considered hate groups and heavily surveilled by government agencies during their time. She tied in the similarities seen today with Islam and Muslims in American noting how the narrative and framework of national security is embedded in Islamophobia.
Hill went on to address how community members can empower themselves to counter this narrative to combat Islamophobia at an interpersonal and institutional level. Four key tools she mentioned in order to highlight the true narratives of the American Muslim community are to:
1) build coalitions
2) engage with the media
3) educate others about the teachings of Islam
4) engage in civic participation.
Attendees broke out into small groups to process ideas on the four key tools she mentioned and later reconvened to share their findings with everyone.
Participants expressed that they felt more knowledgeable about the problematic framework of CVE and more empowered on how to counter anti-Muslim framing on different levels to educate others about the true teachings of Islam and Muslims.
CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
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CONTACT: CAIR-LA Communications Coordinator Ojaala Ahmad, 714.776.1847 or firstname.lastname@example.org