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President Obama's Countering Violent Extremism Summit Divides American Muslim Activists

"Somali-American religious leaders speak about their values and their work to develop their communities #OpenCVESummit" by Twitter user @Shahed

“Somali-American religious leaders speak about their values and their work to develop their communities #OpenCVESummit” by Twitter user @Shahed

The White House is convening a massive 3-day international summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) this week, with community leaders and government officials from 60 countries. CVE is a US government policy that calls for local community and religious leaders to work with law enforcement and government agencies to fight violent extremism. 

The government policy is accused of heavily targeting Muslims in America and largely ignoring domestic right-wing extremism and other violent hate groups, while fueling Islamophobia in the country. Muslim American activists taking part in the summit have faced criticism for participating.

Canada-based Twitter user Maher Arar tweeted to his 11K followers:

Maher's bio says, “I have been called torture victim, al-Qaeda pawn, FBI agent, activist. Call me whatever you wish but let us together make the world a better place to live in.”

The summit comes days after the Center of American Progress (CAP) released an interactive document “Fear, Inc. 2.0, The Islamophobia Network’s Efforts to Manufacture Hate in America.” The report shows that since 9/11, a $57 million network of “misinformation” Islamophopic experts have helped marginalize the country's 2.6 million Muslims by advocating for discriminatory policies.

The central tenet of the Islamophobia network is that American Muslims want sharia law to supplant the US constitution. Even though the American Civil Liberties Union has labeled it a “mythical” threat that “clearly seeks to ride the recent wave of anti-Muslim bias in this country”, more than 32 states have introduced “anti-sharia” legislation, with language “cut and paste” from members of the network, according to the Center of American Progress

CAP's interactive report m,aps anti-sharia legislation in the US.

CAP's interactive report maps anti-sharia legislation bills in the US.

The CAP investigation explains how anti-Muslim hysteria has impacted ordinary American Muslims through surveillance and profiling by law enforcement agencies, and documents the rise of hate crimes, following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, and attacks similar to the recent Chapel Hill murders of 3 Muslim students.

Before the summit commenced, civil rights group Muslim Advocates said

By primarily focusing on Muslims, this summit and government CVE programs undermine the safety of all Americans, including American Muslims, who are living with the very real, well-founded fear that their neighbors may do them harm. Muslim Advocates has urged the administration to broaden the focus of the summit and is extraordinarily disappointed that it has refused to do so.

Muslim-Canadian journalist Sana Saeed, who works in the San Francisco based AJ+, critiqued the summit: 

For Muslim-America community leaders attending the summit, the outpouring of distrust on social media was counter-productive. Wajahat Ali, a Muslim-American journalist, and Haroon Moghul, a Muslim-American writer, were live tweeting from the conference:

Wajahat, also quoted American Muslim lawmaker Keith Ellison referring to the three victims of the Chapel Hill shooting:

Some Twitter users were not convinced: 

While the summit was going on, articles like “What The Atlantic Gets Dangerously Wrong About ISIS And Islam” and “Enough about Islam: Why religion is not the most useful way to understand ISIS” and were being shared by activists.

The latter article concludes: “To understand and counter ISIS’s threat and appeal, frame it properly. Identity-based extremism and millenarian apocalyptic cults provide a far more useful framework for understanding ISIS than Islam does.”

At the end of the first day of the summit, Wajahat Ali wrote this on his public Facebook page

I welcome critiques of today's CVE summit and the government's foreign policy, counter terrorism efforts and national security endeavors that have created a tremendous trust deficit with Muslim communities, both here and abroad. Law enforcement “engagement” has been often abused as surveillance in the post 9-11 climate by some local, state and federal law enforcement agencies: NYPD spying, mosque crawlers, community rakers, shady GPS devices attached to cars, and on and on. [..]

To all who observe this for the past two decades, this reeks of hypocrisy; it betrays the best of our America values, erodes our civil liberties and gives credence to extremist messaging that indeed “The West is at War with Islam.” The feeling of “security” gained by depriving liberties of those who are often the most marginalized is illusory and self-defeating.

But, violent extremists – especially abroad – do exist, and their victims are mostly Muslims. The ones who die at the hands of ISIS and pick up guns to fight the scourge of ISIS are Muslims.

There are numerous problems that exist. Whether we like it or not, the government is going to move forward with CVE and CT measures. Does it suck? Yes, it sucks. That doesn't mean you accept it wholesale, but you have to accept that this is the current and forseeable [sic] reality. […]

You don't have to agree, and it's perfectly legitimate to be frustrated by the polarizing rhetoric, self-defeating policies, myopic strategies and some troubling actors. But know it'd be a lot worse if people didn't participate and act in their respective capacities.

Better to be a participant than spectator.

Our work building bridges across cultures, languages and perspectives is more urgent than ever before.

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