Barack Obama’s summit on violent extremism has come under fire from conservatives who are bashing his reluctance to use the words “Islam” and “Muslim” to describe the threat from terror groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
But in his remarks at the event Wednesday, Obama sounded more concerned about mollifying Muslim Americans who feel targeted by government outreach to their communities, promising not to “securitize” the relationship. Even so, some Muslim American and civil rights leaders said much of Wednesday’s session of the White House’s three-day Countering Violent Extremism summit — which focused on the threat from domestic radicals — was based on flawed premises.
“Today’s summit confirmed that there are significant reasons for concern about [such] approaches and that none of the hard questions about protection of civil rights and privacy have yet been answered,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national security project. Shamsi, who attended Wednesday’s proceedings, said that while White House officials had listened to such concerns in private meetings, they were given little airing at the summit.
With Americans joining ISIL and Al Qaeda in Syria, and after recent domestic terror attacks in Europe and Canada, the Obama administration is on high alert for terror attacks staged from within. A plan to counter domestic radicalism launched in 2011 under the supervision of Denis McDonough, now Obama’s chief of staff, aimed to identify possible terrorists before they struck through education about risk factors and greater dialogue and trust between law enforcement and local communities. On Wednesday, Obama touted pilot programs in Boston, Los Angeles and Minneapolis-St. Paul that embody such efforts.
Many Muslim leaders protest that they are the obvious focus of the initiatives, even if they are described in the generic, non-religious terms that annoy conservatives. And they say the difficult art of discerning emerging terrorists from brooding social misfits is outweighed by the risk of civil liberties violations.
“Since Sept. 11, Muslims have been targeted and profiled, and we have created this narrative that we need to ‘watch out’ for the Muslim community,” said Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on Muslim-American Relations.
In his remarks on Wednesday, Obama took care to address such anxieties.
“I know some Muslim Americans have concerns about working with government, particularly law enforcement. And their reluctance is rooted in the objection to certain practices where Muslim Americans feel they’ve been unfairly targeted,” Obama said.
“So, in our work, we have to make sure that abuses stop, are not repeated, that we do not stigmatize entire communities. Nobody should be profiled or put under a cloud of suspicion simply because of their faith. Engagement with communities can’t be a cover for surveillance.”
Click here to read more.