By Nabihah Maqbool and Sirine Shebaya | Muslim Advocates
In the eight years since the Obama Administration first pushed forward an untested counterterrorism program called Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), millions of dollars have been spent on the program with little to show for it, and the Trump Administration has carried CVE forward in a way that reinforces its worst features. Despite that, many in the national security community continue to believe in its basic premise and have argued that CVE’s key failing is simply a lack of evaluation. But that assumption is fundamentally flawed. No amount of monitoring and evaluation will solve the deep and thoroughgoing problems with CVE.
From the start, CVE has suffered from several critical flaws. First, it has focused almost exclusively on Muslim communities. Instead of resulting in genuine community engagement, it has reinforced the highly dubious assumption that Muslims are predisposed to violence and require specific interventions that other groups do not. It has therefore resulted in stigmatizing young people from Muslim communities as especially worthy of suspicion. The program continues to rely on religious stereotypes, for example by falsely identifying Muslims who choose to grow a beard as adhering to extreme religious ideologies. And Trump has made explicit that in his view, the program in fact should focus exclusively on Muslims. This view has been borne out by the CVE grants his administration has given, which now explicitly target minority groups—despite the fact that most acts of mass violence in the United States are carried out by white perpetrators. Thus, rather than building community goodwill, CVE programs have only increased the sense among Muslim communities that they are unfairly singled out and targeted by counterterrorism programs.
Second, most if not all CVE programs have included, as a key component, increased law enforcement surveillance of Muslim (and sometimes other immigrant or minority) groups. Targeted communities have therefore rightly seen them, not as assistance, but rather as coercive mechanisms for over-policing and over-criminalizing Muslims. They have been perceived, not as a new approach, but as an extension of a criminal justice system that already mistreats and discriminates against Muslims.
Compounding this problem, CVE programs have not been responsive to community input and have failed to address or incorporate insights and critiques from civil rights and civil liberties groups. And in more than seven years of implementation, CVE programs remain thoroughly lacking in any evidence of their necessity or effectiveness. Muslim Advocates continues to pursue public records requests in locations across the United States to help shine a light on the operations of this program, and has yet to uncover any evidence that it actually works.
In light of these flaws, more evaluation—or any other measures that further institutionalize the same approach—are unlikely to remedy the inherently problematic nature of the CVE program. Instead of spending more dollars to measure the effectiveness of CVE, it should be winded down for good.
Nabihah Maqbool is a legal fellow at Muslim Advocates. Sirine Shebaya is the interim legal director at Muslim Advocates.