TIM Debate — CVE

TIM Debate — CVE

The following was a Live Online Debate.

Updates to the debate were made daily.

UPDATES: (all times in USA EST)

7/13/15 7:55pm Salam Al-Marayati closing statement made

7/13/15 7:52pm Sahar Aziz closing statement made 

7/11/15 6:23pm Sahar Aziz responds to Salam Al-Marayati question

7/10/15 3:56pm Salam Al-Marayati responds to Sahar Aziz question

7/9/15 4:28pm and 6:23pm both debaters post their questions to each other

7/9/15 11:23am Noah Feldman allows debaters to pose questions to each other

7/6/15 4:46pm Sahar Aziz posts a rebuttal.  Granted by Noah Feldman

7/6/15 6:08am Salam Al-Marayati responds

7/3/15 10:54am Noah Feldman poses a question. Response time extended in light of July 4th holiday.

7/2/15 5:27pm Salam Al-Marayati responds

7/2/15 9:52am Sahar Aziz responds

7/1/15 8:00pm Noah Feldman poses a question to both debaters 

7/1/15 2:30pm Sahar Aziz response posted

7/1/15 11:20am Salam Al-Marayati response posted

6/29/15 1:52pm Noah Feldman poses questions to both debaters

6/28/15 6:01pm Both opening statement submitted to moderator



Noah Feldman

Professor of Law, Harvard University, moderates the following conversation on the Counter Violent Extremism (CVE) program.

The Motion posed by Noah Feldman is:  Resolved that some joint government-private initiative such as a modified or improved CVE would be valuable for reducing violent extremism in the United States.



Salam Al-Marayati

President of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which focuses on policy and media that impact American Muslims, and which develops young leaders in public affairs.  He has been following US counter terrorism policy, including CVE, for over 20 years and spoke at the White House CVE Summit.


Sahar F. Aziz

Associate professor at Texas A&M School of Law, where she teaches and writes on US counterterrorism and civil rights law, including CVE.  She previously served as a Senior Policy Advisor in the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.




Both debaters, and approved by the moderator, agreed upon the following rules:


Noah Feldman poses a Motion. Motion to be sent via email.

Both parties are asked to respond. They are asked to begin their opening statement with I agree, I disagree or something else (i.e. I partially agree, etc.) followed by a 1000 word or less opening statement. Debaters have 48 hours to write and submit opening remarks.

Moderator Noah Feldman then poses questions addressed to one or both parties but all parties included on all email correspondence. Debaters have 48 hours to respond to questions, however it is strongly recommended to send responses in 24-36 hours to allow for more discussion time. Rebuttals are allowed when moderator permits. Answers, responses and rebuttals must not exceed 500 words.  All responses must be made to the live email list with all parties included.

Moderator Noah Feldman determines when the debate concludes and that both parties were given equal air time.  At this point, with prompting from the moderator, concluding remarks of 1000 words or less must be submitted within 48 hours.


  1. ALL communication via this email chain is considered LIVE and publishable.
  1. TIM will not edit the pieces aside from minor punctuation or spelling.
  1. The opening and closing statements will be sent to the TIM facilitator only so that both pieces are sent to the group at the same time.
  1. ALL subsequent responses are to be made to EVERYONE ON THE LIVE EMAIL (Moderator, TIM facilitator, two Debaters and assistant)
  1. Any piece that exceeds the word count will be cut off at that maximum word count permitted.
  1. Opening statements and closing statements need to be no more than 1000 words and due within 48 hours.
  1. NoahFeldman will pose questions to one or both parties and specify to whom with all parties always on email correspondence. Responses must be made within 48 hours and not exceed 500 words.  Content is simultaneously published online.
  1. TIM facilitator will always email and state deadline, date and word count in those responses.
  1. Rebuttals to statements made must be granted permission by moderator. If a question is posed to one debater only and the other wishes to respond he/she must ask the moderator to be offered the time to respond. Rebuttals are limited to 500 words or less.
  1. Moderator will determine when the debate is closed.  At this prompting, the debaters will be told to prepare their closing statements to be submitted within 48 hours. Closing remarks can be 1000 words or less.

Both opening and closing statements are published at the same time.


Motion: Resolved that some joint government-private initiative such as a modified or improved CVE would be valuable for reducing violent extremism in the United States.

Update: Opening Statements submitted to moderator January 28th 6:01pm

Salam Al-Marayati Opening Statement

salamI agree that some government-private initiative such as a modified or improved Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) would be valuable for reducing violent extremism in the United States, but that means overhauling the current CVE framework, not simply tweaking it.  The current CVE structure is neither a program, nor is it a policy.

CVE, as it stands currently, is a means of engaging communities, and what that engagement entails is vague.  The budget for CVE in 2016 is $15 million, compared to $2.5 billion to be spent on counter terrorism programs in the same fiscal year.  The bulk of CVE funding, which is to be disbursed by the Department of Justice (DOJ), is designated for research, training and supporting local law enforcement agencies.  So no one knows, and no one from the federal government can answer, how that funding translates into any positive CVE programing for communities.

Another major problem in CVE is that there is no coherent federal government strategy among agencies — the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center each has its own approach and engagement.  CVE is not getting support for its name, neither by those in the nonprofit sector or even by some within the federal government.  Its purported purpose is to involve communities into countering groups like ISIS and Al-Shabaab. Therein lies another legitimate critique of CVE, i.e. that it should be addressing all violent extremism including right-wing extremism, which is responsible for the highest number of fatalities in the US driven by ideological violence since 9/11.

Notwithstanding these policy weaknesses by the US government – and most government policies (involving everything from education at home to peace-making abroad) are riddled with contradictions and setbacks- we must proceed in a partnership with government allies to deal with the threat of ISIS to our communities.  Two areas we can consider are:  supporting community-led initiatives and bolstering the counter-narrative to ISIS on social media.

There is an ISIS threat directed at our communities, and we must therefore deal with this danger.  There are repeated cases of young American Muslims leaving the U.S. to join ISIS, including 25 arrests this year alone.  Parents are concerned about young Muslims being lured to join ISIS or Al-Shabaab. Communities are discussing means of preventing radicalization and asking Imams to intervene with young people who are thinking about joining ISIS. Many forums on “The Crisis of ISIS” have taken place throughout the U.S.

Community leaders are concerned about youth who suffer from an identity crisis.  Many mosques are anemic in programming that is relevant to contemporary issues.  Many youth do not find mosques relevant to their daily lives and have left the mosque and other faith-based community organizations all together.  Imams, community leaders and youth counselors are not supported in dealing with these increasing challenges. Different groups must come together to create inter- and intra-community programs that can reach all corners of our community, not just mosque-goers.

Imams and youth counselors are not supported in dealing with the increasing challenges which include a major demand for mental health support as well.  We, therefore, support the federal government’s goal of dealing with the ISIS threat, but vary on effective tactics and areas of government jurisdiction.  One necessary change in the current CVE framework is to have non-law enforcement agencies determine the allocation of resources for communities in order to  bolster counselling services and intervention programs.  The Department of Health and Human Services, not the Department of Justice, should be engaging communities on the needs for these services.

Parents, Imams and community leaders want to know how to protect their youth. ISIS and its supporters tweet 50,000-90,000 times a day on social media.  We absolutely need initiatives, whether they are independent from or supported by the government, to prevent young people from being lured into destructive behavior.   The US government can be a convener between community-based organizations and social media powerhouses like Google, YouTube, and Facebook to bolster the message from the grassroots.  At the White House CVE Summit last February, President Obama asked for communities to get involved in this battle of ideas.  He conceded that military might alone will not win the war against ISIS.  His Administration needs to do more to specify how people can get involved and in what structure.

The bottom line is we must work together to counter the ISIS narrative and its social media machine that exploits Islam to recruit young people to a cult of death.

We must engage the government to effectively deal with the ISIS threat while adhering to standards of civil liberties.  Communities have not been able to muster any counter campaigns to ISIS.  Radicalization is happening on laptops and cell phones.  The problem is ubiquitous and amorphous.  Mosques and Muslim organizations need resources, whether from private foundations or public funds, which are our tax dollars to begin with.

Sahar F. Aziz Opening Statement

saharI disagree because the proposal as stated implies four problematic assumptions.  Specifically, a government-private initiative under the rubric of countering violent extremism presumes the following: 1) Muslim American communities have superior access to relevant information than other communities in the U.S. or law enforcement; 2) Muslim communities have a unique obligation to counter terrorism more than any other racial, ethnic, or religious community in the U.S.; 3) CVE programs are disconnected from intelligence-driven, adversarial criminal law enforcement; and 4) CVE initiatives are arms-length agreements between two parties with equal power, resources, and access to information.  So long as these assumptions shape joint government-private initiatives seeking to reduce violent extremism, they will do more harm than good by not only increasing the risk of violating the civil liberties and rights of Muslims in America, but also be ineffective in reducing violent extremism.

First, CVE programs as currently articulated are founded on the assumption that the diverse Muslim communities across the country have access to information about terrorist plots or suspects unavailable to law enforcement.  Since the 9/11 attacks, this assumption has been proven false each time a terrorist suspect is charged in the U.S. For instance, the suspects in the attempted New York subway bombing in 2009, the attempted Christmas Day bombing in December 2009, the attempted Times Square bombing in May 2010, and the Boston Marathon terrorist attack in April 2013 were not trained or directed by an American mosque or religious leader.  To the contrary, they were either loners or a few individuals whose violent extremism beliefs were adopted while traveling abroad or via the internet from international sources.  According to news reports and government press releases, there was no evidence showing that American Muslim communities had knowledge about their criminal plots.

Indeed, past terrorist plots on U.S. soil by Muslim individuals are similar to the recent terrorist attack on the AME church by a White Supremacist male.  Muslims in America are no different with regard to terrorist acts committed by Muslims than whites in Charleston, South Carolina who expressed surprise and disgust at Dylan Roof’s racist terrorist act.   And yet, the government is not proposing a joint initiative with the white or Christian communities to soliciting their assistance in decreasing violence arising from White Supremacy ideology.

This leads to the second false assumption – Muslims in America are exceptional in that they have a higher or different obligation to counter violent extremism than other racial, ethnic, or religious communities with individuals who commit terrorism or other crimes.  The result is a racialization of counterterrorism where violence committed by Muslims is viewed as representative of a problem within those communities in stark contrast to violence committed by whites that is viewed as an individual disorder, not a community problem.  Thus, we must be cognizant of how CVE programs impose onto Muslim American communities an underlying racialized criminal justice that disproportionately harms other minority communities.  Until CVE initiatives are de-racialized and objectively focused on the crime rather than the identity of the criminal and his or her religious and ethnic community, it is merely a guise for deputizing well-intentioned Muslim leaders to gather intelligence on their constituents that places their civil liberties at risk.

Third, CVE programs are misleadingly portrayed as community outreach and human development projects notwithstanding that they are led by law enforcement agencies in the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.  Although social service agencies have been included in pilot CVE programs as a result of assertive community advocacy, CVE strategies and goals continue to be dominated by officials within law enforcement agencies whose training and agency mission is to combat terrorism.  Hence CVE is merely a component of an intelligence-driven, adversarial criminal justice system whose purpose is to investigate, indict, prosecute, and incarcerate.  When Muslims voluntarily and in good faith participate in CVE programs, they have no legal protections that their words, actions, and disclosed associations will not be added to intelligence databases that inform criminal investigations.  They also have no guarantees that their cooperation may inadvertently cast unwarranted suspicion on their friends, family, and associates.  Indeed, individuals participating in CVE programs may be under criminal investigations themselves.  Thus, their trust may be abused to deprive them of their liberty.  Similarly, parents who approach a government official through a CVE program to express concern about their children’s extremist views may discover they were used to prosecute and incarcerate their own children as opposed to rehabilitate them through social services.

This exposes the fourth flawed assumption with CVE programs – that the parties involved possesses equivalent power, resources, and access to information such that Muslim communities can hold government officials accountable for promises not to use CVE to violate their civil liberties.  If CVE programs are a manifestation of racialized criminal law enforcement that subordinates Muslim American communities, as I proffer in “Policing Terrorists in the Community,” then why do some Muslim communities agree to participate?  The answer paradoxically lies in leaders’ good faith attempts to shield their communities from collective blame for domestic terrorism attacks committed by Muslims.  In allying with the government, these leaders believe they can restrain government over-reaching through established relationships that over time educate government officials that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in America do not support terrorism.  This produces an unspoken quid quo pro where in order to protect their civil liberties and receive much needed social services for refugees, low income families, and new immigrants; Muslim communities must cooperate with the government on countering terrorism beyond what is expected of any other communities within America.

In the end, while noble in intention, the risks associated with joint private-government CVE initiatives dwarf the potential benefits because law enforcement’s power and access to information far outweighs that of Muslim communities with significant liberty interests at stake.


Update: 6/29/15 1:52pm Moderator poses questions

noahFor Salam: Are you concerned at all about the risk that government funding of community programs might involve the endorsement of some religious messages over others, potentially in violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution and the separation of religion and government?

For Sahar: The president and others have called Dylan Roof’s attack in Charleston terrorism. If a CVE-like program were genuinely extended to oppose violent radicalization of all kinds, including white racist and sovereigntist radicalization, and did not focus exclusively on Islamic radicalism, would that alter your view? And if so, how?


Updated 7/1/15 11:20am Salam Al-Marayati response posted

salamI agree that any government initiative on countering violent extremism, whether in partnership with communities or not, should not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.  That is exactly why a partnership is necessary: to ensure that government actors do not encroach on the sanctity of houses of worship and do not police ideology or foreign policy perspectives within the community.  There must be a division of labor, whereby government actors focus on public safety and criminal behavior, and communities focus on social and religious affairs.  Without a partnership, government will pursue both domains.

In proper policy, government funding is solely for the purpose of supporting any social benefit or preventing public harm, similar to government funding for any initiatives dealing with gang violence prevention. Government funding should be used to support social service agencies and non-profits, which in turn, would distribute relevant services and resources to communities. These organizations are better equipped to identify where there is the greatest need and would not run into problems with endorsing ideology.

In fact, government-endorsed ideology has failed to change the situation in Europe and the Middle East. In the UK, several programs have been ineffective if seen as a government-sponsored religious program.  In France, the government determines legitimate Imams for communities.  In the Middle East, the governments are the sponsors of mosques and imams. They have all been unsuccessful in lessening the influence of ISIS and other media-active groups. When government biases views and/or programs for or against any particular religion, it renders itself ineffective in pursuing its policy goals and entraps itself into the narrative that the West is at war with Islam (Middle Eastern countries being framed as puppets of the West).  Both classical Islamic law and the Bill of Rights of the Constitution demand separation of clergy and state. In this regard, the Obama and Bush administrations correctly framed the issue without religious characterizations, and in doing so denied legitimacy to groups like Al Qaeda, ISIS or Al-Shabaab.

The removal of CVE programs will do nothing to prevent violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. The problem is much deeper than an initiative.  When the United States and Western Countries deemed current “radical Islamic fundamentalism” equal in threat to Nazism and Communism of the past, it entrapped itself into fighting a religious war.  It has since attempted to rectify the problem by removing religious labeling in defining the conflict.

Properly funded and structured mentoring, civic engagement and intervention activities could empower communities to counter ISIS threats to families without violating the separation of religion and state.  We need to focus on the micro, not the macro. Families are threatened when their young people are potential prey for violent extremist recruiters.  It is the parent or the mentor or the friend who might know that an individual is going down that ramp of joining ISIS.  Our responsibility is to help them without risks of law enforcement intrusion into their family or community.


Update 7/1/15 2:30pm Sahar Aziz response posted

saharThe question assumes that a CVE program focused on white supremacist or white sovereigntist ideologies and groups is politically possible in America.  I posit that it is not because CVE is premised on a long history of racial subordination wherein racial minorities are collectively treated different than whites in our criminal justice system. Indeed, when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a report in 2009 entitled Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment the outcry from Congress and the public was swift and harsh.  House Minority Leader John Boehner called the report“Offensive and Unacceptable.”  The political backlash ultimately forced then Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to issue a public apology, rescind the report, and shrink the domestic terrorism office.  This is despitewarnings by Gary LaFree, director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism that “the greatest threat of large-scale attacks come from individuals and small groups of extremists who subscribe to radical Islamic or far right-wing ideologies.”

And yet we have not heard any demands from Congress or initiatives within the executive branch to start CVE programs in white communities that have some members who subscribe to far right-wing ideologies or Christian communities with members who subscribe to white supremacy based on their warped interpretations of the faith. Nor do we have proposals to increase social services to these communities on condition that they work with the government to counter right-wing extremism.   To the contrary, merely alluding that right-wing extremism is a serious security threat in the United State is political suicide.  The explanation lies in the sad reality that U.S. counterterrorism, like other areas of criminal law enforcement, is driven more by the racial and religious identity of the suspects than the nature and extent of the security threat.

That being said, the U.S. government should take seriously all forms of violent extremism regardless of its origins or ideological basis.  Hence the problem with CVE is not the stated objective to stop terrorism on U.S. soil.  Rather it is the securitization of an entire religious community by conditioning social services on Muslim communities’ cooperation with government on counterterrorism that often leads to pressuring law-abiding American Muslims tobecome informants against their own communities.  In doing so, the government legitimizes guilt by association and contributes toward the vilification of Islam.  Ironically, this is precisely what violent extremists who claim to be Muslim want the United States to do as this facilitates their preying on young, vulnerable youth to join their criminal organizations.

In the end, social service agencies should work with all people in need of higher quality schools, youth programs, job training, affordable mental healthcare, and other services for the purpose of building healthy, thriving, and productive communities in America – not to coopt or coerce them into securitizing their communities and perpetuate their subordination.


Update: 7/1/15 8:00pm Noah Feldman poses a question to both


You both are very clear on what doesn’t work.

But would you please each say with specificity what steps SHOULD be taken to counteract radicalization?

Please be detailed about what WOULD work or help –by anyone.



Update 7/2/15 9:52am Sahar Aziz responds

saharI assume you mean counter violent extremism because the First Amendment includes protection of free speech and expression rights of individuals who hold beliefs perceived as “radical” by the mainstream.  Thus, we should be cautious not to conflate criminal activity with political, religious, or social ideologies we may find offensive or radical, as that is often the first step toward criminalizing thought and normalizing censorship.

Countering violent extremism is part of the government’s law enforcement mission.  It is not the responsibility of Muslims in America to detect and stop such violence.  Thus, the guiding principle should be that Muslims (both collectively and individually) are as unrelated to violent extremism in the name as Islam as are whites toviolent extremism committed in the name of Christianity or white supremacy.

If Muslim communities want to take the initiative to meaningfully address social and economic problems facing youth or low-income families within their communities (which exist in many other communities) through provision of social services and community support, they are free to do so. But such initiatives should not be funded by or be related to the government’s counter terrorism work, for the reasons I stated in my previous responses.

Thus far, the government’s counterterrorism strategy appears to be focused on ensnaring vulnerable or mentally ill Muslim men in the US (an increasing number of whom are recent converts to Islam with minimal understanding of Islam) into FBI sting operations.  Putting aside the problematic civil liberties implications, thisapproach is not data driven and does not address the root cause of the terrorism located in the Middle East, not the United States.

Al Qaeda and ISIS are products of a toxic combination of Western-backed brutal dictatorships that violently created a zero sum political environment, an American occupation in Iraq that birthed ISIS, increasing poverty, and minimal investment in human development in the region.  Thus, if the U.S. is serious about preventing terrorism, CVE should be focused on developing an effective strategy to stop the rampant violence that is killing tens of thousands of Muslims and Christians in the region.

To stop attempts by foreign terrorist groups seeking to engage in terrorism on U.S. soil, law enforcement should rely on best practices that adhere to the constitution and do not violate civil rights.  This entails conducting investigations based on articulable and credible intelligence that establishes individualized suspicion of a particular individual(s) rather than assume an entire faith community is guilty.  Similarly, law enforcement should not be wasting their time creating plots that would unlikely have occurred but for their intervention.

In a legal system where law enforcement has experience, extensive resources, and broad legal authority to combat crime, the government does not need Muslim communities to counter terrorism.


Update 7/2/15 5:27pm Salam Al-Marayati responds

salamCommunities can and should be involved in the prevention of and intervention with individuals going down the path of violent extremism. The US government has a role as well, and its contribution will be addressed at the end.

The ideology of compulsion and violence that exploits Islam as the vehicle for messaging is the problem, and counteracting by empowering communities to address this phenomenon is part of the solution.  For one, those who fail to find constructive means to resolve injustices (an oppressive American foreign policy, inequity, racism and bigotry, Islamophobia, degradation of human rights, etc.), let alone a  forum to discuss them, are left with the choice of doing nothing or joining extremist groups. By opening our Muslim communities to honest conversations about issues of concern, young people can find forums to seek positive solutions to these problems, rather than being shunted or resorting only to the internet for answers.  Most radicalization takes place online and not within mosques or communities.

The disenfranchised are offered a sense of belonging in groups like ISIS. Given that many mosques lack resources and support for engagement with youth and in offering social support services, bolstering communities in this regard is an imperative.

As an additional preventative tool, our communities must play a larger role in offering counter narratives to the religiously-based messages of violent extremists. ISIS pushes an image that it represents the only legitimate Muslim community–the Caliphate.  Efforts in a counter narrative by the US government in this regard lack authenticity. Local religious scholars and Muslims actively push back against ISIS and extremist narratives on social media. See my article on the way an Islamic narrative can be used to counteract violent extremist narratives, in addition to MPAC’s video, “Injustice Cannot Defeat Injustice”. There is room for partnership with Hollywood and technology companies in Silicon Valley, like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to amplify these voices.  More importantly, projects that galvanize the grassroots and not just community leaders in this regard can deliver ISIS and other violent extremist groups a fatal blow.

Regarding intervention, teams of religious counselors, therapists, social service workers, and peers within our communities can help those who have been identified by parents, mentors or friends for ideologically supporting violent extremist groups. Resources for assistance to families and communities need to be widely available. Genuine attempts at rehabilitating these individuals, rather than incarcerating them, should be supported. Nonetheless, law enforcement should be brought in cases where real threats are posed and criminal activity is involved. More details on community-led initiatives for prevention and intervention can be found in MPAC’s Safe Spaces Initiative.

With regards to the US government, its primary role is to counter the narrative fueling the fire of extremist groups, i.e. America is at war with Islam. If the government can actively counter anti-Muslim sentiment at home, while pursuing just policies that are respectful of Muslims here and abroad, perhaps we can curb much of the major recruiting propaganda used by extremists.


Update 7/3/15 10:54am Noah Feldman poses a question

noahBoth of you have expressed serious skepticism  about any government role in preventing  radicalism from becoming violent extremism. When it comes to what might work, Salam seems to be saying something like, “empower the American Muslim community” while Sahar seems to be saying something like, “it’s not the community’s responsibility.” Number one: Does this reflect a meaningful disagreement? And number two: is either of you willing to be specific about how human beings, of any community, should be trying to reduce the likelihood of violence against  civilian victims — Muslims and non-Muslims alike — committed in the name of Islam by people who aren’t themselves directly oppressed or denied economic opportunities?


Update 7/6/15 6:08am Salam Al-Marayati responds

salamI agree with Sahar in that the Muslim community should not be held responsible for the criminal actions of a few.  Is it fair to blame Christians for the actions of white supremacists, or Jews for the actions of racist settlers in the Occupation over the Palestinian people?  What have Christian and Jewish communities done to stop their violent extremists who fuel war against defenseless Muslim populations?  The acceptance of the premise that Islam is responsible for violence amounts to scapegoating the Muslim community.

With regards to ISIS and Al Qaeda, they are not an existential threat to the United States.  In fact, their tactics are defined as “low intensity conflict” according to the US government.  If the Western world, with all its military might and financial power, cannot reduce the violence of Al Qaeda and ISIS, then how can we place the burden on a community to do any better?

I believe that resources are needed for the American Muslim community to amplify its voice against ISIS, but this support is simply the use of our tax dollars, i.e. those of the community, to bolster grassroots initiatives in countering violent extremism.  It is important for us to engage the US government in navigating a constructive course of action and policies that impact American Muslim communities.  How we engage the government is where Sahar and I have what you call a meaningful disagreement.

Terrorism thrives not by military prowess but by influencing audiences.  Terrorists are successful because we, the American public, provide them the reaction they seek.  Terrorists will be weakened when we stop reacting to them with replay after replay of their gruesome videos.

As Muslims, we are in the midst of a battle of ideas, and ISIS is a threat to the future of the Muslim world and Islam.  We are fighting terrorism in the name of Islam because it is our Islamic obligation.  We will help those who are confused about ISIS by exposing its moral bankruptcy.  We will show the light of Islam to expose the darkness of ISIS.  We will counter the cult of death by promoting the Islamic theology of life.  This effort applies to those who are not only oppressed or poor.  In fact, many terrorists in the Middle East come from middle-class, well-educated families.  It is a political struggle.

Our disadvantage is that the Muslim world, and namely the Middle East, is disintegrating into war-torn regions.  Those not infested by war either lack a strong central government or are ruled by authoritarianism.  Our fight against terrorism is in tandem with our fight against tyranny, whether sponsored by a secular group or a religious group.  The regional powers in the Middle East share an ideology of compulsion with ISIS.  Reform, therefore, is the imperative for a change in the conditions in the region to counter violent extremism effectively and to empower the mainstream here and abroad.


Update: 7/6/15 Sahar Aziz posts a rebuttal, granted by moderator

saharSalam and I agree that ISIS does not represent mainstream Islam in America, or in the broader Middle East for that matter. ISIS is a violent political movement that misappropriates religious doctrines and exploits sectarian conflicts arising from multiple complex factors.  Such factors include: a struggle for regional hegemony between Iran and Saudi Arabia, deeply entrenched resentment by Iraqi Shi’as after decades of oppression by Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship, an Iraqi Sunni population that feels under siege by the post-Saddam government, tens of thousands of unemployed and disgruntled Baathist Iraqi military personnel categorically fired after the American occupation, and a bloody proxy war in Syria exploited by the Saudis and Iranians each with their own external backers.  Furthermore, the fragile political legitimacy of most Middle Eastern regimes makes the region fertile grounds for terrorist groups – whether Al Qaeda, ISIS, or their progeny.  Hence rather than use CVE programs to scapegoat Muslims, terrorist prevention should be focused on the root political, social, and economic causes.

Most Americans are woefully unfamiliar with the Middle East, which makes them easily manipulated into supporting ill-fated, expensive, and arguably illegal wars such as the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.  Until Americans are educated about the colonial history of the Middle East, they will continue to misguidedly focus on symptoms and blame Muslims in America instead of confronting their government’s flawed foreign policies.

This is where Salam and I may have a difference of opinion – where should people of conscience (Muslim and non-Muslim alike) be spending their resources and efforts to prevent terrorist groups from thriving and preying on vulnerable Muslim youth abroad for recruitment?  Rather than attempt to persuade the U.S. Department of Justice or Homeland Security that Muslims are “good” and patriotic Americans or deputize leaders to serve as internal watchdogs at the government’s urging, the Muslim communities’ resources are better spent working with other communities to educate the American public about the underlying causes of the political volatility in the Middle East.  That includes addressing the reality that America’s foreign policy has contributed towards, though certainly is not the sole cause of, the ongoing violence through its support of dictatorships, state-sponsored torture in Guantanamo, Bagram and CIA black sites that legitimizes human rights violations, and military aid to authoritarian regimes who use the weaponry against their own people when they demand democratic reforms.

Relatedly, if the government wants to partner with Muslim communities it can start by viewing the rich ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity within Muslim American communities as an asset rather than a threat.  By hiring or consulting with Muslim Americans with the requisite expertise in shaping American foreign policy, rather than placing communities under surveillance or securitizing them through CVE programs, the government would better serve the American people – Muslim and non-Muslim alike –  in working towards creating a more stable, democratic Middle East where groups like ISIS will have no space to take root.


Update 7/9/15 11:23am Noah Feldman allows for both debaters to pose questions to each other


As we near the end of this debate, I want to ask each of you to pose a question to the other that you believe would help clarify what seem like the important issues for each of you.

This could be about specifics, like the safe spaces initiative, or more generally, or on any related topic.

After the questions are asked, we will have a chance for each of you to respond to the other. Then we will move to closing statements.


Update 7/9/15 4:28pm Salam Al-Marayati posts his question to Sahar Aziz

salamMy question is:

We both recognize the important role foreign policy blunders play in the rise of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, but the correction of our foreign policy is a long-term solution.

What do we do in the meanwhile, i.e. what are your short-term solutions to protect our communities against real cases of the threat of terrorist recruitment by ISIS-type groups?


Update 7/9/15 6:43pm Sahar Aziz posts her question to Salam Al-Marayati

saharMy question is:

While we both agree that Muslim communities deserve to be thriving, healthy communities particularly with regard to addressing unique problems associated with youth whether drugs, truancy, or attempted recruitment by foreign terrorist groups; how do you prevent (or address after the fact) government abuse of the communities’ trust in working with law enforcement through surveillance, stealth intelligence gathering, selective immigration enforcement, chilling of dissent, and the like that is facilitated by public-private CVE programs?


Update 7/10/15 3:56pm Salam Al-Marayati responds to Sahar Aziz question

salamWe deal with heavy-handed law enforcement tactics in five ways:

1) We call the ACLU or civil rights lawyers on specific cases.

2) We as MPAC engage with government branches, both legislative and executive, on policies that lead to abuse of power and we advocate for changes to those policies.

3) We seek to mobilize our communities to vote and advocate on policies that lead to abuse of power and we advocate for changes to those policies.

4) We raise awareness with the American public about these violations as an affront to American values and as being counterproductive to any effective means of attaining security.

5) We develop coalitions with other Americans who work for restorative justice.

While about 100 of us met with Vice President Joe Biden for 90 minutes at the White House, civil rights concerns were raised.  We believe that being at the table advocating for principles is one effective means of achieving change.  You may think that litigation and public outcry are the best ways, and that’s your prerogative, but it’s not the only means available to our community.

You are dismissive of the recruitment threat posed to our community.  We cannot blame bad US policy as the only cause of religious extremism facing our community.  Decapitations, bombing mosques, and the Boston Marathon attack didn’t happen just because of bad US policy.  We need to take leadership as active participants in the removal of this cancerous cult of death.

Your characterization of those who engage the US government is divisive and misleading.  Calling them “deputized leaders” is as defamatory as it is speculative.  This is simply a more polite form of other slanderous labels being used such as “House Muslims” and “Uncle Toms.”  Name-calling is a cop out from dealing with complex issues that need serious strategic and collaborative thinking.

There are those who decide on constructive engagement while others take a more adversarial posture and tone.  We want to engage our government and the American public in meaningful dialogue.  Engagement does not equate to endorsement. We want to pursue problem-solving.  We aim to redress grievances, not simply regurgitate problems at every opportunity.

The government’s use of the term violent extremism is due in part to MPAC’s work– right after 9/11 we met with the government to make sure Islam is not associated with terrorism.  That’s an achievement for the community and society.   That’s not something to be ashamed of.

There are those in our nation who look at government with a sense of victimhood and those who do so with a sense of ownership.  We choose the latter.  Others can stew in the bitterness of the former.

We know of the problems in US policy.  We also know that there are many allies within the government who want to see change.  Working with them and those within the American public committed to justice helps in the betterment of society and attains rights for our community.  We prefer to coalesce with others who take different approaches.


Update 7/11/15 6:23pm Sahar Aziz responds to Salam Al-Marayati question

saharSeeking to stop foreign groups’ attempts to recruit Muslims in America does not resolve the underlying terrorism problem, but merely mitigates the consequences.  Recognizing this fact allows us to confront terrorist recruitment wide-eyed and not disillusioned that Muslim communities can eliminate the phenomena.

That said, three key factors should inform the communities’ responses to cases of terrorist recruitment in the US: 1) responses should be commensurate with the scale of the problem; 2) the opportunity costs of community resources and time of other projects that do more to empower Muslim communities should be considered; and 3) Muslim Americans’ influence in government counterterrorism is determined more by the communities’ political power and ability to defend their legal rights than their leaders’ willingness to cooperate with government on the government’s terms.

Data shows the scale of the problem of so-called “jihadi” terrorism is overblown by the media and government officials. New America issued a report in June 2015 finding that “since September 2001 nearly twice as many people were killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and another non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims,” with the former having killed 48 people and the latter having killed 26 people on U.S. soil.  As a result, 74% of 382 police and sheriff’s departments surveyed nationwide ranked antigovernment violence as the biggest threat from violent extremism while 39% ranked Al-Qaeda inspired violent terrorism as the biggest threat.  New America counted 495 cases of violent extremism from September 2001 to June 2015, which pales in comparison to the over 100,000 murders committed from firearms in just six years from 2001-2007.  That the attention paid to Muslim CVE programs is degrees more than the severity of the problem further evinces the political and racialized, rather than public safety, factors that animate CVE programs.

Thus, Muslim communities’ limited resources should not be drained by a government-dictated agenda that diverts resources away from other projects that empower Muslims to defend their rights and have equal access to the vast opportunities that America provides.  In my opinion, community resources are better spent on increasing the representation of Muslim professionals working in the media, legal profession, elected office, and government so that they can be at the table as hosts not temporary guests.  Mental health services, youth programs, refugee assistance, job training, and other social services should be provided to low income Muslim families.

Finally, the mosque needs to be revamped as an inclusive community center whose agenda and governance structure is egalitarian and led by second and third generation Muslim American men and women.  So long as individuals vulnerable to terrorist recruitment are not engaged with Muslim communities and mosques (as shown by the data), Muslim-led terrorist recruitment prevention is futile. Muslim leaders would be well advised to focus on supporting families and communities to be healthy, gainfully employed, and engaged members of society while accepting that terrorism recruitment will continue so long as the U.S. government supports policies that foster rather than prevent terrorism abroad.


Closing Statements


Update 7/13/15 7:52pm Sahar Aziz closing statement made

Sahar F. Aziz Closing Statement

saharThese are trying times for Muslims in America.  Collectively blamed for the criminal acts of a handful of individuals, they must remain vigilant in protecting their civil rights and liberties.  Sandwiched between a government that prioritizes prosecution over rehabilitation and a public that views them with suspicion as a fifth column, Muslim Americans carry a heavy burden.

With over 60% of the communities composed of first generation Americans of whom 45% arrived after 1990, most Muslims in America are focused on building a future for their families and establishing the foundations of their communities.   Thus, cases of terrorism recruitment are anomalies that contradict the very reason they immigrated to the United States in the first place – in pursuit of educational and employment opportunities in a stable, democratic society.

And yet, the government continues to use fear rather than data in developing countering violent extremism programs that expects Muslims to cooperate without challenging the underlying flawed assumptions.  As I stated in my previous response, the facts simply do not support a conclusion that there is a systemic problem of successful terrorism recruitment among Muslims in America despite efforts by groups like ISIS.  And the more that Muslim communities address internal social problems that empower youth and families to be civically engaged and empowered, the lower the probability that attempted terrorist recruitment will succeed.

Internal community empowerment efforts should not include law enforcement or be driven by a CVE agenda.  Indeed, CVE programs impede the communities’ ability to create public spaces for discussion and engagement about ISIS, the political situation in the Middle East, American foreign policy, theological disputes, and the use of violence to achieve change. Because certain religious or political views may be deemed markers of pre-terrorism that warrant reporting to law enforcement; community members will be less rather than more willing to confront any terrorism recruitment that may arise.  Furthermore, community members will minimize their interaction with each other and mosques from fear of entrapment.

Meanwhile, CVE programs focused primarily on Muslims legitimize and exacerbate the public’s prejudice towards Muslims.  As Americans observe their government officials warn of an ominous Islamic threat or Islamic homegrown terrorism, their biases rise.  A decade after the 9/11 attacks, a Pew Research Center (PRC) poll found the public’s favorable rating of Islam sank from 40% in November 2001 to 30% in 2010.  That same month, a Time magazine poll found “[t]wenty-eight percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for President….”  PRC also found in November 2010 that 45% of Americans agreed that Islam is at odds with American values.  All of this is a logical consequence of the media’s disproportionately negative portrayals of Islam as compared to other religions that do not receive the same degree of coverage, much less negative portrayals.

According to an Arab American Institute Poll in 2014, 42% of Americans agreed that it is justifiable for law enforcement to profile Arab Americans or American Muslims.  Similarly, only 27% of Americans had favorable views of Muslims in 2014 compared to 35% in 2010.   This is in stark contrast to favorable views of other religions.  For instance, the new America Trends survey in 2014 found that “when asked to rate each group on a ‘feeling thermometer’ ranging from 0 to 100 – where 0 reflects the coldest, most negative possible rating and 100 the warmest, most positive rating –“ Jews, Catholics and evangelical Christians received an average rating of 60 or higher whereas 41% of the public rates Muslims in the coldest part of the thermometer (33 or below).

Such persistent prejudice more than a decade after the September 11th attacks is also due to the media’s disproportionately negative portrayals of Islam as compared to other religions.  For example, a survey by Media Tenorfound “that two-thirds of the television coverage [from 2007-2008] about Islam associates Muslims with extremism.”  Unsurprisingly, the negative views and media coverage contribute towards discrimination in the workplace, vandalization of mosques, and hate crimes. Hence Muslim communities’ resources are stretched thin working towards building a foundation for the future while defending themselves against attacks that threaten their progress.

In my opinion, CVE programs are not only a diversion of community resources needed to address the pernicious prejudices, but also are part of an adversarial, prosecutorial counterterrorism strategy that places little value in the collective civil liberties of Muslims.  If Muslims want to shield themselves from government over-reaching in counterterrorism or seek to shape the strategy to make it more effective, they should set the agenda based on data and the interests of the community.  Just as law enforcement prioritizes prosecution and seeks to maximize convictions, Muslim leaders should prioritize defending their communities’ civil liberties over appearing uncooperative or disagreeable.  The life and liberty stakes are too high to fall for lofty government rhetoric that mischaracterizes the nature of the relationship and misrepresents the real objective of CVE – to prosecute not to rehabilitate.


Update 7/13/15 7:55pm Salam Al-Marayati closing statement made

Salam Al-Marayati Closing Statement

salamSahar Aziz and I agree more than we disagree on government CVE policy.  We see its flaws and the danger of a securitized relationship with the American Muslim community.  The difference between our two perspectives is that I believe the work for both civil rights/healthy communities and prevention/intervention of terrorist recruitment is not mutually exclusive.  More importantly, there is no single answer to the challenges facing our community in the post 9/11 era.

The President stated at the White House Summit on CVE that the government cannot arrest its way out of this problem.  The community must make the same conclusion.  Today another arrest was made of a young man in Boston suspected of joining ISIS.  Instead of another arrest, could there have been intervention and rehabilitation of the young man?  That’s a question for all of us to answer.   We cannot avoid the issue by pointing to critiques of law enforcement.  I believe we have a moral obligation to help someone if we have the means, regardless of political circumstances.  Therefore, community-led initiatives and countering the ISIS narrative on social media are critical components to CVE that must be taken into consideration by community-based organizations.

Those who are falling prey to terrorist recruitment in the US are doing so on their laptops and cell phones, not in mosques.  But that shouldn’t stop us from trying to reach out to those who know anyone confused and is being lured into the ISIS propaganda machinery, which is significant and threatening our families.  Those who need our help are the parents and the friends and the mentors of someone falling prey to ISIS propaganda.  In other words, people need to know a trusted group they can turn to and resources they can utilize.

Nuanced conversations are critical in the incremental gains for our community.  For example, at the White House Ramadan iftaar last month, young people engaged the President on broadening CVE to include white supremacists and not single out Muslim extremism as the only CVE problem area.  Last week, the President made remarks at the Pentagon indicating a shift in his thinking and argued to include domestic hate groups in CVE. (President’s Statement)

Another important change necessary for a more effective CVE policy is to allow people to look into cases of extremism without inviting government scrutiny and surveillance on their activities.  If the government is serious in asking communities for help, then safe harbors must be guaranteed to us for reaching out to troubled youth, to intervene and rehabilitate them.

We need a change on our side as well and learn to work together, both civil rights groups and community-based organizations.  That is why we, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, signed on to a letter with the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School and other civil rights groups addressed to Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX).  He is holding a hearing this week on The Rise of Radicalization. McCaul is sponsoring HR 2899 which aims to create a CVE office in DHS to be run by an Assistant Secretary of DHS.  The Republican congressman’s bill is institutionalizing racial profiling by incorporating “risk factors” into CVE policy.  Radicalization theories are based on a false premise of predicting who can become a terrorist.  There is no predictor.  Hence, government will look into non-criminal behavior such as religiosity or foreign policy views to falsely identify terrorism suspects.  It will amount to racial profiling and a waste of tax dollars.  We signed on to the letter initiated by the Brennan Center opposing the bill even though we do not agree 100% with the coalition letter, which criticizes every aspect of CVE.

Unless we provide alternatives to current legislation on CVE and political exploitation of post 9/11 hysteria, this type of neo-McCarthysm will go unchallenged.  A positive case in point is how our work with LA County Sheriff Lee Baca and the Muslim American Homeland Security Congress worked to counter Congressman Peter King’s 2011 hearing on radicalization in mosques, another false theory.   It was Sheriff Baca who debunked King’s myth by demonstrating how American Muslims are part of the solution to people’s fears about terrorism and not part of the problem in terrorism.  Without the Muslim American Homeland Security Congress, that opportunity to expose King’s fear-mongering would have only been wishful thinking.

We must achieve permanent institutional presence in the discourse on homeland security that achieves both civil rights and security. If we cannot engage the Obama Administration on this issue, we will find it more difficult to engage future Administrations.  If we are not involved in the discussions at the table of decision-making, we will only be in reactionary mode which will make the uphill battle steeper.

I don’t believe it is useful to argue over who are legitimate representatives of the community.  No one is claiming to represent all American Muslims.  As the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) reportedly defined leadership, “The servant of his people is their leader.”  Anyone who serves is a leader.  It’s time for leaders to work together rather than squabble over who is or isn’t a representative leader.

To be fully integrated into civic affairs of our country means to accept what is on the minds of the American people.  ISIS is on their minds.  Many associate ISIS with Islam.  Unless we are immersed in the civic culture, and not just telling people that they don’t know what they’re talking about, then we are taking ourselves out form being integrated to being isolated.  That will alienate future generations of Muslims.  Our task is to accept the challenge and provide solutions.

The Quran states:  Good and evil are not equal.  Repel evil with that which is good and better.  Then the one with whom there is enmity will become close to you, a true friend.  (41:34)

Our opportunity is to match our social and economic integration into American life with full immersion into America’s civic culture.  Rather than only explaining what we are not, we can define who we are.


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