Friday, August 5, 2011

Is the Obama Administration Serious about Anti-Muslim Demonization in Law Enforcement?

On August 4, 2011, the White House released a new strategy to counter violent extremism. The Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) expressed support for the plan, Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States, which must be seen as a rejection of the Senator Joe Lieberman’s (I-CT) and Rep. Peter King’s (R-NY) narrow focus on Islamic-inspired terrorism as the pre-eminent domestic threat. The administrations plan recognizes that “individuals from a broad array of communities and walks of life in the United States have been radicalized to support or commit acts of ideologically-inspired violence.”

The vagueness of the plan combined with its calls for monitoring, more policing of communities, and early intervention to stave off undefined “extremism,” may undermine civil liberties and constitutional freedoms. Plus, the strategy’s emphasis on violence inspired by ideology may do more to elevate fears of terrorism that are out of proportion with the actual threat. As Charles Kurzman reminds us this week, 15,000 people are murdered each year in the United States:

Islamic terrorism, including the Beltway sniper attacks, has accounted for almost three dozen deaths in America since 9/11—a small fraction of the violence that the country experiences every year. The toll would have been higher if the perpetrators had been more competent . . . Even so, the number of perpetrators has been relatively low. Fewer than 200 Muslim-Americans have engaged in terrorist plots over the past decade—that's out of a population of approximately two million. This constitutes a serious problem, but not nearly as grave as public concern would suggest.

But there is good news in this document. The Obama White House takes a decided stance against the fearmongering and scapegoating of Muslims that is on the rise in our political discourse, and even with domestic security and law enforcement circles.

White House Plan Cautions Against Demonizing Muslim Americans

While the White House prioritizes the threat from al-Qa’ida in this strategy, it calls on law enforcement and federal agencies to counter propaganda that the United States “is somehow at war with Islam.” The plan reminds the public once again that

the United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam. Islam is part of America, a country that cherishes the active participation of all its citizens, regardless of background and belief. We live what al-Qa’ida violently rejects – religious freedom and pluralism.

The White House calls for a paradigm of engagement with Muslim communities based on mutual respect, warning that “our words and deeds can either fuel or counter violent ideologies.”

Here, the White House rhetorically condemns any “actions and statements that cast suspicion toward entire communities, promote hatred and division, and send messages to certain Americans that they are somehow less American because of their faith or how they look.” Such actions “reinforce violent extremist propaganda and feed the sense of disenchantment and disenfranchisement that may spur violent extremist radicalization.” But so far, federal agencies have not taken decisive, official action to prevent such destructive and counter-productive messages from being promoted within the ranks of the intelligence community.

Is Law Enforcement Getting the Message?

The White House is relying on local, state, and federal law enforcement to interact with individuals and deter them from using violence. Yet groups like the International Counter Terrorism Officers Association (ICTOA) are sending divisive messages to those very same ranks. The ICTOA is a private association of law enforcement and security professionals founded by NYPD officers. The ICTOA was profiled in a recent report by Political Research Associates called Manufacturing the Muslim Menace because it belongs to a pattern of flawed and biased trainings for law enforcement.

As reported by blogger Richard Bartholomew, the upcoming Ninth Conference of the ICTOA will include Senior Intelligence Analyst William Gawthrop. Speakers like Gawthrop cast suspicion on Muslims in precisely the way the White House has condemned.

Senior Intelligence Analyst Cites "High Birthrates" as Islamic "Tool of Penetration"

A retired U.S. Army counterintelligence officer, Gawthrop once worked as program manager for the Joint Terrorism Task Force of the Defense Department’s Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA). According to the ACLU, CIFA was responsible for amassing secret databases on peaceful protest until the program was shut down in August 2008. In October, Gawthrop will be speaking to police officers, sheriffs, and intelligence analysts from around the country whose travel to the event is made possible by public tax dollars. He will present on the “Influence of the Sharia on Law Enforcement Investigations.” In a paper on the same topic, Gawthrop echoes GOP presidential candidates like Hermain Cain when he questions whether Muslim police or intelligence officers can effectively interview terrorism subjects, based on an assumed “divided loyalty.” After detailing what he described as Islamic legal prescriptions on keeping secrets and lying, Gawthrop writes,

Conflicting ideological beliefs impose an encumbrance on the believer. If the believer is also an investigator or analyst shouldering the responsibilities of an intelligence or law enforcement investigation, and he is confronted with a divided loyalty situation, it is logical that the believer may adhere to the calling of the higher authority.

(Wm. Gawthrop, “The Influence of Islamic Law on Intelligence and Law Enforcement,” The Vanguard: Journal f the Military Intelligence Corps Association, Vol. 16, No. 1 Jan 2011, p. 9-19).

In other contexts, Gawthrop’s observations on Islam are far more inflammatory. In a working draft paper on “Islam’s Tools of Penetration,” Gawthrop cites Muslim immigration and “high birthrates” as methods for Islam’s supposed conquest of the world. He writes:

  • Westerners are not able to maintain their present numbers

  • Only Poland, Ireland, Malta, and Israel have naturally growing populations.

  • Muslims have some of the most robust birth rates in the world.

  • John R. Weeks study: Countries with large numbers of Muslims have a crude birth rate of 42 per thousand.

  • Developed countries have a crude birth rate of just 13 per thousand

  • 6 children per Muslim woman, 1.7 per woman in the developed countries

(Wm. Gawthrop, “Islam’s Tools of Penetration,” Working Draft, p. 39). This birth rate motif emerges from folks who worry about the “Islamicization of Europe” and the “Demographic Winter.” The message is both fundamentally racist and white supremacist, with close ties to the neoconservative and Christian right xenophobia toward Muslims. “Demographic Winter” is a code phrase for fears among white people that they are being outbred by people of color, and is pushed by the World Congress of Families, says PRA Senior Analyst Chip Berlet.

Gawthrop also casts mosques and the services they perform for communities “as the guarantor and essence of lines of communication penetrating and consolidating Islamic footholds in unconquered tterritories.” (p. 86) Citing former Muslim turned Christian evangelist Mark Gabriel, Gawthrop characterizes mosques as “a place of worship, weapons depot, [and] military planning headquarters.” (“Tools,” p. 85)

Biased FBI Training Manual on Arab Culture and Islam

This week, we learned that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also recommended Mark Gabriel’s
Islam and Terrorism to new recruits as part of a two-day training on Arab and Islamic Culture. The ACLU obtained a 62-page PowerPoint training presentation used by the FBI to teach new recruits ways to deal with “individuals from the M.E. [Middle East] during interviews and interrogations.” The briefing provides facts about Muslims and their religion which are replete with over-generalizations and over-simplifications. The training material acknowledges that there are more than fifty-one Muslim majority countries stretching from Mali to Malaysia and Afghanistan to Algeria, it paints the Muslim or Arab world as homogeneous. On a slide called “Islam 101”, four bullet points list:

  • No separation between church and state.

  • Hard for Westerners to understand.

  • Transforms country's culture into 7th century Arabian ways.

  • Regulates most aspects of life.

On a slide entitled “Language,” one bullet point reads: “It is the characteristic of the Arabic mind to be swayed more by words than ideas and more by ideas than facts.” Wired's Danger Room blog reported on the presentation and received this statement from representatives at the FBI: “The FBI new agent population at Quantico is exposed to a diverse curriculum in many specific areas, including Islam and Muslim culture. The presentation in question was a rudimentary version used for a limited time that has since been replaced.” While the training document is no longer in use, the latest revision date listed on its first page is January 15, 2009, notes Al Jazeera coverage.

I was happy to read in the August 4, 2011 New York Times that “the administration promised to identify accurate educational materials about Islam for law enforcement officers, providing an alternative to biased and ill-informed literature in use in recent years, including by the FBI.” Clearly, there is much work to be done in rooting out hateful or divisive stereotypes about Muslims which cast suspicion on entire communities. Kevin Gosztola of Firedoglake offered this poignant critical reflection:

The strategy presents a decent foundation for addressing whatever extremism the nation should address. However, it is an utterly meaningless strategy if some of the poorest communities in America continue to be used by the FBI as a laboratory for launching entrapment schemes to catch so-called terrorists. It is purely prose if law enforcement continues to train agents or police to investigate and monitor not just crime but the religious practice and social behavior of entire communities. And, it is merely something officials in law enforcement can use to cover their ass and argue they are not targeting Muslims if Muslim Americans continue to have reason to believe their government is conducting surveillance on the mosques they pray in because of their religion.