Islamism to become focus of anti-extremist program under Trump
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Islamism to become focus of anti-extremist program under Trump

Some experts concerned that rebranding the Countering Violent Extremism service will alienate US Muslims

President Donald Trump, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, speaking at the Homeland Security Department in Washington, January 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Donald Trump, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, speaking at the Homeland Security Department in Washington, January 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The Trump administration wants to re-purpose a US government program that counters violent ideologies to have it focus solely on Islamist extremism.

The Countering Violent Extremism program is to be re-christened “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism,” sources told Reuters on Thursday.

Violent ideologies have been blamed for a June 2015 white supremacist’s deadly shooting at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, and for Islamist extremist shootings and bombings in California, Florida, and New York. With the focus on Islamic terrorism, white supremacists would no longer be covered by the service.

The current program aims to use community partnership programs and educational programs to counter extremist ideology, as well as working with Google and Facebook to counter online propaganda.

Some feel that by solely targeting Islamic extremists the program will alienate America’s three million-strong Muslim community, the report said.

“That is concerning for us because they are targeting a faith group and casting it under a net of suspicion,” said Hoda Hawa, director of policy for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, who was informed by Department of Homeland Security that the CVE will focus its attention on Islamic extremism.

In 2016, Congress allocated some $10 million in grants for CVE efforts and the Department of Homeland Security awarded the first of the grants on January 13, just before Trump’s inauguration.

In this Thursday, June 18, 2015 file photo, mourners pass by a make-shift memorial on the sidewalk in front of the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting by white supremacist Dylann Roof in Charleston, South Carolina. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, File)
In this Thursday, June 18, 2015 file photo, mourners pass by a make-shift memorial on the sidewalk in front of the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting by white supremacist Dylann Roof in Charleston, South Carolina. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, File)

Shifting the CVE focus on to Islamic extremism would fall in line with the November 2016 recommendations of experts led by ex-CIA chief Leon Panetta and former British premier Tony Blair.

While the United States has laid out billions in the armed fight against al-Qaeda, the Islamic State group and others, it sorely lacks a coordinated effort for the “long war” of preventing their ideology from affecting Muslim youth at home, they said.

They said the White House needs to appoint a new presidential assistant with a $1 billion-a-year budget to coordinate and fund efforts across the country to stop radicalization.

Current spending on such programs, according to a new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies on how to fight extremism, is just 0.1 percent of the country’s counterterrorism budget.

“It is time for the US government and its allies to go all-in to prevent the radicalization and recruitment of a whole new generation,” the report said.

“There’s no question that we ought to be spending more on this war of ideas,” said Panetta, who along with Blair co-chaired the commission responsible for the report.

“A billion dollars would be significant.”

The report highlighted the way extremism can ferment in schools, mosques and online, and said the threat has not receded even as IS is being pushed back on the Iraq battlefield.

“At the end of 2016, the threat is getting bigger,” said Farah Pandith, a member of CSIS’s Commission on Countering Violent Extremism.

She stressed the focus has to be on Muslim youth connected through social media, drawing on a wide range of resources, from community organizations to social media providers.

Everyone from technology and entertainment companies to religious and community leaders should be systematically recruited “to compete with and overtake extremists’ narratives in virtual and real spaces,” the report said.

“It is the responsibility of all citizens to rebut extremists’ ideas, wherever they are gaining traction.”

But it also stressed the need not to engage in religious oppression and to protect Muslim communities from attacks by non-Muslims.

The report was completed before Trump won the presidential election.

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