White House Counterradicalization Strategy: Don't Demonize Muslims

The White House released its strategy for countering violent extremism today, and while the use of that particular phrase may provoke howls of "political correctness" from conservatives, the strategy identifies "al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents represent the preeminent terrorist threat to our country." The strategy also emphasizes the importance of local actors in resisting and identifying extremism, and contains an implicit rebuke to Republicans singling out the Muslim community as being full of potential subversives:

This type of violent extremism is a complicated challenge for the United States, not only because of the threat of attacks, but also because of its potential to divide us. Groups and individuals supporting al-Qa’ida’s vision are attempting to lure Americans to terrorism in order to create support networks and facilitate attack planning, but this also has potential to create a backlash against Muslim Americans. Such a backlash would feed al-Qa’ida’s propaganda that our country is anti-Muslim and at war against Islam, handing our enemies a strategic victory by turning our communities against one another; eroding our shared sense of identity as Americans; feeding terrorist recruitment abroad; and threatening our fundamental values of religious freedom and pluralism. Violent extremists prey on the disenchantment and alienation that discrimination creates, and they have a vested interest in anti-Muslim sentiment. It is for this reason that our security—preventing radicalization that leads to violence—is inextricably linked to our values: the protection of civil rights and civil liberties and the promotion of an inclusive society.

The strategy gets even more explicit later:

But we must remember that just as our words and deeds can either fuel or counter violent ideologies abroad, so too can they here at home. 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, reinforce violent extremist propaganda and feed the sense of disenchantment and disenfranchisement that may spur violent extremist radicalization.

Representative Peter King probably won't like that.

The strategy articulates much of what we've already heard from the administration's public statements on counterterrorism, but it's also in and of itself part of the strategy. While the paper is only 12 pages long, the administration's strategy could be summed up even more concisely: Tapping mosques, executing stings, and talking nice. The administration has preserved the Bush-era investigative guidelines allowing agents to investigate targets on the basis of religion -- even relaxing the standards for documenting such surveillance, making it more difficult for abuses to come to light. It has been extremely effective in its use of sting operations to facilitate prosecutions of potential terrorists -- and while likely legal, a few raise questions about whether or not individuals would have engaged in such behavior absent encouragement from informants. The aggressive counterterrorism approach taken by the Obama administration has been coupled with a public relations effort to ensure that American Muslims don't feel like they're under siege. 

I doubt the administration sees any contradictions in speaking softly and swinging a big stick. Despite criticism from Muslim and civil-rights groups, Muslim Americans nevertheless remain among Obama's most steadfast supporters, despite having gone for Bush in 2000. While it might be tempting to fully dismiss the administration's inclusive rhetoric as a smokescreen, what they're saying is that rhetoric is an important part of their counter-radicalization strategy.

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