Muslim Groups Block Obama’s Domestic Anti-Jihad Program

CAIR microphone (Jessica Gresko / Associated Press)
Jessica Gresko / Associated Press

An expensive federal initiative to combat jihad propaganda in American cities has failed because domestic Islamic groups say the initiative is “highly objectionable,” the Associated Press reports.

President Barack Obama insists that generic “extremism,” with no strong ties to any particular religion or ideology, is a national security threat faced by the United States.  During one especially energetic push against generic extremism in late 2014, as he was hosting a series of highly-touted “summits on global extremism,” he announced a federal initiative, with $500,000 of initial funding, to set up anti-extremism campaigns in Boston, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis, with more to come after those pilot programs were established.

The Associated Press recently published a post-mortem that found very little came of this effort, and most of the grant money remains unspent. At the very end of the article, it highlights an important reason for the failure of the effort: Islamic pressure groups, who were not fooled by all the pabulum about “generic extremism,” regard the initiative as an insult to Muslims.

The money quote comes from Haroon Manjlai, a spokesman for the Los Angeles chapter of the supposedly moderate Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR): “These programs operate under the assumption that Muslims are a national security threat. They’re highly objectionable.”

CAIR has been declared a terrorist organization by the United Arab Emirates and was named by federal prosecutors as an unindicted co-conspirator in a Hamas-funding operation. However, groups like CAIR have little trouble finding federal ears to bend, and this particular administration is strongly allergic to associating Islam with terrorism in any way.  

Discussing “extremism” without acknowledging the very particular danger of Islamic radicalization has proved extremely ineffective. It is difficult to imagine an effective counter to the recruiting efforts of groups like ISIS that does not frankly discuss the specific appeals made by those organizations, and examine why they are so horribly successful. The Islamic State woos new recruits with statements filled with invocations of the Koran, Islamic scriptures, and Islamic law. They prey on feelings of alienation from society common to young people from many cultural backgrounds, but they mix in language and ideas unique to Islam in the modern world.

The commonalities between Islamic radicalism and other forms of extremism are interesting, but the aspects unique to Islam are vital, and that is what bureaucratic posturing against “generic extremism” is missing.

The AP quotes Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the George Washington University Program on Extremism, complaining that “we’re stuck in this weird limbo,” and calling for a way to address extremism that’s “in keeping with civil rights and civil liberties concerns, but also recognizes you have families struggling that are getting no support.”

The other problem with these stalled extremism programs is that they are bureaucratic exercises, which means everyone involved is eager to claim they are making all sorts of progress, without actually being able to point at evidence of progress, beyond citing how much money they are spending.

From the AP report:

Few local programs have been directly created by the “Countering Violent Extremism” pilot initiative, with officials in those cities just starting to distribute more than $500,000 in Department of Justice grant money to jumpstart new local efforts.

Minneapolis appears to be further along, but Boston and Los Angeles are months away from distributing their share of the money — if at all.

“It’s a little frustrating,” said Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Michael Downing, whose department had been looking forward to federal support to enhance longstanding efforts that include outreach to help prevent radicalization. “We haven’t seen a dime. We’re clearly at the point where we want to put our money where our mouth is.”

Recent attacks — including in Paris in November, San Bernardino, California, in December and Brussels on Tuesday — make the local programs all the more critical, suggests Robert Trestan, who has been involved with the Boston pilot as regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, which fights anti-Semitism.

“It’s been disappointingly slow, but we have to give it a chance before it’s too late,” he said.

Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, said the agency is generally “encouraged” by what it sees from the pilot efforts, including “community-driven efforts to address youth prevention and intervention, mental and behavioral health, and radicalization in prisons, among other areas.”

He would not provide specifics or comment on the whether the department had expected local programs to be running by now.

No specifics, no timetable, no expectations, no measurable results. And yet, we are assured these “community-driven efforts” look “encouraging” in some vague way. Bureaucratic extremism is an even more persistent adversary than Islamist extremism, and considerably better-funded.