Transcending Borders to Combat CVE

Cedar Riverside protest against CVE

Cedar Riverside, credit Burhan Mohamud/

In Britain, the PREVENT counter-extremism programme is now being challenged academically and practically to the point that voices within the mainstream political spectrum are calling for it to be scrapped.

However, despite this policy failure, beyond Britain and in countries like Australia and the Unites States of America, the ideology of PREVENT is spreading like a virus.


There have been developments in Australia, where counter extremism policies are maintaining the discriminatory targeting of the Muslim minority.  Australia is looking to ramp up its counter-extremism measures, both in a hard and soft capacity.  The Australian measures will include the strongly-lambasted control orders to be used on individuals whom have not been convicted of a crime. Further those “high-risk extremists” whom have been convicted of a crime and have completed their prison sentence may be indefinitely detained. In other words, the rule of law is being decimated by disproportionate, authoritarian measures which will most likely be used majoritarily against Muslims.

At the soft end of counter terrorism is Australia’s developing counter-extremism strategy, which has been formed by what the Guardian, rather naively, describes as “an independent, multilateral centre devoted to countering violent extremism.”

The centre is called Hedaya.

As detailed in a previous blog, the Abu Dhabi-based Hedaya Center was born from the Global Counterterrorism Forum on Countering Violent Extremism led by the UK and UAE. The UK clearly set the focus of the global CVE agenda as “a battle of ideas”, whilst the neoconservative, pro-Israel Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) also influenced it. ISD’s late Board of Trustees President, George Weidenfeld was the key influencer of Michael Gove’s bible on Muslim securitisation and neoconservativism, Celsius 7/7. For the benefit of my Australian readers, Weidenfeld was a Zionist who had not scruples co-signing a pro-Zionist petition which stated that, “Israeli land concessions, will never bring peace”. It further utilised distinctly neoconservative, culturalist argument, underpinned by a supremacist assumption that Arabs are culturally violent:

“Only a cultural revolution in the Arab world can achieve [peace].”

Amongst the list of first signatures are neocon extremists like war-mongering Norman Podhoretz, Michael Ledeen, and the Zionist Nina Rosenwald, financier of the multimillion dollar Islam-hating industry. To rubber stamp the collection of anti-Muslim bigotry, the petition is published by the vitriolic neoconservative outfit Gatestone Institute.

Gove is an anti-Muslim zealous neoconservative who has supported the securitisation of Islamic attire and social justice campaigning. I have profiled his vile, violent views derived from his book in a four part series here.

Hedaya is not quite the “independent” organisation it is being made out to be.

Pertinently, as per the rule of law, any policy or law should be equally applicable to all members of the public. The UN Forum on Minorities, in its recommendations on religious minorities explicitly states that those law enforcement officials who religiously profile should be punished. It further adds that,

“They should ensure that religious profiling, in particular in the context of anti-terrorism measures, is actually prohibited by law.”

Australia’s state-sponsored CVE policy (countering violent extremism) is wholly focussed on Islam, Muslims and how the faith and its followers can be dominated through the exploitation of trusted relationships (like families) and institutions by pushing the neo-imperial policy. Whilst making the usual disclaimers that there is “no set path to radicalisation”, the actual guide only focuses on “counter-narratives” – implicitly making ideology and its refutation the thrust of its response. Though highlighting “real or perceived” grievances, it brushes them aside in its solution by focussing on refuting ideological “narratives” via localised “counter-narratives”. A prime example of this is identifying western military operations as a radicalising “push factor”.  The solution would be remove the push factor altogether.  However, the guide simply notes that “Western military might not be the most effective messenger for that particular target group.” (p.4) In other words, propaganda should be deployed by actors other than the military.

This notion is further reinforced in the “tip” it offers to prospective states looking to implement CVE. It advises that governments military operations and counter-terrorism can have “significant meaning in terms of reinforcing or changing the counter-narrative”, and therefore they should assess this impact on their counter-narratives (p.22-3). Again, the elephant in the room, the western violent interference or draconian counter-terrorism measures are not the problem; it’s about how states can best spin the problem away.

Predictably, the guide also advises tampering with the private sphere of religion. For instance, it encourages reconstituting the Islamic concept of Jihad by limiting it to the “inner” struggle only – a concept which traditionally entails disparate manifestations from purification of the soul (the “inner” struggle), to self-defence and protecting the family, to removing injustices and speaking the truth to tyrannical power. The end result is that a pliant Islam which is acceptable to the state is to be forged, with those falling outside this ambit of acceptable beliefs, rendered discriminatorily “extremist”.

Australia’s formulation carries all trademark problems of CVE. However, the perception seems to be that resistance efforts to CVE are still in their inception phase.

In comparison, the US has seen resistance and criticism flowing from all directions.


In the US, the FBI’s counter-extremism model based on Britain’s approach. Social service workers, teachers, mental health professionals, religious figures, and others intercept young people they believe are on a path toward “radicalisation”.

Academics and activists, however, are active in resisting CVE, and have a history of doing so.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University has a multitude of resource material (some dated from 2007) explicating the problems, both conceptual and practical, of CVE. It also provides a myth-busting fact-sheet aimed at debunking the typical arguments made in favour of the project.

Academic examples in the US context are many too.  For instance, Sahar Aziz, Associate Professor at Texas A&M University School of Law, recently shared on Twitter an academic paper she authored in 2014 titled “Policing Terrorists in the Community”.  In her scathing critique on CVE she concluded that,

“Unlike community policing employed in inner city communities and developed in response to ineffective paramilitary policing models, CCP [Counterterrorism Community Policing] keeps intact the preventive counterterrorism paradigm that adopts the military counterinsurgency tactics of counter-radicalization and domestic criminal justice priorities of surveillance, investigation, and prosecution. In contrast to traditional community policing where citizens seek the protection of local law enforcement from third-party drug dealers, gangsters, and other criminal elements, Muslim communities engage with federal law enforcement to dissuade them from violating their collective rights. And as they beseech their government to respect their civil liberties, Muslims must also seek the protection of law enforcement against private acts of violence and discrimination. For many Muslims, the government may come across as more foe than friend.”

In July, two professors of psychology, Dr. J Wesley Boyd of Harvard University and Dr. Alice LoCicero, asserted that CVE programmes were “at best misguided, and at worst, vicious.”

Muslim civil society is also active in challenging CVE.

Founded in 2014 by four Muslim women, the Boston-based Muslim Justice League is strongly campaigning against CVE. The organisation believes that the agenda has inflicted “serious harms on Muslim communities”. It opposes CVE because, it argues, the programmes

  • Foment suspicion and fragment Muslim communities into “Good Muslims” and “Bad Muslims,”
  • Interfere with marginalized communities’ access to health care and education, by worsening bullying of Muslim students and eroding confidentiality in health services,
  • Endanger rights that are essential in free societies — including the rights to share and receive information, dissent, and worship as one chooses, and
  • May undermine attempts to hold states accountable for human rights abuses and counterproductive violence.

The website leverages UK organisations (Institute for Race Relations, CAGE and National Union of Students) in its fight against the discriminatory policy, demonstrating the shared problems Muslim minorities are facing in the West.

Youth: #cmenotcve

In Britain, Muslim youth have been thoroughly exploited to deliver CVE objectives.

In stark contrast, the Muslim youth movement in the US has been actively challenging CVE.

In February the hashtag see me not CVE (#cmenotcve) established the go to place on Twitter for those who wished to follow the impact of CVE on Somali Muslim youth in Minnesota. Youth-led events have been organised to highlight the stigmatizing effects of being viewed through the security lens with even films being proposed to publicise the impact. In July, a youth-led event sponsored by Young Muslim Collective and Minnesotans Against Islamophobia sought to provide information about CVE, specifically declaring the policy within the ambit of Islamophobia.

When the Muslim youth of Cedar, Minnesota discovered earlier this month that Somali rapper Keinan Abdi Warsame was working with HBO to produce a show about Somali Muslims in the context of countering violent extremism, they took to the streets to protest against both the rapper, the negative stereotypes being carved by the media and the dominant themes of CVE. As expected, the police sought to suppress the protest. According to one Twitter user present at the protest, the Minneapolis police were “throwing around small, black women and ripping off hijabs”.

Imams and breach of Confidence

The discussion on the involvement of Imams in the CVE context has also come under the spotlight.  Recent interventions on the topic should invite concern among Islamic scholars and Imams both here in Britain and in other Western states whom have been co-opted into Muslim targeting and brainwashing projects (ImamsOnline is one project which I have already previously discussed here on the blog).

Imam Dawud Walid, the Executive Director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, wrote recently that Imams collaborating with CVE “were in effect de facto deputized to be involved in soft counter-terrorism work by reporting suspicious activities to their counterparts in law enforcement as well as provide information about the community.” They were in other words, “being courted to play the role of adding to the obtuse intelligence gathering efforts”. CVE, not content with rupturing public, professional and even familial trust relationships, is also breaching the confidence between the Ulama and Muslims.

In yet another article, Canadian scholar Mohamed Ghilan emphatically stated,

“Engaging in CVE programs is playing by the rules of the oppressor. A seat at a table that serves a three-course meal starting with isolation, followed by emasculation, before finally getting a dessert plate of subjugation is not something to aspire towards.”

The eloquently argued positions of the Imams should be a cause for Imams and Ulama here in Britain and in Australia to reanalyse their positions with CVE projects. The Muslims are in need of scholars who are a means of protecting the Muslims from such persecutory policies, not act as conduits and propaganda mouthpieces for them.

Concluding Remarks

Whilst PREVENT is nearing its final throes of death here in Britain, the underpinning theories and ideas are spreading globally.  This is something activists challenging CVE in Europe, the US and Australia must realise – it is already a failed policy with calls being made in Britain for it to be completely scrapped.

Like the juggernaut of colonialism, the later era of human rights, the paradigm of securitisation through CVE is the latest iteration of Western imperial domination of ideas and thoughts. From CVE conferences in Malaysia to UN resolutions on CVE, the internationalisation of a failed policy is rapidly subordinating domestic and international political, educational, civil society and religious institutions to its ideological cause. Those neocon-enablers who have been crucial in driving CVE in Britain now frequent the US and publish anti-Islam outpourings in the Daily Beast. Of late, their focus has shifted on Australia.

The responses against counter-extremism strategies here in Britain have been sophisticated and effective to a degree.  However, Muslim youth in the US are campaigning and publically protesting against the agenda. This is something which has yet to be mirrored here in Britain.  Similarly, public discussions among scholars about PREVENT has been all but muted perhaps for fear of being labelled “extremist” and subsequently lynched in the media.  Yet in America, the strategy is being openly dismantled by Imams and scholars. These are developments which need start occurring amongst the British and Australian Muslim minorities. The above responses and campaigns provide examples for what can be achieved by academics, civil society and the public both young and old.

Resources and knowledge are already being cross-pollinated by some organisations across the Atlantic.  CVE is a global problem. It needs a global response. What is now required is the transcending of borders and active networking between Muslim minorities in Britain (and more broadly Europe), the US, and Australia with the aim of formally internationalising the effort to combat CVE.

This needs to happen now.

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