How Your Tax Dollars Fuel the Hatred of Muslims
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AK: How exactly did the use of public dollars fund this counter-terrorism industry? How did this happen?
TC: It’s been a real challenge to trace the flow of dollars supporting access to these trainings. We tried to look at the question both from the top down and from the bottom up. When we went to federal and state officials who are responsible for monitoring how federal training dollars are spent—particularly Homeland Security grant money—curiously, these trainings did not pop up on the radar. We would file record requests with state agencies who were responsible for monitoring this, and they would come back and say, “no, we have no record that any federal dollars went to support these particular vendors.”
Then, looking at the ground up, when we asked municipal county agencies directly, “who are you sending your officers to hear?” we saw receipts for travel and registration fees to conferences where highly inflammatory and potentially dangerous messages were being shared.
The challenge remains for other investigators, for Congress, and for Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to figure out from what funds are these local agencies drawing from to send officers to these problematic conferences. We know public dollars, but we don’t necessarily know that it’s, for instance, federal grant monies, because the regime for reporting and oversight does not seem to be comprehensive enough.
AK: Place the report in the larger context of Islamophobia post-9/11, and more specifically, the most recent outbreaks of anti-Muslim sentiment from lower Manhattan to Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
TC: Our report is primarily a nuts-and-bolts one, where I tried to identify the problematic aspects of trainings and speeches and identify where they’re crossing the line, from preparing law enforcement and first responders to deal with actual incidents of violent attacks to a broader campaign that targets innocent and legal activity. A lot of the messaging and frames we analyzed in the trainings identify either outspoken civil liberties advocates and critics of U.S. foreign policy or any grouping called “Islamists,” including the new bogeyman of sharia law, as the enemy. That seems to operate as code for the word “Muslim.” It’s not really well-defined.
The broader context in this report is that the anti-Muslim rhetoric that was very evident in a public way around the Park 51 mosque, or Islamic center, issue, isn’t something that is relegated to the blogosphere or the Fox News Channel, or even these street rallies. What we are documenting here is the institutionalization of these views in a critical part of our government—those who have the power to monitor, extract, arrest and interrogate people. The value of this report is documenting the institutionalization of ideas that risk alienating innocent, law-abiding people and communities.
AK: What do you think are the larger implications of the expansion of this counter-terror industry, and what it means for all Americans?
TC: Whenever religious beliefs are used as a marker for potential terrorism, all religions and all political beliefs are threatened. What we see in many of the trainings we looked at is the desire for a quick-fix approach to preventing terrorism by looking at ideology. Counter-terrorism experts and law enforcement have, time and again, said that there is no such quick-fix approach. Religion, in particular, doesn’t have that kind of predictive power. Empirically, we cannot look at somebody’s religious expression or practices and predict whether that individual is more likely to be headed down a path toward violence.
Moreover, people from a variety of religious faiths have committed acts of terrorism, and more often than not, political grievances lead people to commit terrorism rather than religious faith. So, this approach is invalid at a number of levels.