We read with great interest your July 5 article, Giving CVE a Chance, which minimizes the complaints of “detractors” of the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program without describing the wide array of critics with valid concerns about the way CVE has been carried out to date. While the article hints at some of the latter groups’ critiques of CVE, it seems to conflate all “detractors” with the Islamophobic right-wing fringe.

The article’s depiction of CVE’s critics focuses on Islamophobes such as Sebastian Gorka and Frank Gaffney, well-known for their “fringe ideas” that are “widely dismissed in academic and policy circles,” and now with far more influence under the Trump administration. However, these are not CVE’s only detractors. The multitude of diverse organizations concerned about the program’s law enforcement focus and civil rights issues include grassroots groups struggling to spare diaspora communities from police intrusion and racial profiling, to human rights and civil liberties organizations concerned about the hyper-focus on Muslim communities and surveillance tactics, to academics and think tanks worried about CVE’s lack of data-driven policies. We, the Charity & Security Network, are among these critics, and we are done giving CVE a chance.

The article describes CVE as a program that uses community-driven solutions to rehabilitate those who have started down a dangerous path. In theory, these goals sound laudable, and we agree with some of the author’s criticisms of the program, as well as his recommendations for salvaging it. In practice, however, domestic CVE has been irrevocably tainted by its relationship with law enforcement, which has primarily targeted Muslim communities with surveillance, entrapment and prosecution rather than rehabilitation, at the expense of civil liberties. While CVE has focused largely on individuals deemed “radicalized” or espousing “extremist” views without evidence of violence, there is wide agreement among academics that there is no credible way to predict who will become a terrorist. Without such data, it’s possible that these practices may have even backfired, and could have contributed to turning some young people towards violent extremism. 

It appears that the federal government is aware of the baggage it brings to the table, evidenced by its repeated attempts to outsource this community monitoring and efforts to rebrand itself. Examples include Shared Responsibility Committees (in part an attempt to get mental health professionals to report on their patients) and asking teachers to report to law enforcement on the children they deem to be engaging in at-risk behaviors or espousing extremist beliefs. Enlisting those entrusted with the best interests of their patients and students to spy on those same populations is not exactly a “community-driven solution.” Instead of using local police to build bridges with refugee and immigrant communities, these programs have the potential to burn those bridges.

Now the Trump administration has, not surprisingly, decided to enhance CVE’s focus on Muslim communities at the expense of an array of violent extremist groups such as white supremacists. This was foreshadowed in an April 2016 letter to the Obama administration from a diverse group of organizations that stated, “It is all too easy to imagine a subsequent administration seizing on CVE programs that are now in development as vehicles for systematic and large-scale profiling, patrolling and surveillance of American Muslim and communities presumed to be Muslim.”

Communities in the United Kingdom are now acknowledging the negative impact of these types of programs and at least one has made the decision to dump the controversial Prevent strategy, which mirrors CVE. Like CVE, Prevent has been criticized as too top-down and more importantly, guilty of fomenting Islamophobia. The mayor of Manchester is quoted as saying that these programs will only succeed if there’s true “community buy-in at the grassroots level.”

It’s hard to imagine communities buying in to programs that seek to stigmatize them.

Image: Getty/Win McNamee