Trump Reportedly Plans To Refocus Violent Extremism Initiative On Muslims | KERA News

Trump Reportedly Plans To Refocus Violent Extremism Initiative On Muslims

Feb 10, 2017
Originally published on February 10, 2017 11:25 pm

During his campaign, Donald Trump criticized President Obama for his reluctance to use the words "radical Islamic extremism."

One of Obama's key anti-terrorism programs was just called "Countering Violent Extremism," with no reference to Islam. The Trump administration may now want to refocus that program exclusively on Muslim extremists.

The Obama program made no reference to Islam largely because it didn't want to suggest that terrorism, even by Muslim extremists, had its roots in religion.

Salam al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, took some credit for that Friday when talking about the terminology via Facebook Live.

"MPAC has been involved from the Bush administration years to say we cannot single out religion when we're talking about terrorism," Marayati says. "We cannot use religious labels when talking about terrorism."

The question now is whether the Trump administration will watch its words diligently. White House spokesman Sean Spicer was asked last week about reports that the countering violent extremism program will now be called countering Islamic extremism. He did not refute them.

"I don't think it should be any surprise that the president, when it comes to rooting out radical Islamic terrorism, which is what that initially was supposed to be focused on, he is going to make sure that that is a major focus of his — keeping this country safe," Spicer said.

The debate over whether to associate terrorism with Islam strikes author Graeme Wood as somewhat odd.

In his book The Way Of The Strangers: Encounters With The Islamic State, Wood argues that ISIS is in fact a movement rooted in Islam and that it should be so recognized. On the other hand, he thinks the Trump administration's insistence on using the term radical Islamic extremism makes little sense.

"What we see now is a complete reversal from a strange and pointless refusal to describe ISIS in religious terms at all now giving way to an equally strange and pointless belief that by calling the problem radical Islamic extremism, that will have any effect on the problem itself," Wood says.

Except perhaps, Wood says, to make the problem harder to deal with.

"I think a lot of Muslims who were at least willing to work with the United States on some of these issues in a soft nonmilitary way will see this as yet another example of the Trump administration intentionally alienating them, that is, looking for ways to single out Muslims as uniquely threatening," he says.

For example, when the White House this week distributed a list of terrorist incidents, it included only those in which Muslims were involved, with no mention of white supremacist attacks.

The Obama administration's countering violent extremism program distributed money to mosques and other organizations that worked with Muslims. One goal was to support efforts with troubled youth who might potentially have been attracted by extremism.

Marayati says that kind of collaboration with the federal government may now be in danger.

"Some civil rights groups have said, 'We should not take the money,' and we're listening to them, but I assure you, other people — and it's about 50-50 — are saying, 'No, these are our tax dollars, and you should use it to help the community,' " Marayati says.

Marayati's group has taken federal government money, and he says it is now considering whether it should continue to do so if the Trump administration singles out Muslims and Islam in the way it is reportedly considering.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Before he became president, Donald Trump repeatedly criticized President Obama for his reluctance to use the phrase radical Islamic extremism. One of Obama's key anti-terror programs was called Countering Violent Extremism - no reference to Islam. Now the Trump administration is hoping to refocus that program exclusively on Muslim extremists. NPR's Tom Gjelten reports.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: The Obama administration program made no reference to Islam because it didn't want to suggest that terrorism, even by Muslim extremists, had its roots in religion. Salam al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council or MPAC, took some credit for that today when talking about the terminology via Facebook Live.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GJELTEN: MPAC has been involved from the Bush administration years to say we cannot single out religion when we're talking about terrorism. We cannot use religious labels when talking about terrorism.

GJELTEN: The question now is whether the Trump administration will watch its words diligently. White House spokesman Sean Spicer was asked last week about reports that the Countering Violent Extremism program will now be called Countering Islamic Extremism. He did not refute the reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SEAN SPICER: I don't think it should be any surprise that the president, when it comes to rooting out radical Islamic terrorism, which is what that initially was supposed to be focused on - he is going to make sure that he's - that that is a major focus of keeping this country safe.

GJELTEN: The debate over whether to associate terrorism with Islam strikes author Graeme Wood as somewhat odd. In his book "The Way Of The Strangers," Wood argues that ISIS is in fact a movement rooted in Islam and that it should be so recognized. On the other hand, he thinks the Trump administration's insistence on using the term radical Islamic extremism makes little sense.

GRAEME WOOD: What we see now is a complete reversal from a kind of strange and pointless refusal to describe ISIS in religious terms at all now giving way to an equally strange and pointless belief that by calling the problem radical Islamic extremism that will have any effect on the problem itself.

GJELTEN: Except, perhaps, Wood says, to make the problem harder to deal with.

WOOD: I think a lot of Muslims who were at least willing to work with the United States will see this as yet another example of the Trump administration intentionally alienating them, that is, looking for ways to single out Muslims as uniquely threatening.

GJELTEN: One example - when the Trump administration this week distributed a list of terror incidents, it included only those in which Muslims were involved with no mention of a white-supremacist attacks. The Obama administration's Countering Violent Extremism program distributed money to mosques and other organizations that worked with Muslims. One goal was to support efforts with troubled youth who might potentially have been attracted by extremism. Salam al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council says that kind of collaboration with the federal government may now be in danger.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SALAM AL-MARAYATI: Some civil rights groups have said we should not take the money, and we're listening to them. But I assure you other people - and it's about 50/50 - are saying, no, these are our tax dollars, and you should use it to help the community.

GJELTEN: Al-Marayati's own group has taken that federal government money, and he says they are now considering whether they should continue to do so if the Trump administration singles out Muslims and Islam in the way it's reportedly considering. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.