Politically influential Muslim activists are pushing to reduce the FBI’s role in countering Islamic terrorism and are seeking greater federal reliance on hard-line orthodox Imams.
The White House’s “Countering Violent Extremism” program “did not produce the results a lot of us were hopeful … [and] kind of collapsed towards the end of last year,” complained Mohamed Elibiary, a Texas-based advocate who was appointed to the Homeland Security Advisory Council.
“I don’t know where it is today … [but] it presents us with the opportunity to look at the question of [whether] it is right to house it within the FBI,” he said at an May 28 event in D.C. staged by the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
The controversial CVE program was boosted in 2011, when President Barack Obama directed the FBI to work with Muslim political and community groups to suppress jihadi attacks, which are dubbed as non-Islamic “violent extremism.”
But, said Elibiary, “we spun our wheels for the last two years [and] we never got the national CVE policy across all 56 [FBI field] offices.”
Instead, said panelists, the FBI has continued its traditional policy of investigating jihadis for subsequent trial and convictions.
In contrast, the Department of Homeland Security, Elibiary said, has done much good by trying to work with Islamic groups.
The CVE program has been slammed by critics for giving too large an intermediary role to small Islamic political groups such as MPAC, which portray themselves as representatives of American Muslims. The groups try to foster the growth of distinct Islamic communities.
The CVE training has also been criticized for obscuring the many orthodox Islamic strictures that spur Muslims’ violence against non-Muslims.
Elibiary’s new call for reduced policing of Islamic communities, such as Boston’s immigrant Muslims, was echoed by other speakers at the panel, which was hosted by the progressive New American Foundation in Washington D.C.
“Imams and counselors need to be given some leeway” by police, said Suhaib Webb, Imam of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center.
Webb’s cultural center is affiliated with the mosque attended by Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the ethnic Chechen Muslim who along with his brother Dzhokhar killed three Americans with two bombs at the Boston Marathon. Tsarnaev also killed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer after Boston police broadcast his photo on TV. The police did not contact the main Boston mosque for help in identifying Tsarnaev’s image, which was captured by videos of the explosion and its aftermath.
Webb, who was disinvited from the state’s April 18 memorial service by Governor Deval Patrick, said he can persuade young men to stay away from violence. But “I need to be able to sit down with someone and not be subpoenaed or be called as a witness” in a later terrorism investigation, he said.
To succeed, government anti-terror agencies should keep their distance from such outreach to angry youth, he said. “We don’t need to be too close to each other, because that undermines our [Imams’] street credibility,” said Webb.
In fact, he added, his influence was recently reduced when he was labelled as a “moderate.” That “undermined my ability” to persuade youths, Webb said.