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New White House Strategy for Countering Extremism

New White House Strategy for Countering Extremism

On August 3rd the White House released an eight-page strategy for countering extremism entitled “Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States.” The strategy, which took over a year to produce, lays out three areas of improvement: enhancing engagement with appropriate local communities, building government and law enforcement expertise in the area of violent extremism, and countering violent extremist propaganda.

Some responded favorably to the strategy, such as some Muslim American groups. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued a statement supporting the new plan. CAIR National Director Nihad Awad affirmed, “Any effective strategy must avoid viewing the relationship between the American Muslim community and government agencies solely through the prism of national security… (It) should recognize Muslims as partners in projecting the best of American principles and values to the world.” Farhana Khera of Muslim Advocates stated, “In the wake of increasing anti-Muslim hate and the recent horrific attacks in Norway, we are heartened that the president recognizes that violence motivated by extremist beliefs is not unique to one racial, ethnic or faith community… All Americans must act together to address the challenge, and the administration’s strategy is a good start.”

Not everyone reacted so favorably. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, who held controversial hearings this year on Muslim radicalization in the U.S., believed the strategy was going for a “politically correct feel-good” approach. “My concerns are with language in the report which suggests some equivalency of threats between Al Qaeda and domestic extremists and also with the politically correct inference that legitimate criticism of certain radical organizations or elements of the Muslim-American community should be avoided,” King said. Similarly, Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman stated, “We continue to be disappointed that the administration remains reluctant to identify violent Islamist extremism as the main cause of the homegrown terrorist threat.” Lieberman also complained that the strategy failed to designate a federal agency to lead the counter extremism effort.

According to POLITICO, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes affirmed the strategy was crafted in part out of a recognition that Al Qaeda is increasingly looking to use Americans and U.S. residents to mount attacks. “We saw Al Qaeda shifting its tactics… We wanted to make sure we responded to that… We explicitly prioritize Al Qaeda in the strategy. We go out of our way within the strategy to say the greatest threat comes from Al Qaeda and its affiliates,” Rhodes said.

Indeed, in laying out “The Challenge,” the strategy states: “Today, as detailed in the National Security Strategy and the National Strategy for Counterterrorism, al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents represent the preeminent terrorist threat to our country. We know that these groups are actively seeking to recruit or inspire Americans to carry out attacks against the United States, particularly as they are facing greater pressure in their safe-havens abroad.”

While the strategy does state that Al Qaeda is the foremost terrorist threat to the U.S., it paints a rather broad picture of how to counter this threat. The three-pillared approach appears to be heading in a positive direction, but without concrete details of how for example, law enforcement will improve its expertise in preventing violent extremism, it is difficult to tell how successful this strategy will be.