Access Now calls on Trump administration not to focus anti-extremism programs on Islam

Washington, D.C. — At Access Now, we are alarmed by reports that the Trump administration is considering altering the U.S. government’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs to focus explicitly and exclusively on adherents to Islam. This approach, reportedly to be called “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism,” would put discriminatory intent at the heart of practices that are already discriminatory in application. Access Now calls on the Trump administration not to focus CVE programs on Islam.

Discrimination against a single religious group violates the U.S. Constitution and international human rights obligations. If pursued, the president’s plan will enable privacy violations and chill online expression, with effects felt globally, and will surely be met by court challenges.

“This focus on a single group will provide the Trump administration ample justification for the targeted surveillance of Muslim communities. This, along with Trump’s proposed project of creating a list of crimes perpetrated by immigrants, can also embolden police brutality in minority communities,” said Wafa Ben Hassine, a Policy Analyst at Access Now.

Terrorism and extremism are legitimate concerns in the U.S. and around the world, but they cannot and should not be attributed to a single religious group. In fact, statistics show that  since 2002 right-wing extremists have killed more Americans than violent jihadis. Scapegoating one population while ignoring other perpetrators of violence might achieve cynical political goals, but it is unlikely to reduce violence and may actually increase conflict.

“President Trump’s proposed policies ignore human rights and are dangerously misguided on terrorism. By ignoring real threats and targeting a single group, President Trump is endangering the United States and the rest of the world,” said Drew Mitnick, Policy Counsel at Access Now.

The following is an excerpt from an Access Now blog post on President Trump’s approach to countering violent extremism:

“The Obama administration launched countering violent extremism programs to prevent the process of radicalization, and these entailed — in practice — discriminating against Muslim-Americans, and monitoring and countering disagreeable social media content. Policies of this sort are intended to reduce appeals to violence, but they can have the opposite effect, increasing, not decreasing, feelings of marginalization and discrimination, which have shown to be factors in propensity for violence.

Instead of learning from previous mistakes, the Trump administration is doubling down. It has ordered the names of people working on these programs and is reportedly planning on replacing ‘countering violent extremism’ with something like ‘countering violent jihad.’ These policies will be even more removed from social welfare goals and instead look more like national security programs, and therefore seed greater division.

President Trump made clear in his inaugural address that it will be “only America first.” That’s unfortunate if what he really means to do is execute exclusionary and discriminatory policies that target our online lives, and put fundamental rights at risk.”

You can read more from Access Now about a human rights-respecting approach to Countering Violent Extremism online in our report on the topic, available here.