Losing the 'War of Ideas': A Critique of Countering Violent Extremism Programs

25 Pages Posted: 9 Feb 2017 Last revised: 31 Jan 2019

Date Written: February 8, 2017


American national security is a priority that crosses partisan lines. Americans of all races, ethnicities, and religions are equally concerned with ensuring our country is safe from violence – whether politically motivated terrorism, state violence, or violent crime. Furthermore, we all share an interest in preventing violence before it occurs. Toward that end, citizens and elected officials have a responsibility to carefully examine whether the methods we are using to prevent terrorism are effective.

In 2011, the Obama administration initiated a “Countering Violent Extremism” program purportedly aimed at tackling the underlying causes that may contribute to terrorism domestically and abroad. According to the White House, “CVE efforts address the root causes of extremism through community engagement” and “the underlying premise of the approach to countering violent extremism in the United States is that (1) communities provide the solution to violent extremism; and (2) CVE efforts are best pursued at the local level, tailored to local dynamics, where local officials continue to build relationships within their communities through established community policing and community outreach mechanisms.” In January 2017, the Trump administration announced it would change the name of the program to “Countering Islamic Extremism” to reflect his administration’s intentions to focus exclusively on terrorism committed by individuals claiming to be Muslim, while excluding terrorism committed by others including White Supremacists. Notwithstanding the outcry by civil rights advocates on Trump’s renaming of the program, CVE has always been focused on Muslim communities in the United States. Trump’s actions merely validated what critics of the program claimed all along.

Despite the Obama administration’s lofty rhetoric, this article argues that CVE programs are fundamentally flawed for three reasons: they are counterproductive, unnecessary, and a waste of government resources. Government programs seeking to build community resilience are most effective when administered by social service agencies with the requisite expertise, not law enforcement agencies.

Accordingly, this article addresses four fundamental flaws with CVE:

1) CVE programs securitize Muslim communities and validate terrorists’ narratives that America is at war with Islam;

2) CVE programs are unnecessary to prevent domestic terrorism;

3) CVE programs are a waste of government resources; and

4) government funds for community development and resilience should be funded and administered by social service agencies without law enforcement control.

Keywords: Countering Violent Extremism, CVE, Terrorism, National Security, Islam, Muslim, Security, Civil Liberties, Counterterrorism, Anti-Terrorism

Suggested Citation

Aziz, Sahar F., Losing the 'War of Ideas': A Critique of Countering Violent Extremism Programs (February 8, 2017). 52 Texas Int'l L.J. 255 (2017), Texas A&M University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 17-22, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2913571

Sahar F. Aziz (Contact Author)

Rutgers Law School ( email )

Newark, NJ
United States

HOME PAGE: http://law.rutgers.edu/directory/view/8277

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