The US government is being accused of pumping millions of dollars into unregulated training schemes for local police officers and other law enforcers that give a distorted, dangerous and inflammatory picture of the Muslim faith.
Political Research Associates, a Massachusetts-based progressive thinktank, spent nine months investigating the burgeoning industry of counter-terrorism training. It concluded that in seminars and conferences across America, police, transit and other law-enforcement officers were being given an ideologically skewed impression of Islam that impugned the entire religion, presenting it as inherently violent and sympathetic to terrorism.
One training conference, which PRA investigators attended, was held last October by the International Counter-Terrorism Officers Association, a body formed by New York police officers in the wake of 9/11. The conference was addressed by Walid Shoebat, a speaker used by several of the private training outfits.
Shoebat is a convert to Christianity, having formerly been a Muslim with links to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. In his presentation, called The Jihad Mindset and How to Defeat It: Why We Want to Kill You, he accused Muslim men of raping women, children and young boys. "They are paedophiles!" he shouted.
According to the report, Shoebat went on: "The Muslim beheads with a smile. You can see it on YouTube, on TV; the Afghan child trained to execute Christians. You say that Islam is a peaceful religion? Why? It hates the west."
He also said: "Islam is a revolution and is intent to destroy all other systems. They want to expand, like Nazism."
Another training firm that is highlighted is Security Solutions International, a Miami-based company that has worked with some 1,000 law enforcement agencies since 2004. It gives seminars with titles such as "The Islamic Jihadist Threat", "Jihad 2.0" and "Allah in America".
At one seminar, SSI's trainer showed footage of the 2002 beheading of Daniel Pearl, an American journalist, by his al-Qaida kidnappers.
The report is published as the Homeland Security Committee in the House of Representatives is poised to open controversial hearings into the radicalisation of the American-Muslim community. Peter King, who chairs the committee, has been accused of launching a witch-hunt.
A third training outfit, the Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies, based in Alexandria, Virginia, uses experienced FBI, CIA and other former federal agents to conduct its training of about 8,000 national security employees a year. PRA investigators were not allowed to attend the centre's seminars, but based on its website and the writings of some of its key trainers, the report concludes that its course, Global Jihadist Threat Doctrine, uses the framework of the cold war to portray Islam as an existential threat equivalent to communism.
Walid Phares, who trains on behalf of the centre, argues in his writings that jihadists are infiltrating western organisations posing as civil rights advocates: "The most important mission is to further recruit and grow their numbers until the 'holy moment' comes."
Thomas Cincotta, the author of the PRA report, called on Congress and the Homeland Security department to begin an inquiry into the use of public money to provide training that he called dangerous and unhelpful. "Police officers and law enforcers who attend these causes will walk away with the impression that law-abiding citizens should be suspicious of the broader Muslim community. I'm deeply troubled by that – it impinges on fundamental freedoms to practise religion, and it jeopardises our safety and national security by potentially alienating Muslims at a time when we need to work together."
The report says that in the wake of 9/11 a huge sum of taxpayers' money had been invested in counter-terrorism training for law enforcers. Two federal grant programmes alone, led by Homeland Security, paid out $1.7bn to states across the country in 2010.
Some of the training schemes are closely monitored by the Homeland Security department, but much of the money, the report says, is filtered through a host of largely unregulated training schemes, some of which are conducted by private security bodies.
SSI's president, Henry Morgenstern, defended his company's track record. "We have a very good reputation training law enforcers. We are not a kooky organisation." He said of the report's authors: "These people are out to weaken the anti-terrorism effort and it's clearly politically motivated."
He added: "You cannot whitewash radical Islam – they really do cut people's heads off, they do carry out honour killings, so we are trying to show law enforcers that this is what they are up against. We are not saying that all Muslims chop people's heads off."
The Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies declined to comment.
The involvement of anti-Muslim groups in federal and state training has caused consternation in the past. Last August Reverend Jesse Jackson protested to the FBI after it was discovered that Robert Spencer had been used as an official trainer on counter-terrorism for police offers.
Spencer is a founding member of Stop the Islamisation of America, a group that virulently opposed the building of a Muslim community centre near Ground Zero in New York and that has links with the far-right English Defence League.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
A noteworthy piece in Guardian (UK):