Q&A with NC State professor Anna Bigelow on controversial Homeland Security grant

UNC Muslim Students Association filed a petition that asked the University to reject a $867,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Violent Extremism program.

The grant, which was received by communications professors Cori Dauber and Mark Robinson, will “fund a project to create a series of sophisticated videos and other materials to counteract jihadist propaganda that targets young people,” said a February press release from UNC.

Senior writer Brinley Lowe asked Anna Bigelow, an N.C. State University professor of religious studies with a specialization in Islam, about her opinion on the grant.

The Daily Tar Heel: What do you know about the the Countering Violent Extremism program?

Anna Bigelow: (The Countering Violent Extremism program) is a large rubric that is framed as being about broader issues of violent extremism in society, but is actually quite clearly targeting the Muslim community with some lip service to right-wing groups and other domestic terrorism.

DTH: When you read over the grant, what were your impressions?

AB: Largely their focus is on Muslim extremism, but not a one of (the experts) is actually an expert in Islam, which is particularly striking given that UNC in particular, but the Triangle in general, has one of the strongest communities of scholars of Islam that one could hope to find pretty much anywhere in the United States.

It’s truly a glaring oversight either not to have attempted to partner with any of these individuals or to have attempted and been refused.

DTH: Is the Countering Violent Extremism program known for being problematic and controversial?

AB: Yes, it’s absolutely been controversial from the get-go ... President (Donald) Trump has said he would like to shift it from being sort of generally about violent extremism, which is kind of a way of at least attempting to appear that this is not just about Islam ...

The risk from domestic terrorism that is not related to Islam is much higher than it is coming from any kind of foreign or domestic Islamic terrorism, but (Trump) wants to remove even that thin veneer that this could possibly be applying to any community other than Muslims ...

Do we have any evidence that any CVE programs have effectively prevented a single terrorist attack? No, we do not. In fact, we have evidence that some of the kinds of programs and projects that have developed under CVE have actually mistakenly identified basic Muslim practices and ideas and community participation as signs of blatant extremism—you know, people who go to the mosque more than once a week.

DTH: Could the proposal be rewritten to give the Muslim community more agency?

AB: I think as long as you’re treating an entire group of people as essentially a law enforcement problem, and not as citizens with a shared interest in positive community life and a shared civic process and inclusion in political processes, it’s really only serving the goals of the individuals who are engaging in the study.

It will be almost impossible, as they acknowledged themselves, to gauge what kind of response the videos they produce will get. Will they get testimonials from people saying “I was about to set off a bomb in the Pit but then I decided after seeing these videos that my classmate who made that would be bad”?

That’s never going to happen.

university@dailytarheel.com

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