Reject CVE at UNC
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To the UNC-Chapel Hill Administration and other governing bodies:
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been approved to receive an $867,000 grant from Homeland Security under the Countering Violent Extremism program. We, the UNC Muslim Students Association and allies, are writing to highlight the grave implications of accepting this federal funding and the discriminatory nature of the proposed program. WE demand UNC completely reject this grant.
Countering Violent Extremism is touted as a community empowerment program designed to “challenge narratives” and “build resilience to extremism” through various projects but instead it has eroded civil liberties and promoted faulty theories of radicalization. UNC professors submitted a proposal and were awarded a CVE grant under the category of “challenging the narrative,” which entails amplifying or creating “alternative messages to challenge or counter violent extremist recruitment or radicalization narratives.” Because Muslim communities are “currently the principal — if not sole — target of CVE programs,” these initiatives structurally further stigmatize Muslims, perpetuate Islamophobic stereotypes, and erode community trust.
Dr. Cori Dauber (Communications Department) and Dir. Mark Robinson (Communications Department) are the principal and co-principal of the proposed anti-Islamic radicalization program to be launched at UNC. As outlined in their proposal, this program boasts a “peer to peer plus” model, designed to task undergraduates “specialized” in jihadist propaganda and media production with the creation of “a series of sophisticated videos and other materials to counteract jihadist propaganda.” These students will act as “rapid response units” and the content they produce will then be disseminated to Muslim Americans.
This reduction of Muslims to possible suspects sends a clear message to UNC’s Muslim community that they - and other Muslim Americans - are viewed as inherently radical/violent and raises concerns about our surveillance and safety. The "peer to peer plus" model predicates its success on the idea that one's age is the sole factor necessary to successfully understand, communicate with, and reach target audiences, regardless of socio-economic, religious, and ethnic background. Additionally, the only requirement for religious “literacy” is that anyone who talks about Islam on camera has to be Muslim. There is NO other consideration of Muslim involvement in any other part of the production - script writing, storyboarding, or postproduction. It seems like the project is hiding behind a thin veneer - a Muslim face. It is a duplicitous strategy to connect to Muslim youth who already fear being criminalized for their identity.
There will be claims that this project does not disproportionately target Muslims, but rather has the capacity to target white supremacist groups which also pose a terror threat. The language of the proposal and the allocation of funds to experts say otherwise. Four of the five project’s experts are focused on Islamic extremism. This indicates that this program is clearly not as equipped to fight white extremism and is consequently symptomatic of the current anti-Muslim climate, which continues to make use of disproven theories of radicalization that equate piety as a gateway to violence.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s diversity mission statement includes the importance of promoting “personal integrity and justice, and [the pursuit of] values that foster enlightened leadership devoted to improving the conditions of human life in the state, the nation, and the world.” Such a program would isolate is students and create a hostile learning environment. CVE programs are part and parcel of United States national security initiatives. The program effectively turns our liberal arts university - a home for critical thinking, safe expression of identity, and ideas that improve humanity - into an extension of the government’s anti-terrorism task force that systematically and disproportionately targets Muslims.
What message is UNC sending to its Muslim faculty, student, and employee population with the acceptance of this grant? That Muslims in the US, including the ones on this campus, are potential terrorists and fair game for government targeting with the help of their own institution? This is in direct contradiction to the University’s stated values of justice and “improving the conditions of human life.”
We have seen first hand the tragic impact that othering Muslims can have on our community. Barely a few weeks after the second anniversary of the tragic deaths of Our Three Winners, Deah, Yusor, and Razan, measures like these, that deliberately target Muslims, are still up for consideration! It is unacceptable that we still must explain how othering and viewing Muslims as potential terrorists is dangerous.
“More than 20 percent of the roughly $10 million awarded by the Homeland Security Department has been rejected,” most recently with Claremont College declining their funds. We demand that UNC-Chapel Hill follow suit and reject the CVE grant.
According to the proposal, the program directors intend to utilize resources at the Odum Institute. We demand that Odum Institute refuse to contract with this program.
The program directors have listed Dr. David Schanzer of Duke School of Public Health as a consultant who will “consult for 10 days on CVE and the American Muslim Community.” We demand that Dr. David Schanzer remove himself from this project.
Lastly, we demand that UNC administrators and overseers of the proposal meet with UNC MSA, local Muslims, and concerned allies in a town hall-style meeting so that we can formally present the petition to reject the CVE grant. We hope to further discuss a plan of action regarding how this program will be deregulated at such meeting.
To ignore the Islamophobic nature of the CVE program and its history of disproportionately targeting Muslim populations is to act against our community as a whole. Because as we are Muslim, we are also black, disabled, queer, and or immigrant. To disenfranchise Muslims would be to disenfranchise us all.
We kindly request concerned friends, family, and allies of all communities to sign and share the petition calling for the rejection of #CVEatUNC.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT CVE AND THE PROPOSED PROGRAM AT UNC: https://goo.gl/IgTnaH
1. A. (2016, October 2). ACLU Briefing Paper: What Is Wrong With the Government’s “Countering Violent Extremism” Programs [PDF]. ACLU https://goo.gl/ioXse3
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