Anti-Muslim Training Materials in the Federal Government
Muslim Advocates stands with a broad coalition of 74 groups against the ongoing problem of anti-Muslim training materials and practices used by agencies throughout the federal government. In a letter to the White House, the coalition demands that the Obama administration and intelligence agency heads take immediate action to end the use of these materials.
“The time is now for the administration to go beyond mere assurances of reform and take concrete, corrective action to make these trainings and materials consistent with our American values and protect Americans from real threats.”
– Excerpt from the latest coalition letter to the White House
In September 2011, Wired broke the story, “FBI Teaches Agents: ‘Mainstream’ Muslims Are ‘Violent, Radical,’” which revealed the FBI was training agents that, among other things, “main stream” [sic] American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult leader;” and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a “funding mechanism for combat.”
It is difficult to overstate the extent to which the documents uncovered by Wired mischaracterize and smear Islam.
Soon thereafter, leaders called on the White House to review all training materials and purge those that are biased, and asked for several other steps to reduce the impact of the bigoted trainings and ensure that they do not continue. The calls were issued by advocacy groups, Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL).
The White House acknowledged in a letter that the biased training materials ran “counter to our values” and directed the Department of Homeland Security “to form an Interagency Working Group on Training to catalogue, review, and improve CVE [countering violent extremism]-related instruction across all levels of government.”
The FBI purged several hundred pages of documents “because they were inaccurate or over-broad, others because they were offensive.” Notably, however, no public accounting was given indicating that the more comprehensive inter-agency review was initiated as promised, no re-training of officers and agents tainted by the biased and inaccurate trainings was apparently ever done, and no disciplinary action appears to have been taken against those responsible for preparing and providing the trainings.
The Persistence of the Problem
With virtually no corrective action having been taken (or at least made public) to address the problem of biased trainings, in July 2014, The Intercept broke the story of government surveillance of Muslim community leaders, which included a template document that had “Mohammed Raghead” as the placeholder target of FBI or NSA surveillance. Additional documents revealed instructions for NSA analysts to search databases with “Mohammed Badguy” as a sample search.
There is an apparent culture in certain parts of the law enforcement and intelligence-gathering community that views Muslims as inherently suspect and worthy targets of suspicionless surveillance. For some government officials, using religious slurs to describe Muslims is acceptable. In the words of then-White House advisor John Brennan that culture “runs completely counter to our [American] values [and] our commitment to strong partnerships with communities across the country . . . .”
After the slurs became public, the White House decried “the use of racial or ethnic stereotypes, slurs, or other similar language by employees” as “both unacceptable and inconsistent with the country’s core values.” The White House ordered the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to undertake an assessment of Intelligence Community policies, training standards or directives that promote diversity and tolerance, and, as necessary, make any recommendations, changes, or additional reforms.
Rather than conduct a meaningful assessment of the deep-seated problem, the DNI instead chose only to expand multicultural and diversity sensitivity training and re-establish an external advisory board on diversity and inclusion.
Thus, at present, neither the White House nor the DNI has plans to take genuine corrective action to address the entrenched problem of anti-Muslim sentiment that afflicts law enforcement and intelligence-gathering activities by the government. The status quo cannot stand. The government has a constitutional duty to carry out its important responsibility to keep us safe in a manner that does not denigrate a particular religion. Americans of all faiths deserve better.
- LATEST: Read the letter urging the White House to end the use of anti-Muslim training materials (2014)
- Response from John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism (2011)
- Original coalition letter to the White House (2011)
- Sen. Collins, Lieberman Want Answers From DHS Over Anti-Muslim Counterterror Training (2011)
- Sen. Dick Durbin Letter to the FBI on the FBI’s failure to adequately address inappropriate counterrorism training (2012)