Young Muslim Collective hosted a Resisting Surveillance Forum on October 13 at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. “Resisting Surveillance” is a series of forums planned for five cities where communities have been targeted by the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program, connecting CVE to other forms of surveillance and sharing tactics for resistance.
In 2014, Minneapolis was designated a pilot city for the CVE program, which is focused on the city’s large Somali-American community. Young Muslim Collective (YMC) has been organizing against the program for over a year, educating the community and identifying how the program is being implemented. They describe the program as one that “targets Muslim youth for surveillance and thought policing based on vague and unfounded theories of radicalization. The Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program cultivates faith leaders, teachers and health providers to serve as informants to law enforcement.”
YMC is Somali-American youth who see that the divisive policy is tearing apart an already vulnerable community. So they brought together leaders on CVE who have experience in the field with the program, to discuss the effects of surveillance on their communities. Over 50 community members and several candidates for local office attended the forum, which was live streamed by Unicorn Riot (videos below).
Burhan Mohumed, a senior member of YMC, who also organizes to support political prisoners, spoke to local organizing around CVE, surveillance of the Somali community, and the methods YMC has used to hold their community accountable for participating in CVE (first video below).
Jess Sundin, a longtime anti war activist who co-founded the Minneapolis Anti War Committee, and co-founder of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression (after she was the target of an FBI sting operation), moved the audience with her story of an informant who deeply embedded themselves within her community for years, FBI raids on the homes of activists, and subsequent impacts of those raids. She shared that one of the most effective tactics they used was not to share any information with the FBI on themselves or on each other – their silence was a powerful tool. Jess also spoke of the incredible resistance by Rasmea Odeh (first video below).
Ayaan Dahir, executive director of YMC and RISE (Reviving Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment) spoke to the impacts of CVE on the community in further stigmatizing Somali youth and securitizing social services (video below).
“Only when the government thinks we can be radicalized do we get the resources any other kids would have.” – Ayan #RSF
— Young Muslim Collec. (@YMC_MN) October 13, 2017
Fatema Ahmad, an engineer turned organizer working against CVE in North Carolina and Boston. She is the deputy director of the Muslim Justice League.
Alim, a Senior Caseworker from CAGE, an independent advocacy group in the UK empowering communities impacted by the war on terror, joined via google hangouts to speak to PREVENT, the British program which CVE is modeled after. PREVENT promotes a narrative of good Muslim/bad Muslim or moderate/extreme using 22 traits or identifiers. But in sum, a ‘good Muslim’ agrees with the government, so the program criminalizes dissent. Like the CVE program, PREVENT includes other forms of ‘extremism’ in its sights, such as anti fracking, and pro-Palestine activists. He noted the CVE in the US is about 10 years behind PREVENT, which means if we do not organize against CVE immediately we are on a path to outrageous discrimination against youth.
The speakers drew parallels between CVE and other repressive programs and tactics utilized by the FBI, from COINTELPRO, to the FBI’s surveillance and infiltration of activist groups recently. CVE is especially pernicious because it is introduced to communities as a program that will provide needed resources such as after school programs. But the program is based on a national security model, and seeks to ‘educate’ community members on how to identify someone vulnerable to radicalization. The program is based on junk science the panelists said, and stigmatizes and divides the community.
The panelists noted that many progressives are suggesting that CVE should be used to combat white supremacists. Fatema Ahmad cautioned against that. “We aren’t looking for equal opportunity oppression,” she said. She also noted that the CVE program, which has exclusively targeted the Muslim community, is based on white supremacy.