Heated Forum at Islamic Center of Maryland Held to Address Countering Violent Extremism Program (CVE) and the Muslim Organization Pushing It
A countering violent extremism (CVE) program has been active in Montgomery County, Md. since 2013. The nonprofit World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE), led by Senior Advisor to the FBI, Dr Hedieh Mirahmadi, a student of Shiek Hisham Kabbani, which operates out of the Islamic Cultural Center in Montgomery Village, the Montgomery County Police Department (MPD), and a faith community working group maintained by the Montgomery County government, lead the Montgomery County Model (MCM). Sh Kabbani is a WORDE specialist and was denounced by major Muslim organizations when for his 1999 State Department speech that 80 percent of American mosques had been taken over by extremists.
In 2015, the U.S. government announced a new national anti-terrorism initiative in the United States- CVE at a White House Summit on Countering Extremism.
The program, rebranded several times, has sparked national controversy since it began in 2014, as critics say it makes the job of “good Muslims” to prevent the “bad Muslims” from sprouting in their communities and committing criminal activity.
Women, mainly concerned mothers, have been leading the struggle against CVE in MoCo and now with the assistance of the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MCCRC) and other organizations, they have organized other concerned parents. Despite the program targeting Muslims, it was years of agitation by activists of other faiths who live in MoCo, that the Muslim community in county is finally realizing the scope of WORDE’s program which was not community-led, as advertised, nor was it community-informed.
Three articulate young American Muslim women spoke at a heated and packed Resisting Surveillance forum at the Islamic Center of Maryland on August 20, 2017. Amara Majeed, a youth leader from Maryland is a part of the MoCo Civil Rights Coalition. Fatema Ahmed of the Muslim Justice League (Boston and Charlotte, NC), and Ayaan Dahir of the Young Muslim Collective (Minneapolis) were activists from communities that have been targeted by CVE programs shared how they have fought the program.
Nadeem Ahmed, board member of the Islamic Center of Maryland (ICM), which hosted the August 20 forum, said ICM wanted to hear the views and concerns of the youth and parents.
Who is being put on the potential terrorist list?
“The narrative of Muslim leaders promoting CVE is to dehumanize Muslim youth and peddle Islamophobia by this portrayal of the future of our community as budding [terminators], programmed killing machines in need of fixing. In exchange, Muslim leaders receive financial compensation and perhaps earn the respect of law enforcement and politicians,” writes attorney Ahmed Shaikh, whose community has been resisting CVE in Los Angeles.
The U.S. government has spent on $3 million to $4 million a year on research into “radicalization” and CVE. Experts say there are still no indicators on what leads people to violence. Counter-terrorism scholar and former CIA officer Marc Sageman gave testimony in a U.S. Court in Oregon, that “[d]espite decades of research … we still do not know what leads people to engage in political violence. Attempts to discern a terrorist ‘profile’ or to model terrorist behavior have failed to yield lasting insights.”
Yet, internal government CVE documents give instructions on warning signs of terrorist behavior which covers speech that is protected by the first amendment and mixes up disagreement with government policies with potential violence- going against their own experts.
A 2017 study by the Brennan Center of Justice at New York University School of Law was conducted on the community-led approach. “The Obama administration portrayed CVE as a community-led approach to addressing terrorism and strenuously denied that it was a surveillance program. But law enforcement agencies charged with investigating and prosecuting terrorism – such as US attorneys, the FBI, and local police – sit at the center of these programs and see them as a way to collect information about Muslims who are not suspected of any crime,” said Faiza Patel, the lead author of the Brennan Center study.
In 2014, in addition to receiving funds from the county, the WORDE program received funds from the Department of Justice, as part of the agency’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants program.
The Nation’s Test Lab
Investigative reporter Waqas Mirza unearthed the workings of the WORDE model through the Freedom of Information Act and found that a “key component” of WORDE’s program involves training stakeholders on how to identify individuals who may be influenced by various risk factors for violent extremism.” Given that “the processes of radicalization are complex, non-linear, and rely on a combination of factors,” WORDE has developed its own “multivariate, cluster-model approach” to identify people “who are at-risk for violent extremism.”
These signs include critiques of the “US interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, drone attacks in Pakistan, the establishment of military bases in Muslim majority countries, human rights abuses against Muslims in Guantanamo Bay, civil rights infringements, US support for Israel, and Washington’s reluctance to support regime change in authoritarian states in the Middle East” —again speech protected by the first amendment. These identifiers are a major concern for civil rights activists as well as parents, in light of the Montgomery County Police Chief’s Darryl McSwain statements, that the program is a “conduit of information” —a way to gather information.
This shows how extractive this program is, said Majeed, a junior at Brown University, as she spoke to the audience in the ICM library. “It is as if we are delusional,” said Majeed, who says that it is a complete erasure of Muslim experiences and our grievances. “We [Muslim youth] are viewed as potential security threat for being in a bad mood.”
“I didn’t know,” whispers an audience member.
Majeed says that government records show that even those Muslims who have worked on implementing CVE efforts have been targeted by law enforcement and have collected intelligence on Muslims working on these programs.
“In its implementation, CVE is violent and works to criminalize Muslim American youth,” said Amara Majeed.
Counseling Services with intelligence strings attached
WORDE touts creating an ‘ingenious’ intervention program for those identified by the community as in need of care. The problem, say civil rights activists, is that there are no matrixes backed by research for community members, which include prejudiced teachers and administrators, to determine if a child is ‘headed on a path to radicalization’.
“You’re basically creating a new surveillance system, because you’re working with non-policing public service professionals. They kind of become the eyes and ears of the system to gather information on the young Muslims they’re working with,” says Arun Kundnani of New York University, a leading expert on Islamophobia.
Since September 2014, WORDE has also been training Montgomery County school resource officers (SROs), law enforcement officers in the public school system- civil rights activists tag as a part of the school to prison pipeline.
A grant report using federal funds provided by the U.S. Department of Justice hosted on the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS), not a independent peer -reviewed journal, has found the program the first evidence-based CVE-relevant programming in the United States. “To call [the “Montgomery County Model”] effective in the way they have would lead the average citizen to believe it reduces actual violence which is distinctly not the case. […To] say that it is an evidence based program after a single evaluation of a single component of the overall program is irresponsible. To be “evidence based”, a program requires much more rigorous and repeated study,” said Mariana Garrettson, a research scientist at UNC Chapel Hill.
Crossroads is the WORDE counseling program housed in the Islamic Cultural Center in Montgomery Village, Maryland. According to WORDE’s grant proposal, community members, nonprofits, police officers, and public agencies between September 2013 and June 2014 referred more than 25 people to Crossroads. Mirza notes in his expose that “the reasons noted for their referrals were homesickness, suffering from “acculturation related stress, feelings of alienation,” and having “economic stressors in their family.” These factors apparently suggested that the individuals “maybe at risk of violent extremism.” “We are filling a need in the county,” said Nauf Bazzaz of WORDE, in a comment to the audience at the August 20 forum.
A teen, Sajda, stood up and said she faced alienation and shared that the program at WORDE made her feel like she belonged. “I went to a WORDE program with a social worker who was kind,” she said. Panelists agreed with her that Muslim youth need safe spaces and resources in their own communities, but without strings attached, and without the caveat that the youth are inclined to radicalization.
“Who says no to a mentoring and counseling program?” said Ayaan Dahir of the Youth Collective, who led organizing battle against CVE in Minnesota. “Am I at risk at having all my information handed over to the FBI to be analyzed for radicalization once I enter this mentoring program?” said Dahir, says of groups offering social services in her city, some who were Somali-led organizations. “They destroyed the trust in our community,” she divulged. “They definitely divided the community.” The Youth Muslim Collective created infographics to warn people about these organizations and created their own mentoring program.
In a Star Tribune article, Saida Hentati, a family liaison in a Montgomery County Public Schools’ program for English learners, said she has referred several students struggling to fit in at the district’s large high schools to WORDE.
In January 2016 , Mirahmadi testified to the U.S. Senate that WORDE counselors do not share client information with law enforcement unless that client is deemed a threat to national security. “We have no formal legal guidance on what constitutes a national security threat, and we do not know what would happen to those individuals we report,” she said.
“When I went a MC Civil Rights Coalition meeting, that is the first time I heard about program in the county’s schools. I researched them. They say they represent us and I had never heard of them (WORDE). Having these programs in our community is an infringement of our rights- it’s like we are born with a disease- radicalism,” says Umm Omar, an active community member, mother and MoCo resident.
Susan Kerin, who heads the Islamophobia section of MCCRC and other coalition members have met with the Family Support and Engagement
Associate Superintendent, Dr. Jonathan T. Brice, at the MoCo public school system. “He told us the CVE folks had visits with the school and the school system ‘refused to give them what they asked for and will never give them what they asked for." He wouldn't specify but we think they wanted records because he kept mentioning FERPA.” FERPA is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, which protects student privacy.
“The [WORDE program] may look beneficial, but it can lead to entrapment,” says Umm Omar. She was appalled when she heard about it and started informing the moms around her.
How is CVE manifesting in Prince George’s County and the rest of the country?
According to literature published by WORDE and MPD, the BRAVE model is now is currently being replicated in Prince George’s County, Maryland and Denver, Colorado. It is also institutionalized in the University of Maryland Health and Homeland security in Baltimore County.
Lack of transparency
Majeed, the youth civil rights activist, said that MoCo Civil Rights Coalition has requested the county to hold public hearings on the topic but they have declined. The county did release the name of the new ombudsman— Jim Stowe of the Montgomery County Department of Human Rights—and released the members of the CORE Advisory Council. This council, which will oversee the new iteration of the program, is currently comprised of the Montgomery County Police Department, Montgomery County Department of Health & Human Services, Montgomery County Office of Community Partnerships, Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management & Homeland Security, Faith Community Working Group, Montgomery County Public Schools, the Collaboration Council, Interfaith Works, the International Cultural Center (WORDE) and the Ethiopian Community Development Council.
MCCRC requested information on the interviews listed in Appendix II of the Build Resistance Against Violent Extremism (BRAVE) national strategic plan. “Nobody (FEMA, Montgomery County, University of Maryland, or the State of Maryland) seems to have it. This means they are adopting a report that essentially has secret documentation that can't be validated. This is unacceptable in research arenas,” states Susan Kerin, who has a long history of human rights activistism.
Rebranding the CVE
The WORDE program was rebranded several times from Montgomery County Model, to BRAVE and now is institutionalized in the University of Maryland as CORE (Communities Organized for Resilience and Empowerment).
Parents and community members were disturbed. “I am glad I came to this session because I was not aware it was still in the community. I know the work WORDE does but thought that they no longer receive funding,” says Aizat, who asked that her full name not be used.
“Google the [organizations]; everything is there. Follow the money,” says Umm Omar to mothers who have asked about programming in their community.
At the ICM forum
CVE sows distrust in communities was the Youth Muslim Collective’s message from Minneapolis. Ayaan Dahir shared how Minneapolis, with the largest Somali diaspora in the world, was chosen as a pilot city. “We didn’t have the financial resources to fight back; we had to create to grassroots movement against it. “They knew that to succeed in our city it had to be from the community, they did it through social services,” she said. Somali youths have been at the crux of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslims, and anti-Black discrimination in many cities across the country, even in Boston.
“We are viewed as potential security threat,” says Dahir. She spoke about the recent case of 3 Somali-American youth who were entrapped by the FBI in her city.
DHS was built on Islamophobia after 9/11 said Fatima Ahmed of the Muslim Justice League in Boston, one of the pilot cities. She relayed her community’s experiences in North Carolina, where there were a significant amount of entrapment cases. UNC received largest grant $870,000 given to communication department. Her plan was to hire 18-22 year old undergrads to create videos to counter terrorism. This program was based on the debunked conveyor belt theory. The conveyor belt theory asserts that the more conservative a Muslim is in their beliefs, the more fundamentalist they will become, and ultimately radicalized. “These programs do more damage is what we have learned from the programs in the United Kingdom,” she said.
An audience member wanted to hear “both sides of the story”. He insisted that organizers give WORDE the mic and not infringe their “freedom of speech”. Organizers said that they would give WORDE representatives a chance to comment. Amara Majeed, the youth organizer, said that she didn’t think it was fair that expressing their concerns was characterized as freedom of speech infringements. She was greeted by thunderous applause.
Nouf Bazaz, a WORDE representative in the audience at the Resisting Surveillance forum at ICM, commented that their program is governed by HIPAA, a law that protects patients’ privacy. ”For example if there is immnent harm to self or others,” sshe said. Fatima Ahmed, who works in the health field, retorted that the standard for HIPAA does not exclude concerns, as what constitutes as life threatening is not standard. “When you are telling that professional you have to decide where that imminent harm is... when many of [them] look at [us] as a potential threat,” said Ahmed.
When asked, WORDE’s Bazaz would not give a definitive answer about their leaders or organization’s relationship with the FBI. “The same as any organizations.. I don’t know,” she said. “You can talk to Sr Hadieh; she is very forthcoming.”
FAITH Community Working Group
A soon to be released report provided to the Muslim Link by the Montgomery Civil Rights Coalition, states that “in our over 7-years of advocacy for civil rights, the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MCCRC) has identified a pattern of other anti-Muslim sentiment and actions at the county government level in which mainstream Muslim organizations and advocates have been excluded from participation, thus allowing others to insert an Islamophobic voice into county policies unchallenged. Examples range from a community picnic blacklist to a national firestorm where our school board erased all holidays from the school calendar rather than allow the county’s Muslim children to have their holiday off.” Organizations such as CAIR, Shoulder to Shoulder and the Muslim American Society were specifically blacklisted.
“Rev. Mansfield “Kasey” Kaseman called me to tell me that the real reason was ‘extremism’, in the view of the third FCWG co-chair, Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, and that Ms. Mirahmadi [of WORDE] agreed,” stated Thomas Nepheww, a Friendship Picnic Organizer in his letter of resignation due to the blacklisting of Muslim groups, in the report.
Mirahmadi already works from a premise of the Kabbani Doctrine (she is his student, receiving her Islamic education through his As-Sunnah Foundation of America) that 80 percent of masajid in the United States are “extremist” and a closer look into the level of Islamophobia exhibited also shows what happens when sectarianism meets Zionism.
“The blacklisting of Muslim organizations, particularly CAIR, which is recognized as the largest Muslim civil rights organizations, has twofold implications. First, it removes the recognized voice for a large swath of the Muslim population. But even further, it creates a precedence in which a private organization (in this instance the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) is afforded veto rights in terms of participation at taxpayer funded events and censorship of materials,” states the MCCRC report.
What if your masjid leader is a CVE proponent?
Recently WORDE conducted a bullying survey of the children at the Islamic Center of Maryland’s Sunday school, without informing the parents. ICM parents speaking in confidence with the Muslim Link stated that they were livid. “How dare they?” said the mother.
Naveed Ahmed, Board of Trustees for ICM noted that ICM does not have an offical position on the program, nor have they endorsed it as an organization. They are concerned and want to be a particpant in discussing these issues, “to resolve these issues for all of us.”
Many local imams are on the the FAITH Working Commitee Group and the issue needs to be discussed with them as well.
“We need volunteers from the masjid to come out and create programs for the youth instead of relying on outsiders,” she added.
Be vocal and loud and unapologetic, suggested Dahir to community members. Islamic Centers and mosques cannot stay neutral about this issue, she added.“Our youth deserve mental health counseling and safe spaces without being labeled prone to terror,” she stressed.
“I have little doubt that many of those who argue in favor of CVE mean well, but the risks that were patently obvious in the Obama years have been magnified a hundredfold under the current administration. Indeed, even the handful of Muslim groups who were willing to take CVE money are mostly no longer on board. It’s hard to see how an initiative that claims to be “community-led” is going to work if there is almost nobody left in the community to lead it. It’s time to let this dog die,” writes lawyer Faiza Patel in Just Security, a U.S. national security law and policy blog run by Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law.
What's Behind the WORDE?
A Look at Kabbani's Front Organization in Montgomery County: WORDE - the World Organization for Resource Development & Education
In 2010, the Islamic Supreme Council of America (ISCA), founded by extremist Sufi sheikh Hisham Kabbani, purchased a $ 2.5 million property next to the Montgomery Department of Health in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
In January 2011, WORDE incorporated in the county and locates within the ISCA building. The Executive Director, Dr. Hedieh Mirahmadi, a senior advisor to the US government, also serves as the ISCA General Secretary. Sheik Muhammad Hisham Kabbani is listed as a WORDE specialist.
WORDE published the CVE manifesto “A Community Based Approach to Countering Radicalization.” Referenced in the document is an article from noted Islamophobe Daniel Pipes to justify discrediting CAIR.
The International Cultural Center (ICC) in Gaithersburg is also registered under the WORDE parent company and located within the ISCA building and starts administering the CVE “therapy” sessions.
In 1999, Sh Kabbani gave a speech at the US State Department saying that Islamic extremists have infiltrated the vast majority of American Muslim masajid and Muslim student and community groups, including the MSA. In his clarification, he asserted,”because they are very active [extremists] they took over the mosques; and we can say that they took over more than 80% of the mosques that have been established in the US. And there are more than 3000 mosques in the US. So it means that the methodology or ideology of extremism has been spread to 80% of the Muslim population [in America], but not all of them agree with it."
He also claimed that extremist Muslims in America had bought more than 20 nuclear warheads and were paying former Soviet scientists to break them into chips that could be carried in suitcases. “We want to tell people to be careful, that something major might hit quickly.” he said. He has also said that a telltale sign of an extremist mosque was a focus on the Palestinian struggle.
A press release issued by major Muslim organizations including CAIR and ICNA after Kabbani charged that America's masajid were controlled by extremists included the following: “Mr. Kabbani has put the entire American Muslim community under unjustified suspicion. In effect, Mr. Kabbani is telling government officials that the majority of American Muslims pose a danger to our society. Additionally, Islamophobic individuals and groups may use these statements as an excuse to commit hate crimes against Muslims...We therefore ask Mr. Kabbani to promptly and publicly retract his statements, to apologize to the American Muslim community, and to exert his utmost effort to undo the damage these statements have done. The issue is not that of a mere difference of opinion within an American religious community, but involves the irresponsible act of providing false information to government officials. This false information can jeopardize the safety and well-being of our community and hurt America itself by damaging its values of inclusiveness, fairness and liberty.”