Why “Islam is the Problem” Training is So Counterproductive

There’s been a lot of attention in recent months on the cadre of counterterrorism trainers who are peddling paranoia and fear about what they believe is the “real” problem: Islam itself.  As one who provides training for law enforcement and government audiences, I’m particularly concerned about this issue.

Not only is their brand of anti-Islamic training factually incorrect but it actually becomes self-fulfilling as it serves to confirm that what many Western Muslims already suspect is being the case.  Today, Ackerman over at Wired’s Danger Room has a great new piece looking at some training being provided to FBI from some of these “Islam is the Problem” trainers.

Although I’m not shocked to hear that agencies of the USG are paying for this kind of garbage before, I am resolute in my commitment to work toward some kind of solution. But before I do, I figure I’d profile what’s being said within the English-language Islamic forums upon hearing this story.  Here are some quotes about news that “CT experts” are conducting anti-Islamic training for USG with my reactions interspersed:

Forum User: “Looks like years of sucking up to the authorities, throwing innocent Muslims under the bus and cooperating with the feds has done “American Muslims” no good at all. In fact, the Maghrib crowd are probably all under surveillance as the FBI views them as potential terrorists”

JB reaction: This kind of exasperation is being echoed throughout the forums.  Despite ten years of rhetoric about the need to engage the American Islamic community with respect , the USG continues supporting individuals who advocate  suspicion of the religion.

Forum User: “There was once a Lion who came across three bulls: a red bull, a white bull and a black bull. The Lion tried to attack them but because they were strong together he decided to bide his time. He befriended the bulls and told them he was protecting them.One day he called the Red Bull and the Black Bull and said ”My friends I am really concerned for you.”  “Why?” they asked. The Lion responded “The White Bull represents a threat to you; he stands out with his complexion and he is going to make you a target for other predators and hunters; the lives of both of you at risk, let me eliminate him.”The Red Bull and Black Bull agreed, after all the Lion was their sincere friend and King of the Jungle. The lion attacked the white bull and, because noone came to his help, he was defeated. The lion ate him.A few weeks went by and the Lion called the Black Bull over and gives him the same speech ”The Red Bull represents a threat to you by attracting attention, let me eliminate him and you will be safe.”The Black Bull agreed; he was a friend of the King of the Jungle so who cares about anyone else….So he allowed the Lion to kill and eat the Red Bull.A few days later the Lion confronted the Black Bull and said “Now it is your turn”…The Black Bull finally realised his mistake and said, ”I was killed the moment the white bull was killed.”

JB reaction: The point of the anecdote posted to this Islamic forum is clear. The USG, for this user, is the lion who is seeking to befriend various elements of Islam (bulls) long enough to divide and conquer them.  Revelations that the USG is supporting hater trainers while talking about the need for friendship only support this kind of narrative.

The list of attendees to this conference should be exposed and every single agency should make public record their position on this kind of filth…But this filth is more an enemy to mankind and an agent to shaytan.

JB reaction: Even those forum users who participate in hardline Islamist internet forums recognize the need for USG agencies to increase their transparency about who they pay to come provide training.

The bigger problem for me is that reports of hater training perfectly reinforces the themes of “RAND Islam” that have been advanced for years by AQ’s General Command, about how the US is trying to labotomize and secularize Islam from the inside out.  So, it’s this synchronization of global AQ messaging with local online postings with real world examples from USG.

At the end of the day, what gets the US into trouble and serves to continue fueling  the fire of jihadist ideology is the continued discrepancy between our words and our actions. Counter-narratives are not the solution.  De-radicalization programs won’t save the day.  The only way to convince fence-sitters that the US doesnt actually want a war with Islam is to stop doing things that make it seem like we want a war with Islam.

I’m finally going to step into this debate and say that there needs to be some sort of standards/metrics for assessing training qualification among CT trainers.  I dont think a “good list” v “bad list” of individuals  is appropriate, but there needs to be some sort of standard in place for what kind of training USG funds can be spent on.




  1. Mark Stout says:

    Well said, Jarret. This sort of training is appalling in its lack of intellectual soundness and damaging to American national security to boot.

  2. Ezio says:

    Anti-Islam sentiment is widespread, particularly among Republicans and the Tea Party and I doubt many them would have any issue with people like Gawthrop. In fact, they would probably support. I remember one Zogby survey which revealed that a disturbing 85% of the GOP has a negative view of Muslims. Even on mainstream websites like Yahoo news, one can find (sometimes hundreds) of commentators posting bigoted, anti-Muslim comments.

    Case in point: http://news.yahoo.com/defying-us-palestinians-press-forward-un-bid-201237577.html

  3. Ezio says:

    Also, Barth’s Notes was on this story for a long time.


    William Gawthrop is far from the only example.

  4. Admin says:

    sure, NPR, the Wash Monthly, CNN and others have been doing good reporting on the issue all year. So i’m not bringing it out as something new or as if Gawthrop is the only one out there. Rather, it’s something I’ve been hesitant to engage in but have finally decided to take a vocal position on the issue. I’m tired of this “creeping sharia” / islam is out to get you stuff. so, what’s new is both Ackerman’s release of the primary source material as well as my decision to engage.

  5. AJB says:

    Jarret, thank you for your principled stand on this very important issue. Although this is nothing new, it’s good to see you coming out clearly on this. I’m a strong believer in the free marketplace of ideas, and I do think that bad ideas are best countered with better ideas. However I get very concerned when such blatant stupidity is actually taken seriously as legitimate CT training. I’ll be very interested to see what “meaningful standards” may arise from this.

  6. RB says:

    Ackerman’s Wired article on FBI training sparked quite a discussion on one intel email list I belong to, populated by many hundreds of current MI and LE folks. Rather alarmingly, discussion probably ran two-to-one in favour of this sort of approach, whereby Muslims are understood to be inherently, doctrinally predisposed to violence.

    It’s about time we started pushing back against these sort of reductionist, essentialist “analysis” of the threat (drop me an email if you want to exchange more views on the topic).

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