Thanks to some terrific work by Wired's Spencer Ackerman, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is working hard this week to walk back some blatantly Islamophobic claims made by an FBI employee during a counter-terrorism seminar held earlier this year.
Despite the concerns raised by US Senators and representatives from Muslim groups about a similar seminar delivered by FBI employee William Gawthorp in April of 2011, a recently released video shows Gawthorp repeating his offensive and patently false claims about Islam while during a June lecture to between 60 and 70 law enforcement officials at "an FBI-sponsored public-private partnership in New York City."
Here's the video, courtesy of Wired:
In case you don't have the time, patience, or stomach to sit though Gawthorp's entire presentation, we can sum it up for you pretty easily. According to Gawthorp, al Qaeda and similar groups (he names Hamas and Hezbolla) are only the projections of a deeper threat to the security of the United States: Islam itself.
In Gawthrop’s worldview, the struggle against al-Qaida is really just an afterthought in a broader war. The group that knocked down the World Trade Center and rammed a jet into the Pentagon is a mere distraction. These are the professional assessments of a representative from the nation’s top domestic counterterrorism agency — a man considered so expert in understanding militant strategy that the FBI had him training agents on the subject.
“We waste a lot of analytic effort talking about the type of weapon, the timing, the tactics. All of that is irrelevant … if you have an Islamic motivation for actions,” Gawthrop said. Even taking down hostile states like Iran is futile, since “there are still internal forces that will seek to exert Islamic rule again.”
The best strategy for undermining militants, Gawthrop suggested, is to go after Islam itself. To undermine the validity of key Islamic scriptures and key Muslim leaders.
The Bureau released a statement on Friday attempting to clarify its position on the deeply inappropriate trainings.
"The FBI is committed to protecting Americans' rights under the U.S. Constitution, including a person's right to live, work, and worship as they wish. Strong religious beliefs should never be confused with violent extremism...Views that are contrary should not and will not be taught to FBI employees.
The training segment that is the subject of recent media reports does not reflect the views of the FBI and is not consistent with the overall instruction provided to FBI personnel," the statement continued. "It was conducted six months ago, one time only, and was quickly discontinued because it was inconsistent with FBI standards on this topic. It was delivered to an audience of 37 agents as part of FBI career path training."
Where does one even begin with something like this? It is bad enough that certain dark corners of the Web continue to buzz with the sort of vitriol and blatant misinformation that Gawthorp relayed to his audiences. But the video above shows a government employee, in the service of the FBI, repeating some of the basest misconceptions about Islam to dozens of other law enforcement officials expected to incorporate the gleanings from his lecture into their work.
Gawthorp's assumptions rest on the same hateful argument that fueled last summer's side-show antics in protest again the Park51 Community Center project in Manhattan. According to the faulty logic of Gawthorp's argument, which is being passed off as truth to our nation's law enforcement officials thanks to the authority conferred by Gawthorp's position with the FBI, all practitioners of the world's second-largest religion are somehow complicit in a belief system uniquely suited to the promotion of violence. Never mind that, according to a recent Gallup poll, Muslims in the US are "the staunchest opponents of military attacks on civilians, compared with members of other major religious groups."
Adam Serwer over at Mother Jones also noted that the FBI's attempt to disavow the offensive materials used in the seminars has angered "professional Islamophobe" Robert Spencer, the SPLC-certified hatemonger-in-chief over at JihadWatch.org. According to Spencer, by putting the kibosh on these trainings, the FBI is effectively "purg[ing] its terrorism training seminars of any hint of the truth about the global jihad and Islamic supremacism." Spencer also attempts to preemptively blame Ackerman's reporting on the issue for leaving the US more vulnerable to future terror attacks, claiming "Ackerman's responsibility for the next jihad attack in the U.S. grows apace."
As Serwer astutely points out, Spencer's attempt to lay blame for future violence at Ackerman's feet demonstrates a rare and precious form of hypocrisy:
"You might have thought Spencer would have backed off assigning responsibility for terrorism to people other than the actual terrorists ever since he was cited more than a 150 times in the sprawling manifesto of alleged anti-Muslim Oslo terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, who is charged with killing 76 people this July. At that time, Spencer whined about the "blame game," writing that "as if killing a lot of children aids the defense against the global jihad and Islamic supremacism, or has anything remotely to do with anything we have ever advocated.""
As vile as it may be, Islamophobic rhetoric is to be expected from individuals like Robert Spencer who have embraced hate-speech as their stock in trade. What we cannot abide are government employees conducting trainings under the auspices of government agencies like the FBI repeating the same distortions and misconceptions about Islam and Muslim Americans that fuel the hatred of fringe elements like Spencer and his ilk.