Faiza Patel, Margot Adams and Emily Hockett write: Recently, the House of Representatives narrowly voted down an amendment to the annual defense spending bill that targeted the Islamic faith. Sponsored by Arizona Republican Trent Franks, the amendment instructed Defense Secretary James Mattis to conduct a strategic assessment of the use of “violent or unorthodox Islamic religious doctrine to support extremist or terrorist messaging and justification.” The Defense Department would have been required to identify “Islamic religious doctrines, concepts, or schools of thought” used by various extremist groups, and provide recommendations for identifying “key thought leaders or proponents” of these doctrines. The amendment failed in the face of strenuous opposition by every House Democrat as well as 27 Republicans and numerous advocacy organizations.
It is, of course, sensible for the government to study the motivations of terrorist groups that seek to harm us. Indeed, the U.S. government has been studying the belief systems of terrorists for years. The Franks amendment is fundamentally flawed, however, in that it assumes that “unorthodox Islamic religious doctrine” is the motive, to the exclusion of all others. It’s not unique in this regard. Government officials from both parties have long sought to frame political violence in the Muslim world as primarily one of religious “extremism” or “radicalization,” to avoid a broader evaluation of U.S. foreign policy and U.S. support for autocratic, and often brutally suppressive, regimes in the region as sources of instability and anti-American sentiment.
Coming on the heels of President Donald Trump’s speech in Warsaw, which described terrorism carried out in the name of Islam and the refugee crisis as an assault on “Western values,” and combined with the overall anti-Muslim tenor of the current administration, the Franks amendment simply continues the narrative of counterterrorism as a civilizational struggle—a narrative that Franks himself has long embraced—laying the blame for the violence of a relative few at the doorstep of a faith practiced by almost two billion people around the world. As Rep. Ruben Gallego (a former Marine infantryman), speaking against the Franks amendment on the House floor, said, “By singling out a faith tradition…we are sending a dangerous message and signal that America is at war with Islam.” [Continue reading…]