Teaching Law-Enforcement Officials To Fear Islam

TEACHING LAW-ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS TO FEAR ISLAM…. NPR ran a report yesterday on a subject we’ve been following closely here at the Washington Monthly: the training of law-enforcement officials in counterterrorism, and specifically how this training relates to religious minorities.

Army Lt. Col. Reid Sawyer, a career intelligence officer, runs the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. This week, at a New York Fire Department training center, Sawyer stood before a classroom of 40 fire marshals, chiefs and firefighters who are taking an 11-week course in terrorism. The evening’s topic: the evolution of al-Qaida.

“So, the question is, when you are sitting in the firehouses, how do you make sense of the threat that is before you?” Sawyer asked the class. “How do you understand when you are reading the newspapers what it means?”

Sawyer has been giving firefighters, beat cops and federal agents counterterrorism training since 1993. He is considered an example of how this sort of training is supposed to work. So Sawyer has been watching with alarm the phenomenon of officials with limited experience selling themselves as terrorism instructors.

“You’ve got a lot of individuals who are not academically qualified to be instructing in these venues, and more importantly they are speaking with authority, which empowers the audience with knowledge that is not necessarily accurate,” said Sawyer, adding that these short courses tend to stereotype Muslims in a way that just isn’t helpful as officials redouble their efforts to fight homegrown terrorism and radical Islam.

The NPR piece focused on a report out this week from the Boston-based Political Research Associates, which scrutinized the companies that are providing counterterrorism training to law enforcement officials. The PRA report is online here.

But it’s worth emphasizing that the PRA report didn’t offer an inside-the-room perspective on what, exactly, officials are being taught during these training sessions. In an investigative piece in the upcoming March/April issue of the Washington Monthly, Meg Stalcup and Joshua Craze did just that, reporting on the billions of dollars in grants going to these training sessions, and what law-enforcement officials are being told by “instructors.”

To put it mildly, we’re not getting our money’s worth. America’s front line police officers are being told by taxpayer-financed “experts” that Muslim radicals can be spotted by the “cone shape” of their beards, Islam is a “violent radical religion,” and the Prophet Muhammad was “a pedophile.” Despite the government grants, there’s little supervision over who provides the instruction or what’s being taught.

The result could be dangerous: having a bunch of ill-trained cops sleuthing around for jihadis not only poses a threat to civil liberties, but could jeopardize the very counter-terrorism efforts the government is supposed to be conducting.

Pete King may not have a problem with this; the rest of us should.