MPAC's Long Con: CVE and Gaslighting for the National Security State
6 Years of A Scam. What do Muslims Do?
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) recently announced they “were wrong” when it came to Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), the failed unscientific terrorism soothsaying program that exclusively focused on Muslims. To the casual observer, it may seem almost heroic for an organization to admit that a program that has been at the core of its mission for the past six years has been “wrong” this whole time. It is not. MPAC and its leadership still have much to answer, as do their many enablers within the Muslim community.
The program, specifically MPAC’s CVE Program “Safe Spaces,” singled out Muslims as a problem community and Islam as a problem religion and targeted the most vulnerable. CVE was built on top of a fundamental fraud: that it was possible to predict who future terrorists might be and where they come from. The so-called “risk factors” that grew out of such efforts were often vague, contradictory, and often comical; for example, both growing or shaving a beard could be risk factors. MPAC’s risk factors included people wanting to be cool or reading books written by Sayyid Qutb.
That MPAC was able to peddle obvious batil (falsehood) for years and still be taken seriously by Muslim organizations nationally speaks to Muslim institutions and leadership's weaknesses. This is a larger issue we should look to remedy.
My journey on writing about Muslim non-profits and recognizing how corrupt they can be started with MPAC and our opposition to CVE in Los Angeles. I was involved (with a great community of individuals and organizations) from the beginning. Recently, the Lawfare blog (which focuses on CVE) noted that “perhaps the most sophisticated resistance to CVE […] came from Los Angeles.” MPAC was defeated in its push for CVE multiple times at the local level from:
Masajid where MPAC had been kicked out or not allowed to present in the first place (this is an issue with which MPAC contended before CVE)
The Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, which voted unanimously against CVE.
The city of Los Angeles, which turned down a large CVE grant, which would have benefited MPAC’s CVE program, known as “Safe Spaces.”
So why the recent admission by MPAC? At the national level, the ground shifted around MPAC’s long untenable advocacy for CVE. The Biden campaign recognized that CVE (more accurately its current rebranding to TVTP) needed to end for now. We fully expect CVE, along with other predictive policing forms affecting minority communities, will likely continue. MPAC’s public advocacy to convince Muslims their existence and religion is a policy, law enforcement and mental health problem that needed solving through generous grants to MPAC and its allies started to look unrealistic. So MPAC decided to fold on CVE.
However, MPAC’s recent statement attempted to mislead readers about its record:
We must now acknowledge our errors in attempting to improve a policy that unfairly and incorrectly singled out our community. We understand that our attempts to mitigate the harms posed by CVE programs were overshadowed by the unjust concept of CVE itself, which is built on a deeply flawed theoretical foundation.
MPAC, in rolling out its own branded “Safe Spaces” CVE program, dispensed with the “political correctness” of the Obama Administration in name-checking “white supremacy” in discussing violent extremism. MPAC, in its CVE program, was all about pathologizing Muslims, the religion of Islam, and nothing else.
Ironically, for those who worked against CVE in Southern California, MPAC’s “Safe Spaces” helped educate the Muslim community about how evil CVE was. The unanimous Shura Council vote against CVE was almost entirely a reaction to the content of MPAC’s “Safe Spaces.”
You see, in the early days after the “White House CVE Summit” (in 2015), nobody really knew what CVE was in terms of the actual policy. MPAC was involved with a propaganda video for the White House CVE summit that claimed Los Angeles had a successful CVE model that needed to be replicated rapidly around the nation. It was evident, though, that this was a lie and that there was no Los Angeles CVE model outside of Safe Spaces, which was never successful. Rather, CVE outside of Safe Spaces was a collection of platitudes and jargon that sounded nothing like how normal human beings talk. Safe Spaces was concrete, and for the “debate” inside the Muslim community, Safe Spaces was CVE. Anyone can read it and find out MPAC with CVE was targeting only Muslims. That according to MPAC, reading Ibn Taymiyyah or wanting to work against injustice could make your child a terrorist.
MPAC duplicitously complained the entire time the government was disproportionately targeting Muslims in CVE while exclusively focusing on Muslims in its own CVE program and asking governments to pay them for it.
A Corrupt Model
Asking the government to pay them and allied peddlers was a fundamental part of MPAC’s CVE racket. What was clearly shown many times is that MPAC’s President, Salam Al Marayati, and those who worked for him never actually believed in the product they were aggressively and mendaciously selling.
As I identified in 2015, Al-Marayati readily acknowledged the media and policy narrative about Muslims and terrorism was inaccurate, but that this did not matter. MPAC’s then-DC office Director, responding to one of my articles, wrote mosques were “not a breeding ground” for terrorists, citing a study that did not use such repulsive zoomorphic framing for Muslims at places of worship, but undermined the whole point of MPAC’s CVE. Of course, this did not stop MPAC from advocating a program that operated with the same false assumption.
People associated with MPAC benefited from CVE. In 2015, after the White House CVE summit, Haris Tarin, the then DC Director of MPAC, took a job with the Department of Homeland Security, something other MPAC employees at the time saw as gross, and something I wrote about in 2015. Alejandro Buetel, a former MPAC staffer, contracted to author Safe Spaces (with the help of people who work with the US and Israeli security sectors), went on to work for a DHS Contractor and joined the Zionist Muslim Leadership Initiative. Ahmed Younis, a former MPAC DC Director who helped MPAC represent the Los Angeles Muslim community at the White House CVE Summit, was also a DHS Contractor who later obtained CVE-related government employment.
Without the extra help from outside the Muslim community, it would have been difficult to construct a group of Muslim community leaders who genuinely believed their religion made them more threatening to society than other people. MPAC and its allies gladly peddled such tropes, while not necessarily believing them, so long as there was a trough on which they figured they could feed.
MPAC and its allies continued to peddle, often as advocates for the program when government officials started to have doubts. It became clearer there was no science behind predicting terrorism. Much of the CVE industry devolved into meaningless jargon and almost constant rebranding. Al-Marayati of MPAC admitted as early as 2015 that CVE was not a substantive policy or program, but was 15 million dollars for a kind of “vague” sort of “engagement.”
MPAC still wanted their share of the crumbs, continuing to try to sell their dubious value to both Muslim donors and the police interests at the same time. They told their donors they were going to represent Muslims while engaging with the government. They even collected zakat for this (as they do today). Al-Marayati and MPAC also pitched their services to represent security state and law enforcement interests to propagate CVE within the Muslim community, for money. We know this from obtaining records from California’s Public Records Act and the Federal Freedom of Information Act.
MPAC’s efforts included failed grant attempts, such as with the Department of Justice (jointly with the Los Angeles Police Department spy unit) and another failed grant from the Department of Homeland Security under the CVE Grants Act. After Trump came to office, many organizations started to turn down their CVE grants the Obama Administration awarded, coming to a late realization that the whole enterprise was immoral from the start, or at least obviously impolitic now that Trump was in office. MPAC was not one of these organizations. They held out for the cash, only to have the rug pulled from under their feet by the Trump Administration. MPAC publicly contemplated legal action for denying a grant the Obama administration awarded.
Positive Change Within the System
One of MPAC’s recent claims is astonishing:
And while we consulted, discussed, and deliberated with many friends and allies who expressed this sentiment [that CVE is awful] to us years ago, we were overly optimistic in our ability to create positive change from within the system. In hindsight, this is where we should have changed course.
MPAC was never in the business of making CVE less destructive. They created a CVE program (Safe Spaces) that was a collection of some of the worst ideas in the anti-terrorism business. MPAC was working to be in the business of being a service provider for the national security state, the Muslim Pinkertons. They were no more interested in better national security policy than the Pinkertons were in making union-busting more humane, or Blackwater was in liberating the Iraqi people.
The problem is not that a Muslim organization got a policy issue wrong. Everyone does that. It’s that MPAC operated with no ethical underpinnings at all. They did not care about conflicts of interest, allowing their advocacy to be colored by grant and employment opportunities, or the interests of the marginalized in the Muslim community. They were unconcerned with who may be hurt along the way. They also played dirty.
Friends and Allies
MPAC did not have any “friends and allies” opposed to CVE, at least not in the Southern California Muslim community anyway.
I know Muslims in Southern California whose livelihoods were threatened by CVE peddlers. Others were maligned, slandered, and blacklisted from participating in civic engagement meetings. CVE Peddlers started whisper campaigns within the Muslim community about various activists, slandering them as “radicals” or hypocrites. They widely circulated a rumor that at least a dozen CAIR Executive Directors nationwide applied for the same DHS position Haris Tarin (MPAC’s then DC Director) ultimately took.
CAIR loomed large in MPAC’s fight for CVE, and the attempt by MPAC to marginalize CAIR and paint them as hypocrites or toadies for extremists was an important part of the strategy. While the strategy did not work (CAIR’s public education efforts on CVE in Southern California during the era were tireless), it had a devastating long-term effect on the Muslim community.
To understand what happened, consider the tribalism now gripping the political process in the United States, where some days it seems as though it is possible to have protracted national debates over if that thing with nostrils protruding from your face is in fact, your nose. CVE was wrong and harmful to the Muslim community. This has been beyond serious debate since the start. MPAC decided to make this their fight, knowing it was awful. They decided to fight for batil and against Haqq. Many Muslims aligned with MPAC supported CVE through tribalism rather than rational thought.
Pro-Batil fighting by MPAC made it all the way to the minbar on Friday. Omar Ricci, a long time Board Member (and former chair) of MPAC and an LAPD officer delivered a snarling 2018 khutba attacking CVE opponents, just days before the city declined federal CVE funds—a clear victory for civil rights groups and a defeat for MPAC.
The khateeb whose main qualification appears to be membership in one of the most violent police forces in the United States claimed CVE opponents were “deceitful and unethical” and railing against “Action Alerts” (apparently references to emails by CAIR and MPower Change about upcoming City Council Meetings) when “no decisions were being made.” Decisions are made in the City of Los Angeles, including the decision to reject harmful CVE funds. CVE opponents spent so much time at City Hall because elected representatives met there to make decisions. Ricci was unable to state precisely where CVE opponents were “deceitful and unethical.” MPAC, through the magic of gaslighting, now calls these same people “friends and allies.”
MPAC also attacked Muslim groups for organizing “know your rights” presentations within the Muslim community, which is critical civic and constitutional literacy, as being harmful to Muslims. They did this by simply making up holdings of US Supreme Court Cases and misquoting a lawyer who had a history of giving such presentations.
The result of MPAC’s spreading ignorance in the larger Muslim community was depressing. Muslim community leaders and donors coddled MPAC and Al-Marayati, engaged in “adab policing” against activists and leaders who were only speaking the truth, and organized asinine events at Islamic conferences based on the Islamophobic CVE frame. If MPAC opposed CVE from the beginning or were even silent about it, this likely would not have happened.
MPAC was awarded one CVE grant (that we know about)-a grant for $20,000 from the Urban Areas Security Initiative of the Department of Homeland Security through the City of Los Angeles. It purported to offer “mental health counseling” to members of a masjid. In reality, it was a pilot program in terrorism prediction. Here is an example of the form used in the Safe Spaced-based program.
Mental health counseling does not typically assume the patient may be a future terrorist. Yet, here they report on unscientific “warning signs” and “risk factors” for future criminal behavior. Victims of this scam were not informed they were being evaluated for their terrorist proclivities.
MPAC Should Do Better
MPAC’s admission that CVE was wrong is inadequate. The organization must also address the vulnerable people it used as terror-prevention Guinea Pigs under the guise of providing mental health counseling. Unfortunately, MPAC did not address this glaring problem.
What Muslim Leaders and Donors Should Demand of MPAC
MPAC’s extremely late admission that going all-in with Countering Violent Extremism was a mistake this whole time might make some Muslim leaders and donors see to forgiving them. Merely admitting a mistake, however, should not be enough. They should make it right. As I have explained previously, MPAC is a repeat offender, working for police interests against the Muslim community years before CVE. I have a few suggestions:
1) Create Rules of Ethics: Ethics has been MPAC’s most significant challenge. There should be strict enforceable rules through a contract that prevent insiders from seeking employment or any other gain from the work they do to represent the Muslim community. MPAC should have rules that avoid inherent conflicts of interest, such as a Board Member, advisory board member, an employee working as a foreign agent, a national security contractor, or a member of law enforcement.
2) Restorative Justice. In the last few days, I have had the opportunity to speak with some of MPAC’s victims in its CVE fight. MPAC’s board members should work to reach out to Muslim activists and leaders they have been unjustly fighting. MPAC was fighting for batil (falsehood), while those it was fighting were working for Haqq (truth). MPAC, leaving aside the gaslighting in its recent statement, should see this now and work to make things right.
3) Return and Account for Funds. MPAC should account for all funds it received for CVE or any similar program from all sources and return those funds when appropriate. When not appropriate (funds that came from subgrants from defense contractors or others), it should return the funds to its pro-CVE campaign victims.
4) Change Its Leadership. MPAC should never be trusted under Salam Al-Marayati, nor should Al-Marayati ever again hold a position of trust in the Muslim community. The fact that he steered MPAC in the wrong direction for most of a decade on CVE should give any board of directors pause. Beyond this, Al-Marayati has demonstrated poor regard for the community he purports to serve. He falsely claimed many times to Muslim leaders that MPAC had no CVE program and that Safe Spaces was not CVE, only to be corrected repeatedly. Similarly, board members who supported CVE should understand the seriousness of their errors and allow others to take their place.
Muslim organizations should not include MPAC as a peer or give it or its leaders legitimacy. Doing so may only enable batil. Until it reforms substantially, it should be regarded as a bad faith operator in Muslim spaces.