The FBI’s attempts to “provide awareness about the dangers of violent extremist predators on the Internet” through the use of an interactive, video game-style website have not gone down well with many Muslim and Arab advocacy groups. Members of some of these groups, who were invited to preview the website, raised objections over the program, and accused the agency of having “misplaced priorities,” according to media reports.
“The program is based on flawed theories of radicalization, namely that individuals radicalize in the exact same way and it’s entirely discernible,” Arjun S. Sethi, a counterterrorism specialist and an adjunct professor of law at the Georgetown University Law Center, who was invited by the FBI to provide feedback for the program, told the New York Times. “But it’s not, and the FBI is basically asking teachers and students to suss these things out.”
The website -- designed for use in civics and social studies classes in schools -- reportedly leads the viewer through a series of games and tips intended to teach a person how to identify a victim of radical extremism. With each correct answer, scissors cut a puppet’s string, until the puppet is eventually free.
While the exact details of the contents of the website are not yet available, the advocacy groups are believed to have raised strong objections to its disproportionate focus on Islamic extremism and stereotypical representations of Muslims.
“If this is shown to middle and high school students, it’s going to result in the bullying of these children,” Abed Ayoub, the legal and policy director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told the Times.
According to the Washington Post, the website -- called “Don’t Be A Puppet” -- was scheduled to go live Monday but has since been put on hold following the objections.
The rise of the Islamic State group, and the spread of its propaganda online, has, over the past year, been a major source of worry for American law enforcement authorities. In July, FBI Director James Comey said that ISIS' influence on "troubled" Americans was a bigger threat to the U.S. than al Qaeda.
However, in a report released earlier this year, the 9/11 Review Commission found that the FBI is not the “appropriate vehicle for the social and prevention role in the CVE [Countering Violent Extremism] mission,” and that “other government agencies” would be better suited to undertake the task.
“The one that should be involved is the Department of Education. The FBI is overreaching its mission,” Ayoub told the Post. “What if the issue is one of mental health? We don’t believe the FBI has a role in this type of work. The FBI should be about protecting the community.”