About Arun Kundnani

Arun Kundnani is the author of “The Muslims are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror,” (Verso Books, 2014). Kundnani, an adjunct professor at New York University, has studied terrorism and the effects of counter-radicalization policies in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Mike German, Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, interviewed Kundnani on July 10, 2014. Read an edited transcript of the full interview here.

Part 1: The History of Radicalization Theory

Arun Kundnani traces the history of western theories of terrorist radicalization as a means to criminalize and suppress political ideologies and activism, from the use of agents provocateur within the Philippine independence movement in the early part of the 20th Century through the Palmer Raids after World War I and the FBI’s COINTELPRO activities during the civil rights movement. Kundnani references a 1919 Supreme Court opinion upholding an Espionage Act conviction to explain how radicalization framing diverts attention away from the consequences of state violence: “…the irony is in a context where huge numbers of people are dying in this war in Europe, the one who’s shouting ‘fire’ is the anarchist advocating for peace.”

Part 2: Development of Modern Radicalization Theory

Arun Kundnani describes how modern radicalization theories promulgated by the FBI and NYPD have developed since 9/11, highlighting the lack of scholarly rigor and empirical evidence in these studies. According to Kundnani, the failure to subscribe to appropriate social science methodologies leads to a mistaken belief that ideology is an indicator of violence, which in turn results in the broad targeting of Muslim communities for surveillance and agents provocateur.

Part 3: Privatization and Politization of Intelligence

Arun Kundnani discusses how government-funded academic terrorism studies departments reinforce flawed government radicalization theories. These entities are not producing studies that meet social science standards, Kundnani notes, but instead see themselves as servicing the needs of law enforcement, which require a simple formula for directing surveillance programs. The studies then promote broad surveillance programs based on ideology rather than concrete evidence of wrongdoing.

Part 4: Counter-radicalization and Chilling Speech

Arun Kundnani explains how government radicalization theories misinterpret Muslims’ political activism as seeds of an extremist belief system. Kundnani notes that the difference from earlier government efforts to suppress the labor movement in the early 20th Century, for example, between current government suppression efforts and earlier ones, such as efforts to suppress the labor movement in the early 20th Century, is that government leaders no longer need an expressed intent to target ideology because the academic radicalization studies do that work for them, by identifying ideology as a precursor to terrorism.

Part 5: Disparate Reaction to Terrorism by Muslim Extremists

Arun Kundnani discusses the discusses the disparity between the wealth of government resources devoted to preventing terrorism committed by Muslim extremists versus sectarian violence and far-right violence, which actually harm more people. Violence intended to compel changes to foreign policy are treated more aggressively than similar violence targeting minority groups, Kundnani notes.

Part 6: CVE Community Outreach Programs

Arun Kundnani examines the problems with countering violent extremism (CVE) community engagement programs, which often consist of government officials urging community leaders to suppress dissent against U.S. foreign and domestic policies. According to Kundnani, the government tends to view these programs less as an effort to address community concerns than an intelligence gathering exercise.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Aaronson, Trevor. The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism. (Ig Publishing, 2013).

Cole, David. Enemy Aliens: Double Standards and Constitutional Freedoms in the War on Terrorism. (New Press, 2005).

Kundnani, Arun. The Muslims are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror. (Verso Books, 2014).

Mamdani, Mahmood. Good Muslim Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror. (Harmony, 2005).

Scahill, Jeremy. Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. (Nation Books, 2013).