Words Matter: Don’t Let Trump Limit Violent Extremism to Muslims

Words matter. How we refer to laws, government agencies, and people impact how we (and others) think of them. Which is why I’m terrified about reports that Trump is planning to rename a program from “Countering Violent Extremism” to “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism. ”

This change is not only about name.  It is also a change of focus, no longer looking at violent acts of white supremacy, for instance. I presume those acts would be left to some other law enforcement agency or program. But it is the change of name, and therefore message, that I find scary.

By explicitly limiting the taskforce to Islamic violence, Trump is implicitly sending the message that violence born of other beliefs is acceptable, or at the very least, not in the same category of “badness” as violence originating from Islamic extremism. I would even argue that he is speaking to a part of his base which holds racist, anti-Islamic or anti-semitic views, and telling them that acting on those views is acceptable, or even laudable.

The Dome of the Rock

I would remind people that Kristalnacht was not an official government action, but was a vigilante action which was tacitly condoned by the Nazi government. Changing the name of this program begins to move us a little closer to government policies that tacitly condone violence–as long as it is not perpetrated by Muslims.

You may think I’m overreacting. After all, it’s just a name, right? But what legitimate purpose is served by changing the name? It doesn’t even pass the test of “it’s a simpler name,” since it’s actually a longer name.

A signal is being sent. I assure you there are those among Trump’s base who are hearing it loud and clear. It may seem like it matters far less than appointments to various offices or executive orders that have immediate impact. But a name change such as this scare me far more than many of the practical decisions being made, because it is an explicit religious test.

I have always been a little wary of hate crime legislation–it relies too heavily on the intent behind an act rather than the act itself. Criminalize the act, not the motivation for it. This is a variant on hate crime legislation: Violent Extremism by Muslims is being given a different status from Violent Extremism by Christians. How long will it be before Trump is not only not condemning, but actually praising those who shoot up mosques?