Today, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee/ Defending Dissent Foundation joined the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and Muslim Advocates and a coalition of civil rights and civil liberties groups requesting that the FBI shut down a website that purports to prevent violent extremism, but in reality violates the First Amendment rights of Muslims and some political activists including those engaged in animal rights, environmental, anti-tax and abortion issues. The game, designed to be used in schools also promotes prejudice and exacerbates an environment of bigotry and bullying that innocent individuals—especially children in schools—are already facing.
Among problematic issues the letter highlights, the website encourages teachers and students to report people who may be travelling to “suspicious” regions and speaking “suspicious” languages, leaving the “reporter” to use his or her own biases and stereotypes to judge what may be “suspicious.” Thus, a teenager who talks to his or her classmates about returning from a family trip to a predominantly Arab or Muslim country could be deemed “suspicious” and reported to the FBI.
Furthermore, the website deems common teenage activities as “warning signs” of violent extremism. Such “warning signs” include taking pictures in front of national landmarks and government buildings, and use of multimedia communication applications like Tango or Groupme. More disturbing, the FBI is actively encouraging schools to use this website in government, social studies and civics classes.
The letter calling for the dismantling of the website comes after months of communication by multiple civil rights organizations offering constructive feedback on the website, and a petition drive sponsored by BORDC/DDF and ADC. The final product, however, perpetuates profiling and negative stereotypes that Arab, Muslim, Sikh, and South Asian Americans are prone to engage in extremist violence and encourages the policing of thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. The letter is signed by over a dozen civil rights and civil liberties organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Teaching Tolerance – a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“We all want to keep our country safe, and expect the FBI to do its job based on following legitimate leads and credible intelligence—not stereotypes and bigoted assumptions,” said Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates. “At a time when American Muslim children are already experiencing an unprecedented wave of harassment and bullying in schools across our nation, it is deplorable for the FBI to give educators a green light to use bias to single out children and report them to law enforcement.”
“The ‘Don’t Be a Puppet’ website will cause teachers to violate the ethical duties they owe to their students and destroy the critical teacher-student relationship,” said Samer Khalaf, national president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. This website is teaching students and teachers to profile Arab and Muslim Americans. By labeling such common teenage activities as taking ‘selfies’ at the White House suspicious, the FBI is essentially stating that every American teenager can be a suspect.