What Trump’s Counterterrorism Strategy Means for American Muslims

Gone are the US strategy's tenets of respect for privacy rights, civil liberties and civil rights

October 25, 2018

The Trump administration recently released the 2018 National Strategy for Counterterrorism. Trump’s strategy is intentionally made vague, even where particular goals are articulated. Consider the administration’s stated end goal to ensure that “the terrorist threat to the United States is eliminated.” In the context of the entire document, this goal lacks any metric by which to determine achievement.

The question of calculability becomes more important when juxtaposed with the Trump administration’s promise to “continually review the efficacy of our approach through independent assessments … to ensure that we are making measurable progress toward our strategic objectives.” But how does one measure progress toward ensuring that “terrorism, radical Islamist ideologies, and other violent extremist ideologies do not undermine the American way of life,” as the Trump strategy aims to do?

It endeavors to achieve a holistic and thorough expunging of “the terrorist threat.” In order to do so amid an increasingly complex terrorist landscape, it couples a more expansive definition of what constitutes a terrorist group with the leveraging of both non-traditional means and public sector partnerships in its efforts. Making the list of terror threats are “animal rights extremists,” “sovereign citizen extremists,” and the threat of racially-motivated extremism, none of which are further described or qualified.

The strategy also collapses the terror threat into this administration’s border security policy, with repeated claims that enhanced border security is constitutive of any effective counterterrorism policy. Also notable is what this strategy does not say, respective to previous iterations. Gone from the core tenets of U.S. national strategy are nods toward the essential nature of “respect for privacy rights, civil liberties, and civil rights.”

While constituting a more carefully worded articulation of the President’s public national security stances, it nods to tactics and threats which previous administrations have avoided. It also follows a series of related moves to shore up the U.S.’s national security apparatus. Just last month, President Trump extended the U.S.’ temporary state of national emergency first issued after the 2001 terrorist attacks, thereby continuing to afford the president broad authority to mobilize the military, among other powers, with virtually no oversight. The administration also recently passed a $717 billion National Defense Authorization Act for this fiscal year, a $30 billion increase from 2018.

The national strategy has been described as an expression of the administration’s will; as such, it positions itself as a potential threat of more civil rights and civil liberties’ violations for all communities, including the American-Muslim community. As the conspicuously vague framework for a virulently Islamophobic administration, it portends poorly for an American-Muslim community and other people of color, which has so often been disproportionately on the receiving end of enhanced national security tactics.


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