On Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday — according to some calendars — the White House is hosting its Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. The sessions are being live-streamed. I was airborne most of Tuesday, but was able to see/hear some of this morning’s. You might still be able to catch this afternoon’s, including remarks by the President.
Summit planning has been underway for a long-while. The meeting is a follow-on to a similar 2011 set of sessions. This week’s dates were set after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
Tuesday there were mostly presentations by Boston, Los Angeles, and the Twin Cities (MN) on pilot programs they have run to counter violent extremism. According to a “Senior Administration Official” the Wednesday session covers:
… The comprehensive “whole of nation” approach that we’re applying to the challenge. Again, this is not about government, especially the federal government. The federal government doesn’t have all the answers. This is about building a comprehensive network to fight back against violent extremism. And we are explicitly recognizing the role that civil society plays, the private sector plays, and that families, et cetera, can play in countering violent extremism. During Wednesday’s agenda, we will have remarks by the President; by the Secretary of Homeland Security; by Lisa Monaco, the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, in addition to the presentations from the three cities, from around the world, and from some private sector partners.
When I landed at Dulles Tuesday evening and turned off airplane mode my smartphone nearly exploded. Several dozen folks had sent me links to either (both): Graeme Wood’s piece on What ISIS Really Wants in The Atlantic or Roger Cohen’s op-ed in the Tuesday New York Times (which I had read on the plane). There were also two links to comments made by Pope Francis regarding the Coptic “martyrs” killed by IS provincials in what many still call Libya. There was also yet another link to the video of the Sunni grandmother condemning ISIS fighters and urging them to turn from darkness. (If you haven’t seen it, probably should, especially given what I write below.)
Many of those sending me these links complain the White House summit is working too hard to gloss the religious — really Islamic — character of extremist violence. Wednesday’s USA Today includes a similar complaint. For what it’s worth, what I have heard on the live-stream does not discount the religious dimension. Rather the religious dimension is treated as correlation rather than causation. This is a valid — valuable — post-Enlightenment distinction.
Moreover when I read what I can find about our most recent murderers in Boston, Ottawa, Sydney, Paris, and Copenhagen, I perceive motivations much more related to self-aggrandizing popular media than the self-abnegation of most religious traditions or the specifically Islamic emphasis on submission.
Still… I will admit, that as a person of faith, I recognize an especially pernicious religious dimension to much of our violent extremism. Self-righteousness is not restricted to the religious, but it does seem deeply correlated. There can be a specifically religious tendency to conflate our own desires with those of God. There can be a specifically religious tendency to exclude from God’s love and mercy those with whom I happen to disagree.
Then with my self wrapped as God and others excluded, it is all too easy to mistake profound sin for religious devotion. Of course, this is idolatry. But most modern versions come cleverly disguised.
Happy Mardi Gras. May you have a holy Lent.
Here’s the CSPAN coverage of the President’s remarks at today’s White House Summit. Some other related links are also available.