On February 8, 2016, the FBI launched its Don’t Be a Puppet website. Designed to resemble a video game, the website is an interactive tool for the nation’s schools to prevent susceptible youth from getting recruited online by terrorists. Unfortunately, the released version appears to have suffered from politically-correct retooling that blunts its original purpose of protecting teens from Islamist recruitment.
The website had been scheduled for release last November, but was delayed by complaints from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and others. By asking about participants’ religious beliefs, according to CAIR, the program reinforced anti-Muslim stereotypes and promoted bullying of Muslims students. CAIR’s subtext, which it has repeated many times, is that Islam has nothing to do with ISIS/Islamist violence.
CAIR also argued that the website failed “to deal with the main threat to students, that of school shootings.” This is another regular CAIR trope that translates roughly to (a) Muslims are victims-in-chief of “Islamophobia” and (b) the government should focus on “right-wing extremism” and downplay Islamist violence. This theme has been ably aided and abetted by administration allies like the New America Foundation, but it is untrue. In effect, this criticism appears to assume that every government tool employed to prevent terrorists from harming Americans must target every enemy, foreign and domestic; that otherwise it is “discriminatory.”
Finally, CAIR asserted there was no correlation between the website program and preventing or stopping radicalization. Did CAIR assume this to be true because the website was new and therefore had no track record? Every defensive strategy was new once; why is CAIR opposed to trying?
The only strategy CAIR has endorsed to counter violent “extremism” is a vague call for “community-driven solutions.” In other words, the government should butt out and let CAIR et al. police the American-Muslim community for terrorist threats.
As released, the Puppet website appears to have diluted its focus on Islamist recruitment to a broader focus against extremists of other varieties. For example, the original version included a question asking the user to identify which of four or five social-media posts should raise alarm:
“Among the choices were a person posting about a plan to attend a political event, or someone with an Arabic name posting about going on ‘a mission’ overseas. The correct answer was the posting with the Arabic name.”
In the current version, the correct answer has been transformed into an animal-rights activist with a Chinese surname, writing: “I’m heading over to that awful animal testing lab – going to send them a ‘powerful’ message and shut them down once and for all!” A similar question included a suspicious apps post by someone with a non-Muslim sounding name (Sean S) suggesting, “I know we haven’t met, but you should come join our fight overseas.”
In fact, the current version does not mention Islam, Muslims, or any particulars of Islamist ideology or targets at all, aside from the usual disclaimers that ISIS does “not represent mainstream Islam,” that “the vast majority of Muslims are horrified by [its] actions,” and that Muslims are its chief victims; and in descriptions of Al Qaeda and Hizballah. The website doesn’t bother mentioning that the Al Shabaab movement terrorizing East Africa has any connection to Islam.
It does mention specifics of other types of extremism, such as a “white supremacist rally” advocating the superiority of the white race and the necessity of attacking and destroying others. The website is also empty of Islamist symbols, such as the ISIS flag, although it does include an American flag in its white-supremacist illustration. The closest the website comes is a reference to nondescript “religious” extremists. The studied neutrality on the subject of religion does not prevent Puppet from referring explicitly to “white supremacy” rather than racial extremists. In what appears to be another bow to evenhandedness, its list of international terror organizations is not complete – for instance, it excludes the Kurdish PKK – but it lists the marginal Israeli group Kahane Chai.
The end result is a website whose original purpose has been blunted beyond all recognition. Small wonder initial reviews have been mixed.