A policy paper distributed by the U.S. military is under fire for perpetuating a number of bizarre theories about extremism, such as claiming that wearing an Islamic hijab amounts to “passive terrorism.”
According to Murtaza Hussain of the Intercept, a recently re-published book from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory includes a chapter entitled “A Strategic Plan to Defeat Radical Islam” written by Dr. Tawfik Hamid, a fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies who identifies as a former extremist. The chapter, also called a white paper, is framed as a plan to combat terrorism, but includes a number of odd, largely unsubstantiated ideas as to how extremism is created — namely, that hardline extremist ideology (specifically Salafi Islam) takes root when women begin wearing hijab, a traditional Islamic head covering.
“[Extremism occurs when] increasing numbers of women begin to wear the hijab, which is both a symptom of Salafi proliferation and a catalyst for Islamism,” Hamid writes. “In turn, the proliferation of militant Salafism and the hijab contribute to the idea of passive terrorism, which occurs when moderate segments of the population decline to speak against or actively resist terrorism.”
As The Intercept points out, Hamid’s theory — which includes a diagram showing hijab as one of the three core methods of radicalization — does not appear to be “supported by empirical evidence.” Hijabs are commonly worn by millions of Muslim women, the overwhelming majority of whom neither sympathize nor participate in terrorist attacks carried out in the name of Islam. Wearers of hijab include U.S. Olympic fencing team star Ibtihaj Muhammad, women’s rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, and Islamic journalist, feminist, and peace prize winner Tawakkol Karman — none of whom, like countless other Muslim women, are in any way affiliated with extremism, “passively” or otherwise.
The author offers other bizarre theories for radicalization as well. He postulates that extremists — especially suicide bombers — are created as a result of “sexual deprivation,” arguing that “suicide bombing is prevalent among young males when the testosterone level is highest.”
“Speaking from my own experience with the radical groups, I believe young Muslims are motivated to join radical groups because of sexual deprivation,” Hamid writes, going on to imply that suicide bombers only kill themselves because they are promised sex with beautiful women in heaven. “Addressing the factors causing deprivation in this life can interrupt the radicalization process and reduce the number of suicide attacks by jihadists.”
Muslims in America and elsewhere were quick to blast the report on Twitter using the hashtag #PassiveTerrorism.
— نور (@noorschrute) February 23, 2016
— Raf (@1Rafz) February 23, 2016
— Shelina Janmohamed (@loveinheadscarf) February 24, 2016
— Ahmed Shaikh (@bornshaikh) February 23, 2016
— Susanna Forrest (@Susanna_Forrest) February 24, 2016
The document, which was originally published in 2011 but first distributed by the Air Force Research Laboratory last summer, comes as America endures an unprecedented wave of Islamophobia. Since the terrorist attacks struck Paris, France in November 2015, ThinkProgress has documented at least 65 anti-Islam incidents across the United States, including personal assaults, attacks on Muslim houses of worship, and instances of airport profiling. The victims of these attacks are often targeted simply because of their appearance, including the wearing of hijab: Last November, a 6th-grade Muslim girl in New York City was reportedly called “ISIS” by a group of boys, placed in a headlock, and beaten while her assailants attempted to forcibly remove her hijab.