University research should be honest. GW’s research institutes and think tanks publish cutting-edge scholarship about everything from food policy to violent extremism. But not all GW research is entirely fair and balanced.
GW’s Program on Extremism has cast doubt on the University’s expectations of academic freedom. Hassan Hassan, a former employee of the program, published a series of tweets asserting that the program was subject to wealthy and powerful interests in Middle Eastern countries. Universities should not use their influence as research institutions to uphold the agendas of other countries, and Hassan’s accusation brings to light possible issues with the program’s work.
Since its formation a few years ago, the program has published studies on ISIS in America, ISIS Online, Terrorism Financing, American Jihadists in Syria and Iraq and a collection of captured ISIS internal files. Hassan’s concerns are especially important because they highlight a flaw in the program’s research – it almost exclusively researches Islamic extremism. The program ignores domestic extremist threats and wrongfully hyper-focuses on Islam. Researchers must expand their breadth of work to include more than Islamic terror.
Domestic terror, not foreign or Islamic terror, is far more common in the United States. Between the 2016 election season and August 2017, domestic terror has been on the rise, with 62 attacks being classified as far-right fueled and only 23 attacks being classified as Islamic-extremism fueled. Hate crimes conducted by far-right extremists in the United States have also increased in recent years. But the Program on Extremism does not pay attention to violence happening closer to home, misdirecting people who follow these pressing issues to think there is less of a domestic threat.
By solely studying ISIS, the program leads people to believe that Islamic extremism, not far-right terror, is a pressing threat. This propagates Islamophobic beliefs, creating an irrational fear that may push people to believe we should be doing more to protect ourselves from threats across the globe than issues in our own backyard. Using U.S. intervention to expel terrorists is difficult and never as simple as it seems. But the program is over-reporting on outside extremism and overlooking grave domestic violence issues.
The program should demonstrate academic freedom and rigor by conducting desperately needed investigations into domestic terror. The federal government has ignored these acts of violence, and GW has a chance to pick up the slack. Expanding the scope of the Program on Extremism’s work would not only make us all a little safer, but it would also propel the University to a new level of cutting-edge social research.
Regardless of what the program does or does not do, students and the general public should be aware of concerning allegations made against the program and of the real facts about violent extremism in this country. Information that only tells half the story, especially if it is promoted by a foreign interest, threatens not only the academic freedom and integrity of our institution but the health of our national democracy.
Jack Murphy, a sophomore majoring in philosophy, is a columnist.