After receiving massive backlash from religious and civil rights leaders last year, the FBI finally launched its new counter-terrorism program “Don’t Be A Puppet.”
The interactive website, which was developed to prevent young people from being drawn into violent extremism, ruffled quite a few feathers upon its introduction. Muslim and Arab leaders, who were invited to preview the program before its release, slammed FBI for encouraging teachers and students to discriminate against other religions and races.
As a result, the program that warned users to get vigilant if someone with a Muslim or Arab-sounding name was going to a Middle East country on a “mission,” was put on hold — until now.
The FBI on Monday launched the interactive website meant to teach teens how to spot a violent extremist. The site includes five stages where middle and high school students can get answers to questions like “What is violent extremism?” and “How do violent extremists make contact?” Moreover, upon completion of five sections outlined in the program, FBI awards the user with a certificate.
“The site doesn’t refute violent extremist beliefs point by point or discuss matters of faith or politics. Instead, it makes teens aware of the destructive reality of various forms of violent extremism, including hateful attacks based on race, religion, or other factors,” the agency stated on its official website. “Through its 'Don’t Be A Puppet' theme, the program encourages teens to think for themselves and display a healthy skepticism if they come across anyone who appears to be advocating extremist violence.”
Apart from the fact that interface looks like it was designed in the 1960s, the agency’s attempt at teaching kids the difference between free speech and radicalization is also quite baffling. Although, the creators tried to make things a bit clearer by explaining the First Amendment, most of the statements listed on the site can be considered as either an inflammatory rhetoric or a political discourse.
For instance, the site asks teens to read the statements and determine if its free speech or someone trying to promote extremism. Interestingly, almost all of the statements match more than one answer.
However, it appears that the intelligence agency has managed to curb its racial and religious profiling to some extent. The program, which is to be introduced in social studies class, has given birth to fears that FBI is trying to teach young children that surveillance and discriminating people based on an immutable characteristic is OK.
“We want teens to apply their critical thinking skills to this issue just like they would to any subject in school,” explained Jonathan Cox, head of the OPA unit that created the website and developed the concept. “We’re saying, ‘don’t be a puppet,’ — in other words, don’t just blindly accept what violent extremists tell you or you could end up being controlled and manipulated by people who want you to hurt or kill innocent people.”
No one is questioning FBI’s need to teach youthes to notice the signs if someone really tries to sway them towards violence or terrorism. But maybe the agency should focus more on raising awareness through other, more effective methods (workshops, podcasts and vlogs, for instance) instead of a website that reminds older generations of the long-gone days of floppy disks and Gameboys.
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