Extreme Vetting the imperative and the difficulty

By Alexander Athos.


The following are excerpts from an article by Middle East Forum President Daniel Pipes, “Smoking Out Islamists via Extreme Vetting” who has written extensively on the practicality and enforceability of screening for Islamists, is an advance release from the forthcoming Spring 2017 issue of Middle East Quarterly.

85-90% of the worlds 1.5 billion Muslims are law abiding people no different to you or me.

However approximately 10-15 percent of Muslims seek to apply Islamic law (the Shari’a) in its entirety.

They want to implement a medieval code that encourages Muslims to engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation, subjugating non-Muslims, violent jihad, and establishing a caliphate to rule the world.

On 27 January 2017 President Trump issued an executive order establishing radically new procedures to deal with foreigners who apply to enter the United States. the order explains that

“to protect Americans, the United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles. The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law “:

But how does one distinguish foreigners who “do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles” from those who do? How do government officials figure out “those who would place violent ideologies over American law”? More specifically, given that the new procedures almost exclusively concern the fear of allowing more Islamists into the country, how does one identify them?

The Exec Order calls for “Uniform Screening Standards” with the goal of preventing individuals from entering the United States “on a fraudulent basis [Islamists often dissimulate and pretend to be moderates] with the intent to cause harm, or who are at risk of causing harm subsequent to their admission.” The order requires that the uniform screening standard and procedure include such elements as (bolding is by Daniel Pipes):

In-person  interviews;

database of identity documents proffered by applicants to ensure that duplicate documents are not used by multiple applicants;

Amended application forms that include questions aimed at identifying fraudulent answers and malicious intent;

A mechanism to ensure that the applicant is who the applicant claims to be;

A process to evaluate the applicant’s likelihood of becoming a  positively contributing member of society and the applicant’s ability to make contributions to the national interest; and

A mechanism to assess whether or not the applicant has the  intent to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States.

Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States

Background checks should involve finding out about his family, friends, associations, employment, memberships, and activities. Agents must probe these for questionable statements, relationships, and actions, as well as anomalies and gaps. When they find something dubious, they must look further into it, always with an eye for trouble. Does the person in question have an outlook consistent with that of the Constitution? Not long ago, only public figures such as intellectuals, activists, and religious figures put their views on the record; but now, thanks to the Internet and its open invitation to everyone to comment in writing or on video in a permanent, public manner, and especially to social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), most everyone with strong views at some point vents them. Such data provides valuably unfiltered views on many critical topics, such as Islam, non-Muslims, women, and violence as a tactic. (Exploiting this resource may seem self-evident but U.S. immigration authorities do not do so, thereby imposing a self-restraint roughly equivalent to the Belgian police choosing not to conduct raids between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.).

Interviews ought be under oath, public and (with consent, Recorded. With the explicit permission of the person being questioned (“You understand and accept that this interview is being recorded, right?”), the exchange should be visibly videotaped so the proceedings are unambiguously on the record. This makes available the interviewee’s words, tone, speech patterns, facial expressions, and body language for further study. Form as well as substance matters: does the interviewee smile, fidget, blink, make eye contact, repeat, sweat, tremble, tire, need frequent toilet breaks, or otherwise express himself in non-verbal ways?

No single question can evince a reply that establishes an Islamist disposition; effective interviewing requires a battery of queries on many topics, from homosexuality to the caliphate. The answers need to be assessed in their totality. Vague inquiries along the lines of “Is Islam a religion of peace?”, “Do you condemn terrorism?” “How do you respond to the murder of innocents,” depend too much on one’s definition of words such as peaceterrorism, and innocents to help determine a person’s outlook, and so should be avoided. Instead, questions must be focused and exact: “May Muslims convert out of Islam, whether to join another faith or to become atheists?” “Does a Muslim have the right to renounce Islam?”

For the questions to ferret out the truth means looking for divergence and inconsistency by asking the same question with different words and variant emphases. A sampling: “May a woman show her face in public?” “What punishment do you favor for females who reveal their faces to men not related to them by family?” “Is it the responsibility of the male guardian to make sure his women-folk do not leave the house with faces uncovered?” “Should the government insist on women covering their faces?” “Is society better ordered when women cover their faces?” Any one of the questions can be asked in different ways and expanded with follows-up about the respondent’s line of reasoning or depth of feeling.

A list of questions (are set out in full in the original article by Daniel Pipes) offered as suggestions to build on, are those of this author but also derive from a number of analysts devoting years of thinking to the topic. Naser Khader, the-then Danish parliamentarian of Syrian Muslim origins, offered an early set of questions in 2002. A year later, this author published a list covering seven subject areas.

For example:

  • In an immigration interview like this, if deceiving the questioner helps Islam, would lying be justified?
  • Is takfir (declaring a Muslim to be an infidel) acceptable?
  • [Asked of Sunnis only:] Are Sufis, Ibadis, and Shi’ites Muslims?
  • Are Muslims who disagree with your practice of Islam infidels (kuffar)?
  • Should the state enforce the criminal punishments of the Shari’a?
  • Do you think Muslims are being oppressed by the West?
  • What do you think of killing non-Muslim military or civillians?
  • Would you like to see the U.S. Constitution (or its equivalents in other countries) replaced by the Koran?
  • Should the state be lenient when someone is killed for the sake of family honor?
  • Should governments forbid Muslims from leaving Islam?
  • In an emergency, would you let yourself be treated by or operated on by a doctor of the opposite gender?
  • Do you accept that Muslims were responsible for the 9/11 attacks?
  • Is the Islamic State/ISIS/ISIL/Daesh Islamic in nature?
  • Should Muslims living in the West cooperate with law enforcement?
  •  Do all humans, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religious beliefs, deserve equal rights?
  • Should the Saudi government maintain the historic ban on non-Muslims in Mecca and Medina? Should it allow churches to be built for Christian expatriates?
  •  Should Muslims fight Jews and Christians until these “feel themselves subdued”
  • Is the enslavement of non-Muslims acceptable?
  • Do you support jihad to spread Islam?
  • Do you condemn violent organizations such as Boko Haram, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Shabaab, and the Taliban?
  • What are your views regarding [various terrorist organizations]?
  • What social media accounts do you use?
  • What is your Facebook account username?
  • What is your Twitter account username?
  • What is your Instagram account username?
  • What are the names and telephone numbers of parents, relatives, friends?


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