This is Part I of a two-part series about counterterrorism instruction at Broward College.
By Karla Bowsher, BrowardBulldog.org
Broward College’s counterterrorism courses are supposed to teach Broward police officers how to protect citizens from terrorists. But critics say the college teaches discrimination instead.
Civil rights advocates and others have raised doubts about a program that encourages officers to target certain Muslims based on appearance, behavior and beliefs — a profiling technique that the federal government says discriminates against minorities.
Criticism stems from the teaching of instructor Sam Kharoba at the college’s Institute of Public Safety. The Christian Jordanian-American bills himself as a counterterrorism expert despite no formal education on the subject. He says radicalized Muslims pose an inherent threat to the United States and that he can teach law enforcement officers how to spot radicals.
“You have extremists that believe that they should be doing these violent acts to serve Allah,” he said. “What I simply do in my class is I identify what is the theology of these radicals and how do we identify them.”
But scholars and civil rights advocates say otherwise.
Dustin Berna, a terrorism expert at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, said it’s not possible to identify a radical Muslim based on looks and religion because they have been trained to blend in with American society.
“The Muslim who’s going to attack us is one who’s going to assimilate so they can hide to attack us,” said Berna, who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Islamic fundamentalism. “So to profile Muslims because they’re Muslims does not work.”
For law enforcement officers to single out suspects based on religion violates their constitutional rights, according to ACLU of Florida spokesperson Derek Newton. “The use of stereotypes and racial profiling is not a legitimate law enforcement technique, it doesn’t work, and it’s a clear violation of civil rights,” he said.
Despite criticism from a national magazine article published in March, the dean of Broward College’s Institute of Public Safety, Linda Wood, says she has never attended or observed Kharoba’s classes and wouldn’t comment on his profiling technique.
“I’m not sure I have a good definition of what profiling would mean,” said Wood, who worked in law enforcement and corrections training for more than 20 years.
A profile of discrimination
Kharoba defines a “radical Muslim” as someone who treats women as possessions, hates the United States and believes Islam should be the only religion in the world. He claims radicals can also be identified by 10 to 12 physical markers, such as a headband, types of facial hair, or a prayer bump on the forehead from frequent contact with a prayer mat.
Most importantly, radicals are ideologically inclined toward violence. It’s only a matter of time before they attack, Kharoba says.
“Once you identify that you have a radical Muslim population, you deal with it in a manner that is no different than dealing with areas with gangs and narcotics,” he said. “These are not desired elements. You want to get rid of them.”
Gang members and drug dealers, however, often have arrest records that law enforcement officers can base a suspicion of wrongdoing on. But because radical Muslims don’t necessarily have a police record, Kharoba instructs officers to base their suspicion on characteristics that include religion.
He also tells officers to use “legal harassment,” that is, to enforce “every statute on the books” when dealing with an “undesired element” like radical Muslims.
Civil libertarians and authorities say such techniques do more harm than good and should be avoided. The American Civil Liberties Union says that targeting a suspect based on religion, race, ethnicity or nationality is racial profiling, which is an unconstitutional form of discrimination.
“Giving the appearance that racial profiling is a legitimate law enforcement tool is deeply troubling,” said the ACLU’s Newton.
The U.S. Department of Justice agrees. The agency released a racial profiling fact sheet in 2003, when the George W. Bush administration banned the use of racial profiling in federal law enforcement.
“Routine patrol duties must be carried out without consideration of race,” says the six-page document. “Use of race or ethnicity is permitted only when the federal officer is pursuing a specific lead concerning the identifying characteristics of persons involved in an identified criminal activity.”
Shafayat Mohamed, a sheikh who runs the Darul Uloom Institute and Islamic Training Center in Pembroke Pines, says appearance is an invalid way to screen for radicals. He says officers should identify radicals based on who they associate with, what they say, their practices and their education.
“You can’t just look at a man and know he’s a radical,” said Mohamed, who said he has lectured at the college’s Institute of Public Safety. “The culture is so diverse.”
Kharoba acknowledges profiling techniques do not always work.
He said he shows students more than 50 photos of Jihadists wearing headbands, suggesting that wearing a headband every day is a sign of being a martyr and authorities should use that observation to target suspects.
“So it is safe to say that it is a credible threat,” he said. “Now, can I say it’s the case 100 percent of the time? No. There’s nothing that’s going to be 100 percent.”
Teachings that work against themselves
Profiling to identify radical Muslims, say experts, works against the interests of law enforcement.
Such tactics alienate American Muslims and therefore jeopardize their assistance to the War on Terror, according to the New York University School of Law’s “Rethinking Radicalization” report, issued in March.
“American Muslims often believe they are treated as a suspect class,” the report says. “Although American Muslims have thus far been instrumental in assisting law enforcement agencies in thwarting terrorist plots…broad surveillance and intrusion into religious spaces could create barriers to this cooperation.”
About 20,000 Muslims live in Broward, according to the Sun-Sentinel. And as many as 7 million live in the U.S., according to the national office of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which advocates for Muslims and educates non-Muslims about Islam.
Kharoba agrees that moderate Muslims can help law enforcement officers identify radicals. He denies doing harm, and says his teaching promotes understanding.
“Is counterterrorism training alienating Muslim societies? Absolutely not,” he said. “On the contrary, we are helping these officers understand the culture, understand the religion, and how to better establish communication with those populations.”
Kharoba added, “If you do not know their culture, you could actually offend them or insult them unintentionally.”
But a CAIR Florida executive said Muslims here are sometimes more than insulted during encounters with police.
CAIR-FL receives an average of three complaints a month from South Florida Muslims, according to Executive Director Nezar Hamze, whose nonprofit organization seeks to resolve legitimate complaints.
“The cases I have, I can’t get into details, but the discrimination and civil rights violations we’re dealing with are pretty bad,” Hamze said of CAIR-FL’s open cases. Typically, he says, cases involve abuse of power by officers who profile or discriminate against Muslim citizens who have not broken the law or been arrested.
Hamze said he could not discuss closed cases because the parties often require confidentiality. He did, however, offer what he said were a few facts about a recent allegation without naming the police department, or the individuals, who were involved.
According to Hamze, while in the home of a black Muslim, an officer noticed Quranic artwork and a prayer rug. The officer, who did not have a warrant and was allowed into the house by the man, allegedly then made a series of racial, political and religious slurs — asking if he was part of al-Qaeda and if his children’s names were all “Ali Baba.” The officer allegedly called the man the N-word and arrested him for resisting arrest without violence.
The arrest was made even though the officer found no evidence to support the allegation that brought him to the man’s home in the first place, Hamze said. He said the case was forwarded to the U.S. Attorney General.
Hamze believes that profiling-based instruction like Kharoba’s has caused an increase in civil rights violations by law enforcement officers, but he could not provide supporting figures.
CAIR has been criticized in the past for allegedly supporting terrorist organizations and Kharoba still believes they are co-conspirators of terrorism. No credible proof has surfaced, however, and CAIR is widely believed by authorities to be a legitimate advocacy group.
No concerns at the college
Nationwide, Kharoba estimates that since 2002 he’s lectured to 20,000 law enforcement officers at training centers like Broward College’s Institute of Public Safety.
Despite the criticism and national attention, Broward College officials voiced no concern to Broward Bulldog about the accusation that the school has tolerated discrimination in one of its classrooms.
Broward College President J. David Armstrong declined a request for comment.
Dean Wood said she had no knowledge of the controversy surrounding Kharoba’s teaching methods, adding that the institute was not responsible for vetting or overseeing him.
If there is a problem, she said, it lies elsewhere.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In Part II, Broward Bulldog looks at who vetted and approved Kharoba’s controversial lesson plans in counterterrorism.