Bisecting American Islam? Divide, Conquer, and Counter-Radicalization

Khaled A. Beydoun

Volume 69, Issue 2, 429-497

The United States Department of State has long employed a sectarian foreign policy strategy to advance its interests in the Mideast. The United States has sided staunchly with Saudi Arabia, the Sunni Muslim superpower in the region, while spurning Iran, the Shia Muslim hegemon that emerged in 1979 after the Islamic Revolution.

This sectarian strategy reaped great benefit in the form of exclusive rights over Saudi oil and staving off Soviet influence in the Mideast. But the State Department’s unwavering allegiance to Saudi Arabia today exposes it to foreign attacks and “homegrown radicalization” inspired by terror networks driven by Wahhabism, the extremist Sunni ideology enshrined by its longtime ally. Through its historic at-all-costs support of Saudi Arabia, the U.S. has facilitated the spread of an ideology that spawned Al Qaeda, which coordinated the 9/11 terror attacks; and most recently, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (“ISIS”)the terror network that inspires extremism.

Because of its link to Al Qaeda and ISIS, the United States Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) theorizes ISIS radicalization to be a distinctly “Sunni phenomenon.” This isolates Shia Muslims, who are systematically targeted and executed by ISIS in the Mideast, as natural allies that could advance counter-radicalization strategy against a common enemy. Which begs the question: what if DHS used the same divide-and-conquer approach here at home?

This Article investigates the budding sectarian strategy employed by DHS to advance its counter-radicalization program, and theorizes how prevailing sectarian tension within Muslim communities facilitates this strategy. In addition to integrating the historic and theological divisions between Sunni and Shia Muslims into legal literature, this Article: first, examines how increased polarization between Shia and Sunni Muslims facilitates DHS’s ability to recruit the former to monitor the latter; and second, how a sectarian counter-radicalization strategy makes the State an active participant in exacerbating sectarian tension among Muslim Americans, which raises First Amendment Establishment Clause concerns.

Full Article