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GOP Chairman Slams DHS for Awarding Grant to Fight Terror Through Songwriting

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) slammed a Homeland Security official on Thursday for allowing $160,000 in taxpayer money to be spent on a collaborative songwriting approach to fighting homegrown terrorism.

In December 2015, Congress appropriated $10 million in state and local grants for combating the rise of violent extremism. The Department of Homeland Security awards the money to various government organizations, universities and nonprofits.

DeSantis took issue with a $160,000 grant that the DHS awarded to Massachusetts-based Music in Common in January 2017. The Florida lawmaker noted that the group’s mission is to empower diverse cultures through collaborative songwriting, multimedia projects and performance.

The group writes on its website that it has served thousands of American-born and foreign participants all over the world since 2005, including Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East, Somali and Bhutanese refugees in Clarkston, Ga., and Jews, Christians and Muslims in Orange County, Calif.

“In terms of effectiveness, collaborative songwriting – is that an effective approach to warding off terrorism?” DeSantis asked George Selim, DHS’ director of Countering Violent Extremism. “Is this a good use of tax funds? Was there any measurable success as a result of awarding this grant? Are there other groups which, I would say, are more fuzzy in terms of their approach? Has there been documented success from there? Because we looked for it. It was hard for us to find it, and it’s a concern.”

The conversation took place during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on national security.

DeSantis, the subcommittee’s chairman said the fact that Music in Common has not received any further grants signaled that the approach was not very effective. Selim said that the group was dropped from the grant program because Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and leadership have brought in their own ideas.

In defense of the $160,000 award, Selim said, “What I can say conclusively … radicalization is not a linear process. There are multiple ways that individuals in the United States and across the globe have been radicalized, thus the solution sets to preventing and intervening in the process of radicalization are equally diverse and multidisciplinary.”

He said that the main objectives of Countering Violent Extremism is to view overall readiness for preventing radicalization with a focus on recruitment, community willingness to engage law enforcement and increased capability for law enforcement. The grant program, he said, “ups our readiness game.”

DeSantis asked Raheel Raza, a practicing Muslim and president of Muslims Facing Tomorrow, if the collaborative songwriting approach sounded like an effective strategy for combating radicalization. Raza called for a more direct approach, stating that this “fluff stuff” has not led to any direct decrease in radicalization and hasn’t led to countering violent extremism. She said DHS needs specific policies in place that tackle the ideology, while also speaking against government agencies that dance around the term of radical Islam in government manuals, a trend that DeSantis acknowledged.

Separating Islamist ideology from the spiritual message of Islam, Raza said, “is a very pro-Islamic thing to do.”

“It’s not about political correctness,” Raza said. “There are people here in the West who are afraid to use the term ‘radical Islamic ideology’ because they think that it is anti-Muslim. It is actually very pro-Muslim because it makes the ordinary masses of people understand the fate of Islam and an ideology, which is political in nature, and which is evil in its agenda.”

DeSantis asked if DHS should be designating groups like the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorist supporting organizations, which he believes could impede finances to domestic groups.

“In order to fight the ideology, you have to name it,” Raza said.