"It feels like you're looking down the barrel of a gun": Resisting the Security State in US Schools

Authors: Nicole Nguyen*, University of Illinois - Chicago
Topics: Political Geography, Ethnicity and Race, Urban Geography
Keywords: global war on terror, security, violent extremism, schools, education
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 2015, Ahmed Mohamed brought a homemade clock to his US high school. Before he could show his engineering teacher his latest invention, Ahmed’s English teacher confiscated the clock and reported him to school administration. Believing the clock was a “bomb hoax,” the police arrested Ahmed and transported him to a juvenile detention facility for fingerprinting and questioning. Ahmed’s story reveals how anti-Muslim racism affixes the “terrorist” label to students perceived to be Muslim. Ahmed’s experience fits into broader national security fears that position Muslim youth as imminent terrorist threats. The FBI, for example, warns that “high school students are ideal targets for recruitment by violent extremists” and thus calls on teachers to identify youth perceived to be “embracing extremist ideologies and progressing on a trajectory toward violence.” As Ahmed’s experience demonstrates, this mandate has intensified the surveillance of Muslim youth, expanded the policing power of teachers, and criminalized dissent. The response to Ahmed was shaped by a new national security initiative known as Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). Posed as a liberal alternative to conventional counterterrorism tactics like FBI stings and preemptive prosecutions, CVE calls on social service providers like teachers to identify, report, and work with youth perceived to be vulnerable to, or in the process of, terrorist radicalization. In this presentation, I examine how the case of CVE reveals how schools function as key geopolitical sites that enact and extend state power as well as critical sites of possibility to resist and remake these national security regimes.

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