Questioning the current public health approach to countering violent extremism.Glob Public Health. 2019 02; 14(2):309-317.GP
Since the start of the global War on Terror, governments have used the mental health system for counterintelligence purposes. A recent manifestation of this trend is the call from policymakers and mental health researchers to screen individuals at risk for violent extremism through the public health system. Civil rights organisations have raised alarms that Muslims are being disproportionately referred to law enforcement agencies and that Muslim communities are being selected for surveillance despite government assurances that violent extremism is not exclusive to any ideology. This commentary critically analyzes American policies and calls from mental health professionals to use the public health system for implementing initiatives that counter violent extremism. A close reading of such texts demonstrates a persistent concern with treating communities as vulnerable to extremism, prioritising law enforcement over scientific evidence in crafting policies, and breaking medical confidentiality of patients while not assuring immunity for mental health professionals involved in screening. A genuine engagement with public health provides alternatives that question the assumptions of such policies.