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Government's anti-extremism initiative divides Twin Cities' Somali community

Jaylani Hussein
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the program stigmatizes the Muslim community.

The Twin Cities' Somali-American community and religious leaders are divided over an anti-terrorism initiative that aims to deter young Muslims from enlisting with the Islamic State and other violent extremist groups.

Even while a delegation of local officials heads to the White House for a Wednesday conference about the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program, other local leaders plan to hold a press conference Tuesday afternoon to raise concerns about the same program. 

At the Tuesday news conference in Minneapolis, representatives from various mosques and Muslim organizations in the state will outline several recommendations on how they think the CVE pilot program would best serve the community. One of their key recommendations: that the program be independent from the influences of all law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the Department of Justice and the National Counterterrorism Center.

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the program stigmatizes the Muslim community. “The Department of Homeland Security is not known to be providing funds to do after-school programs,” Hussein, who is organizing the press conference, told MinnPost last month. “There are other organizations that do that.”

“We don’t want police, especially law enforcement agencies — we don’t want them to be doing after-school programs because their job is to investigate, their job is not to run after-school programs or to monitor after-school programs,” he continued.

Speculation about the program and consequences for those who participate in it have dominated the conversations within Minneapolis’ Somali community for weeks. Though the program expands social services for Somali-American youth, there are also fears that information collected from youth participants will be used for surveillance and investigation purposes.

Many in the community grew cautious after news reports about two law enforcement outreach programs in the Twin Cities were used to gather intelligence. U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger, however, said that CVE will have nothing to do with surveillance gathering.   

Luger has recently reached out to Minnesota’s Somali activists, leaders and imams as he promoted the program in the community. He met with members of the Somali community publicly and privately to listen to accounts of the disappearances of some of the 15 Somali-Americans believed to have gone to Syria in recent months to join Islamic State, the terrorist organization.

On Wednesday, Luger is expected to unfold details of the plan for the initiative during the Countering Violent Extremism conference in Washington, D.C. Fifteen Twin Cities delegates will accompany Lugar to the conference, which is focused on seeking strategies to avert U.S. citizens from joining ISIS and other terrorist organizations.        

The delegates attending the conference include Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau; her St. Paul counterpart, Tom Smith; Rick Thornton, FBI Special Agent in Charge; Abdi Warsame, Minneapolis City Council Member; Rich Stanek, Hennepin County Sheriff; Abdisalam Adam, Minneapolis mosque leader; Mohamed and Abdi Farah, co-founders and leaders of Ka Joog.

Ibrahim Hirsi can be reached at ihirsi@minnpost.com. Follow him on Twitter at @IHirsi

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Comments (3)

Law enforcement

I'm not sure that the paranoia about law enforcement is helpful. First of all, one of the keys to reduction of crime and violence and to improve relationships between law enforcement and communities is to have law enforcement play non-law enforcement roles in the community. Instead of simply being the cudgel of the law, both the police and community benefit from non-threatening contact with one another. So, involving law enforcement in education and communication is a very good thing and has shown to improve communities (check out Brooklyn Park).

Second of all, activities in public spaces cannot be construed as private. So, after school activities in public spaces, including public schools, may be monitored by anyone, including law enforcement.

The only way to achieve better relations between Muslims and those who would be biased against them will be better understanding and acceptance. On both sides of the equation. Separation and lack of understanding will only create further rifts. By identifying Muslims as "them" (see Mr. Swifts comments above and on a regular basis on this site), non-Muslims are creating one side of the rift. And by identifying themselves as a religious group, rather than part of a broader community, Muslims are also contributing to the rift (see how often Muslims are identified as part of "the Muslim community" or Somalis are identified as part of "the Somali community").

DARE

The fear if having the police running after school sessions if justified, especially if you look at another program the police have used to keep kids off drugs. DARE has been an abject failure by every metric except one; the police continue to believe it has been effective. When you are tone deaf, it's hard to be objective.
While I believe that it is incumbent on both the police and the Somali communities establish relationships, after school programs are probably not the right way to make that happen.

Well, let's step back for a minute

What exactly do these after school programs do, and how are they expected to keep youths from joining ISIS? I mean, are youths really joining ISIS because they don't have anything else to do after school?

I'm all for having programs for youths but what are we talking about here? Jobs? Sports? School work of some kind? And how does this actually connect to ISIS recruiting?

We seem to be applying a "victim" model here, as if terrorists are victims of some kind. I can see how ethnic groups and youth can be victims of economic disparity and bigotry, but joining a terrorist group on the other side of world is quite different than lashing out in some ways out of frustration and ay nger. How did we get here and where are we going with this? And yeah, what's law enforcement's role in all of this if it's not to identify potential "risks" and figure out how ISIS is recruiting?

In other words, it looks like we're combing the problem of disaffected youth with ISIS recruitment, as if they're connected on a continuum of some kind. That's probably a bad assumption, youths who turn to terrorism are probably qualitatively different from other disaffected people. It may not be a good idea to lump all this stuff together and design programs around assumptions like that. Is that what we're doing?