Message from Mogadishu

Minnesota is home to the largest Somali community in the United States, numbering at least 32,000. If it takes a village, we have a couple.

Yet we know amazingly little about the Somali community, probably because we are afraid to ask the relevant questions. We know they are mostly Muslim — we can see the hijabs, we are familiar with the many local controversies to which their faith has given rise over the past 10 years — but are they loyal residents or citizens of the United States? In the conflict between the United States and the Islamist forces with which are contending, whose side are they on?

The terror trial that concluded with a raft of guilty verdicts last month raises these questions and others. The two defendants are women who were convicted of charges including conspiracy to provide material support to a designated terrorist organization, of providing support, and of lying to the FBI. The “terrorist organization” is al Shabab, an affiliate of al Qaeda.

The ringleader was not exactly remorseful after the jury returned its guilty verdicts. According to the AP, she stood before the judge and stated through an interpreter: “I am very happy.” She added that she knew she was going to heaven. Even if she is headed to heaven, she’ll be stopping off in prison first. As for the rest of us, she advised: “You will go to hell.”

The investigation that resulted in the charges involved here has consumed the local FBI office for the past three years. The investigation has previously resulted in a string of guilty pleas involving local Somali men supporting al Shabab.

Investigators believe at least 21 Somali men have left Minnesota to join al Shabab. We’re a little concerned they might choose to return to Minnesota to continue the jihad. One such departed Minnesotan was the late Abdisalan Hussein Ali, formerly a University of Minnesota premed student residing in Minneapolis. Ali appears to have detonated himself at an African Union base in Mogadishu over the weekend in service of the jihad. Ali’s identity has yet to be confirmed; the FBI seeks to acquire a sample of the remains from the bombing in Mogadishu for DNA testing.

Before undertaking the suicide mission, Ali (assuming that is who the bomber was) left a recorded message for his fellow Muslims around the world. Speaking in English, the voice on the tape urged other young Muslims to “do jihad in America, do jihad in Canada, do jihad in England, anywhere in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in China, in Australia.”

He added: “Anywhere you find [unbelievers],” the voice continued, “fight them and be firm against them.”

He urged: “Don’t just sit around, you know, and be, you know, a couch potato and just like, just chill all day. Today jihad is what is most important. It’s not important that you become a doctor, or some sort of engineer.”

So much for Mr. Ali. What about the rest of the local Somali community? Members of the local Somali community materialized at the federal courthouse in Minneapolis to support the two Minnesota women convicted of supporting al Shabab. The members of the local Somali community appearing at the courthouse were apparently untroubled by the defendants’ guilt of the crimes charged. On the contrary, they were troubled by the defendants’ convictions — and not because of any evidence of innocence. The issue was beside the point. No voice expressly spoke up on behalf of law-abidingness or loyalty to the United States.

Reporter Allie Shah doesn’t raise the question of community attitudes in her Star Tribune article today on Ali’s message from Mogadishu, which lamely tries to catch up with Josh Kron’s New York Times article on Ali yesterday.

Here let me repeat my discussion of the timely National Affairs essay “The Muslim-American muddle,” by Boston College political science professor Peter Skerry. In the essay Skerry expressly raises the question of loyalty.

The essay is by turns infuriating and illuminating, but at least it licenses inquiry into the question. Indeed, Skerry takes the question seriously and provides evidence supporting the concerns of “alarmists.” He writes, for example: “To a non-Muslim observer, the most striking aspect of of these [ICNA and MSA] gatherings is the complete absence of any acknowledged tie to the United States.”

Skerry contrasts “complacent elites” with “alarmist populists.” I would place Skerry on the complacent side of the divide and myself on the alarmist side, although Skerry places himself (of course) in the middle as the voice of reason mediating between the two camps. But Skerry concludes the essay on what I would characterize as an alarmist (i.e., realist) note.

Along the way, Skerry seems to me to treat several basic issues (including assimilation) in a conclusory and question-begging fashion. He cites the naturalization of Muslim immigrants and their involvement in American politics, supporting Democrats, as factors supporting (I will say) complacency. Yet the two defendants in the Minneapolis terror trial are both naturalized citizens. (It is not clear from the recent news articles whether Ali was as well.)

And CAIR has formed a fruitful alliance with Democrats going back to its days as a Hamas front group (Skerry suggests that those days are behind it). Skerry rightly observes: “It is astonishing, given th[e history of CAIR], that the mainstream American media should routinely describe CAIR as ‘a Muslim civil rights organization.’”

Skerry does not raise the question whether the immigration spigot should remain open while we sort out the serious issues that he addresses in his essay. The question doesn’t even seem to cross his mind. The Minneapolis terror trial and the case of Mr. Ali seem to me to raise in an acute form this question and others that Skerry does address in his useful if unsatisfactory and unsatisfying essay.

NOTE: This post is adapted from my comments last month on the conviction of the two Minnesota women in the Minneapolis terror trial.

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