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A look at Minnesota’s Somalis, but not too close

With the horrendous terrorist attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Somali al Qaeda affiliate al Shabab is back in the news. We still don’t know the identity of the perpetrators, or whether any of them had made their way to al Shabab from Minnesota or points elsewhere in the United States. I trust that time will. For now we have the New York Times visit to Minneapolis to pass on the fears of Somali residents that they will be stigmatized and (good grief!) scrutinized. And the Star Tribune is on the case to transmit the avowals of local Somali leaders that they are good Americans, or at least that they want no truck with al Shabab.

As I have noted here several times, Minnesota is home to the largest Somali community in the United States. We know amazingly little about the them, 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 we are contending, whose side are they on?

Neither the Times nor the Star Tribune digs even an inch below the surface to examine the relevant questions or render the appropriate findings. As only Peter Bergen recalls in the current context, it is a proven fact that al Shabab has received financial support in addition to manpower from Minnesota Somalis.

Only two years ago a terror trial in Minneapolis concluded with a raft of guilty verdicts that raised serious questions of loyalty. The two defendants (pictured in the photo above) were women 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” was al Shabab.

The ringleader was not exactly remorseful after the jury returned its guilty verdicts. According to a contemporaneous AP report, she stood before the judge and stated through an interpreter: “I am very happy.” She added that she knew she was going to heaven. As I noted here at the time, she may be going to heaven, but she’ll be stopping off in prison first. As for the rest of us, she advised: “You will go to hell.” Well, the feeling was mutual.

The investigation that resulted in the charges involved here has consumed the local FBI office for the past six years. The investigation has previously resulted in a string of guilty pleas (at least one such plea dating back as far 2009) 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.

So much for the two defendants and their buddies over in Somalia. 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 women at trial, but not because they held the charges to be unfounded. The members of the local Somali community appearing at the courthouse never bothered to cite any evidence of innocence. The question was beside the point. No voice expressly spoke up on behalf of law-abidingness or loyalty to the United States.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune provided a glimpse of the scene outside the courthouse after the verdicts in “Rochester women guilty of aiding Somali terror group,” including an excellent video. There isn’t much in the article or video to set minds at ease. Couldn’t the Star Tribune be bothered to revisit the defendants’ supporters to ask their views on al Shabab and the Nairobi mall massacre?

Two years ago, in the National Affairs essay “The Muslim-American muddle,” Peter Skerry expressly raised the question of loyalty in the context of America’s Muslim population in general. The essay is by turns infuriating and illuminating, but at least it licensed inquiry into the question.

Indeed, Skerry took the question seriously and provided evidence supporting the concerns of “alarmists,” noting the striking absence of any acknowledged tie to the United States on the part of important Muslim organizations. Skerry contrasted “complacent elites” with “alarmist populists.” I would place Skerry on the complacent side of the divide and myself on the alarmist side, although Skerry placed 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., realistic) note.

Along the way, Skerry seemed to me to treat several basic issues (including assimilation) in a conclusory and question-begging fashion. He cited 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 were both naturalized citizens. 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 observed: “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 failed to raise the question whether the immigration spigot should remain open while we sort out the serious issues that he addressed in his essay. The question didn’t even seem to cross his mind. In any event, Skerry’s essay badly needs to be updated, but we will, not surprisingly, have to look for help from places other than the New York Times or the Star Tribune.

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