The Somali muddle, once more once

Today’s Star Tribune features a formulaic story by Randy Furst from the usual heart-tugging angle: “Somali woman living in Willmar can’t get her husband into U.S.” Deep into the story a small dose of reality is permitted to intrude:

A State Department spokeswoman said that “most administrative processing is resolved within 60 days of the visa interview, but the timing can vary based on the individual circumstances of each case.”

She said that Somalis are treated the same as applicants from other countries, and more than 1,000 visas were issued to Somalis in the 2013 federal ­fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30.

“At the same time, we must ensure that applicants do not pose a security risk to the United States and otherwise are eligible for a visa” she said in an e-mail. “Applicants sometimes require additional screening to determine whether they are eligible.”

Federal authorities have been concerned about possible links between Somali immigrants to the United States and Al-Shabab, a group that has recruited young Somali men to fight in the Somali civil war. The State Department has designated Al-Shabab as a terrorist group and alleged that it has links to Al-Qaida.

Coincidentally, the Los Angeles Times has a brief article bearing on this aspect of the problem. Richard Serrano reports “Americans radicalized by al Qaeda are a big concern” — they’re a big concern not at the Star Tribune, or in the offices of Amy Klobuchar or Al Franken or Keith Ellison, but over at the FBI. Serrano reports:

Federal law enforcement officials say they have been tracing other U.S. residents traveling abroad, specifically Somali Americans from Minnesota who have gone to fight in that country. They are also watching several individuals identified soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, such as half a dozen men from the Buffalo suburb of Lackawanna, N.Y., who trained at an Al Qaeda facility in Afghanistan.

Comey says these suspects are always the most difficult to identify and stop. He suggests it is all the more challenging today because Al Qaeda has been “metastasizing” into splinter groups in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
Although the FBI previously had “great success” against Al Qaeda in the group’s traditional Afghanistan-Pakistan region, he said, “in the ungoverned or poorly governed spaces in Africa and around the Middle East, we see a resurgence of Al Qaeda affiliates.

I’ve written several times about Minnesota’s large and growing Somali population. I repeat myself a lot on the subject and am repeating myself here.

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?

The Star Tribune has never looked 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.

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 the Star Tribune.

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