The Somali muddle, once more once

Yesterday’s Star Tribune featured Paul McEnroe’s page-one story “Minneapolis nonprofit tests program to pull teens from terror’s grasp.” Taking off on the arrest of the Minneapolis based Somali six who sought to depart these parts to join ISIS, the article focuses on an experimental program implemented under the auspices of Heartland Democracy to divert Somalis from such a path. Mary McKinley is the nonprofit’s executive director; Ahmed Amin is a Somali immigrant working with wayward Somalis in the program, one of whom is Abdullah Yusuf. Here McEnroe provides Amin’s perspective:

Amin sees Yusuf and his generation as “the hybrids.” Some, he said, have embraced the life of an American teen. Others remain suspicious of what can still seem a strange culture.

“I work in a school where there are kids who have not bought into America,” Amin said. “It’s almost as if you have to sell them the idea that there is a good life that America affords you. We have to implore them. I read where one of the defendants said he was through with America and wanted to burn his ID. Well, if you don’t have the role models, that’s what can happen.

“These are the kids trying to figure it out,” Amin continued. “The ‘right’ question to start asking is not just about being a Somali-American and embracing this country and democracy. It’s ‘What does it mean to be a Somali-Muslim-American?’ ”

Amin is confronted by Somali parents who don’t want their daughters to read certain books; he leaves school at day’s end knowing that all the energy he put into “trying to explain that the Constitution is a living document” will likely fall by the wayside in some students’ homes.

“What is being taught in the home?” he asked. “What are the attitudes? Civic education about embracing this country and democracy, does that match up at home?”

Of the more than 20 Somali-Minnesotans in the first wave of departures, who left to fight in Somalia, roughly one-third had — like Amin himself — attended Roosevelt [High School in Minneapolis, where Amin teaches].

McEnroe also provides McKinley’s perspective on the experimental program run by the nonprofit she directs:

Mary McKinley is a realist. A veteran of civic nonprofits such as the Open Society Institute and the Aspen Institute, she returned to Minnesota five years ago after a long career overseas and in Washington, D.C. She bristles at any suggestion that she’s merely, as she puts it, “the bleeding heart liberal” out of touch with reality. She knows her organization’s curriculum — civic engagement for at-risk youths — is not going to work for many of the people who are charged with terrorism.

In January correspondence to the U.S. Public Defender’s Office in Minneapolis, whose attorneys were representing Yusuf, McKinley was blunt.

“Make no mistake: We realize this would be an experiment, a pretrial release program unlike any other, especially in dealing with the ISIL threat and the counterterrorism efforts that are the focus of the FBI, the U.S. Attorney and the White House.

“This community has been the victim of benign neglect and we know the consequences,’’ she added. “Youth involved in violence, gangs, drug use and trafficking, high rates of poverty, extremely high unemployment rates, and now terrorism.”

In an interview last week, McKinley elaborated.

“I don’t use the term, ‘de-radicalization.’ Our program works with young people to connect with themselves, their community and their world. We believe that when young people make bad choices — some extremely bad choices — there’s still an opportunity to turn your life around.”

This article tacitly raises a question that is not on the table for public discussion in Minnesota or elsewhere, for that matter. Can we turn off the immigration spigot while we try to get a handle on the rather serious problem in our midst? Shouldn’t we? Why do we continue sleepwalking down a path of increasing peril?

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