The scene outside the terror trial

Minnesota is home to the largest Somali community in the United States, numbering at least 25,000. 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 this past week 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. As I noted last week, 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.” Yes, ma’am, the feeling is mutual.

The investigation that resulted in the charges involved here has consumed the local FBI office for a matter of 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.

So much for the two defendants and their buds 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 didn’t commit the crimes charged. 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.

In the timely National Affairs essay “The Muslim-American muddle,” Peter 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. 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 scene outside the terror trial in Minneapolis this week seems to me to raise in an acute form this question and others that Skerry does address in his useful if unsatisfactory and unsatisfying essay.