Judge Davis and the Muslim-American muddle

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 we are contending, whose side are they on?

The terror trial that concluded with a raft of guilty verdicts in October 2011 raised these questions and others. The two convicted 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 women were naturalized American citizens pursuing the jihad in Rochester, Minnesota.

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 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.” Yes, ma’am, the feeling is mutual.

The investigation that resulted in the charges involved here has consumed the local FBI office for years. The investigation has previously resulted in a string of guilty pleas involving local Somali men supporting al Shabab. A subsequent case against Mahamud Said Omar in guilty verdicts in Minneapolis this past October. 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.

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, and no journalist has to my knowledge explored the issue, although Peter Skerry provided some valuable background (and no comfort) in “The Muslim-American muddle.”

It’s easy to miss, but the Minnesota cases have been in the news this month as some of the Somali defendants returned to court for sentencing. The man convicted last fall appeared for sentencing last week, as did the two women.

The common thread in these cases is the presiding judge, United States District Judge Michael Davis, a man for whom I have great respect. I tried a small case before him when he was a state district court judge and John and I litigated a serious free speech case against the University of Minnesota before him in federal court. He is a fair man and a fine judge.

Last week in sentencing a Somali man who had pleaded guilty and cooperated with the government in the case of the man convicted at trial last fall, Judge Davis said: “I don’t know you. The government doesn’t know you. Your family doesn’t know you.” He obviously remains troubled by the evidence in the case.

In separate hearings for the two women last week, Judge Davis sentenced the ringleader to 20 years and her colleague to 10 years. Before sentencing the women, Judge Davis asked them if they supported jihad, suicide bombings and Sharia law. “Does she understand there are some Muslim women who wear dresses or short skirts?” Davis asked the interpreter for one of the women. As in the case involving the Somali man, Judge Davis must have been troubled by the evidence at trial. Judge Davis said the questions were aimed at determining the likelihood that the women would continue to support terrorist causes when they are released from prison.

So there is of course a sequel. CAIR promptly announced that it plans to file a complaint against Judge Davis for questioning the women on their religious beliefs and “equating mainstream Islamic principles with terrorism,” as the CAIR news release puts it. As for the relationship between “mainstream Islamic principles” and terrorism, at any rate, we’re not supposed to see it, say it, think it or act on it, lest we be stigmatized as “Islamophobic.”

CAIR itself has been aptly described by Daniel Pipes as Islamists fooling the establishment. It’s an establishment of which Judge Davis appears no longer to be a member in good standing.

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