Sunday, October 26, 2014

26-Oct-14: Standing up for jihad in Minnesota

The Getty Images caption reads: "Somali Muslims pray during a Somali Week soccer tournament championship game at the Hamline University stadium on June 26, 2011, in St. Paul, Minn." [Image Source]
In Minneapolis (but it could just as easily be almost anywhere else in the world), they are agonizing over how it could possibly be that three local girls decided to get up one day and travel to the Middle East in order to hook up with the terrorists of ISIS. According to AP, they have some strong leads: (a) social media; and (b) an online predator.

The local authorities quite rightly are saying their "biggest concern is for the safety and well-being of these girls". But fewer people, it appears from this distance, are saying the next biggest concern is what to do with Islamist-terror-minded people living in their midst.
Three teenage girls being investigated for trying to join Islamic State forces in Syria were victims of an “online predator” who encouraged them, a school official said Wednesday, as U.S. officials tried to determine how they made it to Europe without anyone knowing and whether terrorists’ appeal is deepening among vulnerable youth. The southeast Aurora girls — two sisters ages 17 and 15, and their 16-year-old friend — were detained at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, and sent home over the weekend. They were interviewed by the FBI and returned to their parents in suburban Aurora. Those in the tight-knit east African community where they live said the sisters are of Somali descent and their friend is of Sudanese descent...
“Social media has played a very significant role in the recruitment of young people,” said FBI spokesman Kyle Loven in Minneapolis, home to the largest Somali community in the U.S. Authorities there have been concerned about terror recruiting of the young for years.  “What it indicates is we have to be really careful about people in impressionable years and what they’re doing on the Internet,” said Jim Davis, former special agent in charge of the FBI in Denver.
At least one of the girls was communicating with someone online who encouraged the three to travel to Syria, said Tustin Amole, a spokeswoman for the Cherry Creek School District where the girls attend high school. Fellow high school students told school officials on Monday that the girls had been discussing travel plans over Twitter, Amole said... The girls’ parents reported them missing Friday after they skipped classes. They had taken passports and $2,000 in cash...
Amole said the school district was being “extra vigilant” in light of the FBI’s concerns that the girls’ friends or classmates might have similar intentions...
Terror recruiting has been a problem for years in Minneapolis. Since 2007, roughly 22 young Somali-Americans have traveled to Somalia to take up arms with al-Shabab, an al-Qaida linked group. Those were all men. Within the last year, a handful of people from the community left Minnesota to join militant groups in Syria, and this time, there are fears that women might have been targeted...
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Denver would not say whether prosecutors plan to charge the girls with a crime. State prosecutors said they have no imminent plans to charge the girls. Amole said they will not face discipline. “Our biggest concern is for the safety and well-being of these girls...” [AP, October 23, 2014]
Online predators and social media are frightening factors, no doubt about it. But how about these?
  • "Minnesota is home to an estimated 70,000 Somalis -- the largest Somali concentration in the country. Generally speaking, Somali girls growing up in America are thriving. In the culture, parents often take a more protective attitude toward girls, believing that their reputation upholds the dignity of the family..." [Minneapolis Star Tribune, November 21, 2010]
  • On the other hand: "... [T]he problems Somali girls face are a reflection of a larger issue -- a lack of programs for Somali youth, and especially for girls. "The problem is there are no activities for the girls," said Hussein, the youth and girls program coordinator for the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota. Although as many as 40 percent of the 70,000 Somalis living in Minnesota are 18 years old or younger, there are only a handful of programs for girls, she said." [Minneapolis Star Tribune, November 21, 2010]
  • "The wide-reaching sex-trafficking operation, controlled by Somali gangs, preyed on girls from the Twin Cities, including some who were 13 or younger... For more perspective on Monday's indictment, MPR's Tom Crann talked with Abdirizak Bihi, the executive director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center in Minneapolis. Bihi has worked with Somali-American girls who have been caught up in prostitution, and he said many of those girls face similar social situations..." [MPR News, four years ago]
  • "The latest ISIS recruit from Minnesota is a 19-year-old woman who told her family she will be taking care of wounded fighters in Syria. Somali-American leaders say they know of at least two other young women who have also left, and they believe at least 15 Minnesotans are among at least 100 Americans who have joined ISIS from around the world. No one is quite sure when the 19-year-old woman left Minnesota for Syria..." [CBS Minnesota, September 4, 2014]
  • "Reports of Americans fighting for the group [ISIS] have raised concerns about the radicalization and recruitment of young men from immigrant communities throughout the United States, and particularly those in the large Somali American community in Minnesota... " ["Somali Americans Linked to IS Shock Minnesota Immigrant Community" VOA News, September 4, 2014]
  • "As Minnesota teenagers growing up in the 1990s, Troy Kastigar and Douglas McAuthur McCain shared almost everything. They played pickup basketball on neighborhood courts, wrote freewheeling raps in each other’s bedrooms and posed together for snapshots, a skinny white young man with close-cropped hair locking his arm around his African-American friend with a shadow of a mustache... They converted to Islam around the same time and exalted their new faith to family and friends, declaring that they had found truth and certainty. One after the other, both men abandoned their American lives for distant battlefields. “This is the real Disneyland,” Mr. Kastigar said with a grin in a video shot after he joined Islamist militants in Somalia in late 2008... Today, both are dead. While their lives ended five years and over 2,000 miles apart, their intertwined journeys toward militancy offer a sharp example of how the allure of Islamist extremism has evolved, enticing similar pools of troubled, pliable young Americans to conflicts in different parts of the world... “Troy and Doug fit together in some ways,” Mr. Kastigar’s mother, Julie Boada, said at her home here. “They’re both converted Muslims. They both have had struggles.” ["For Jihad Recruits, a Pipeline From Minnesota to Militancy", NY Times, September 4, 2014]
  • Before all of these, a not-so-thoughtful op ed from Fox News, March 19, 2007: "Minnesota: America's First Somali-Muslim State?"
  • And this from Minnesota Public Radio in June 2014: "Over the past few months, as many as 15 young Somali-American men from the Twin Cities have traveled to Syria to join radical groups trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad's regime, according to the FBI. One of the men, Abdirahmaan Muhumed, told MPR News through a series of Facebook messages that he is fighting alongside the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria... "A Muslim has to stand up for [what's] right," Muhumed, 29, wrote in a Jan. 2 post. "I give up this worldly life for Allah." Muhumed, who claims he wants to save the global Muslim community, said if that causes others to consider him a terrorist, he is "happy with it." He asked Allah to forgive him and to "make my mom strong for the decision that I made." ["Jihad in Syria lures Somalis from Minnesota", MPR, June 11, 2014]
There are some positive reports out there too, but their impact is not so obvious, and their focus is impossibly narrow. For instance
Members of Minnesota’s large Somali community gathered Sunday to condemn the recruitment of youth by terrorist groups and urge collaboration to find solutions to address the problem. About 100 people attended a town hall meeting to denounce groups such as the Islamic State and al-Shabab, which together have recruited more than two dozen fighters from Minnesota since 2007. U.S. Attorney Andy Luger told the crowd he’s working hard to bring more resources to the community to address the root causes of the problem. ["Minnesota Somalis Condemn Islamic State Recruiting", September 28, 2014] 
And then there's the role of the highest of high-profile Islamic groups in America. This report quotes Abdirizak Bihi, the executive director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center in Minneapolis, whom we mentioned above:
"Bihi has been working to stop radicalization of Somali-Americans for years. He has testified before Congress about the dangers of radicalization in the U.S. Somali community, working alongside the FBI and the Justice Department. His involvement is personal. Bihi’s nephew was radicalized by al-Shabaab and joined the group in 2008. He was killed the following year. But he told The Daily Caller the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has blocked his efforts for years, telling law enforcement agencies by telling them that he doesn’t know the Somali community and calling him “an Islamophobe” in a recent report. “They say that I am a bad person, that I am anti-Muslim, and that I don’t represent a hundred percent the Somali community,” Bihi said. “They lie about my life most of the time and try to destroy my character, my capability, and my trust in the community.” [He] also says CAIR has tried to bring Somalis into the organization and denies the threat that terrorism poses. ["Somali-American leader: ‘I tried to warn America’ about homegrown radicalization", September 23, 2013]
Simple but effective solutions are always going to be in short supply. But ignoring the role that religious culture and identity is playing in this unfolding lethal drama, and ascribing the unchecked phenomenon of home-grown jihadists to such vague factors as "social media" and predators is a guarantee that things will get worse before they get better.

And to be as clear as possible about what we mean by "things" in that last sentence: we mean the social imperative of keeping innocent people alive and unharmed.

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