Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Somalia, Minnesota, Traditional Journalism, and Unpleasant Realities

The investigation into the disappearance of young Minnesota men - one of whom later starred in a suicide bombing in Somalia - is moving along. Some Somali-Americans have been indicted by a federal grand jury, for their alleged involvement in the matter.

The details are still sketchy, which is understandable since there hasn't been a formal announcement of the indictments yet.

Judging from the 'victim' angle that Minnesota Public Radio took in an article on a Somali-American woman: When this investigation does hit the traditional news sources, the focus may be on something other than the families whose sons were taken.
"...Ali has heard that FBI agents, working on what she says are false leads, have been asking about her in connection to the case. Agents have been showing Ali's photograph while conducting interviews as part of their probe, according to some of the young people who attend Abubakar.

"Ali said she's even heard talk in her community that she was the one who sent the boys to fight in their homeland, a country where anarchy and violence are the rule. She denies the accusation.

" 'It's very sad,' she said, pausing to dab away tears with the hem of her skirt. 'It's hurting me so much. I'll be the last person on earth encouraging violence. I'm against violence.'..." (Minnesota Public Radio)
Abia Ali runs a girls' program at the Abubakar As-Saddique mosque in Minneapolis.

Minnesota Public Radio's focus on the tears of Abia Ali is, I think, an example of traditional editorial decision-making. (July 1, 2009)

A Familiar Refrain

Parts of the MPR article are very familiar: a member of a minority group - and a woman - is misunderstood by those she is trying to help, and suspected by the FBI. It's a pattern that I've run into for about four decades now.
Recognizing Humanitarian Work: That's Nice
I appreciate a Somali-Minnesotan being displayed in a favorable light. Earlier this year, members of Senator Lieberman's staff came to Minnesota and started the Senator's investigation into how the FBI was 'mishandling' things, by asking: " What is radicalizing young Somali men? " (March 22, 2009) From my point of view, that's 'way too close to the "what makes Irishmen drink too much?" questions that half my ancestors had to put up with.

Lieberman's staff did a good job of giving the impression that they thought all young Somali-Minnesotan men were radicalized, or were in the process of being prepped for jihad. Dumb. Really dumb.
Ignoring the Abubakar As-Saddique Connection: Perhaps Not Entirely Wise
On the other hand, I'm not convinced that people whose parents came from Somalia, or who are first-generation Minnesotans, are well-served by playing up the 'misunderstood victim' angle, while ignoring how the Abubakar As-Saddique mosque may be connected to the little matter of Shirwa Ahmed, and others like him. (March 10, 2009)

So far, something like 20 young Somali-Minnesotans have disappeared. Although the number is small, their lives are not (or, in the cases of those whose body parts have been found, were not) trivial.

MPR mentions that Ali is called "Sister Abia" at the Abubakar As-Saddique mosque, and: "...Last year, the Minneapolis police department awarded her for her work with young people...." The public radio station may be unaware that the Abubakar As-Saddique mosque has been the focus of an FBI investigation into the disappearance of Somali-Minnesotans. (March 22, 2009)

There may be no cause-effect link between activities at the mosque and young Minnesotans winding up in so many pieces that it takes DNA analysis to figure out who they were. However, I'm impressed by the conspicuous absence in the MPR article of the mosque's role in the FBI investigation.

Osman Ahmed, the uncle of one young Minnesotan who disappeared and later died in Somalia, believes that a specific local mosque - apparently the Abubakar As-Saddique mosque - is where young men are convinced that jihad is a good idea. (June 7, 2009)

I suppose Osman Ahmed is the sort of person who made "Sister Abia" "very sad."

Polite reticence is one thing: but writing an article about a sympathetic victim, without mentioning why there's talk about her possible connection with dead Minnesotans, may not be serving either "Sister Abia" or Somali-Minnesotans in general.

Unless something very unusual happens, very unpleasant facts are going to be aired in public. If not soon, in the foreseeable future.

I think it's best to acknowledge facts, and deal with them. It looks like some Somali-Minnesotans think so, too.

Terror Recruitment in Minnesota: Another Approach to the Problem

Instead of playing up the 'victim' angle and ignoring dead and missing Minnesotans, some people in the Somali community are organizing a protest in Peavey Park.

If you've never heard of it, don't feel bad. Not many people outside Minneapolis have. It's at 730 East 22nd Street in Minneapolis, or the corner of East Franklin Avenue and Chicago Avenue, depending on whether you're an 'address' or 'intersection' person when it comes to locations.

View Larger Map

Organizers of the protest have it scheduled for Friday, July 3, 2009, from 3 to 6 in the afternoon. They're expecting (or hoping) for thousands of people to show up.
"...Organizers state: The Somali-American Community in Minnesota is taking a stand and we want the world, the mainstream Community and the Somalis in the Diaspora to know our stand and strong opposition to these terrorists. The Somali-American Community in Minnesota will release a press release and voice the community stand on issues related to suicide bombings and terrorism in the protest. The Somali-American Community in Minnesota is requesting you to attend and cover the protest and to join us in the condemnation of the violent extremists and their suicide bombings...." (American Chronicle)
This is a blast from the past, too: a protest with signs and slogans.

This, however, I have more respect for. The protest organizers are not ignoring a problem that's troubling their community. They're facing it head-on: and trying to tell their neighbors, Senatorial staffers, and anyone who's paying attention that not all Somali-Minnesotans are 'radicalized' - and that they don't want terror recruiters in their community.

Maybe thousands of sign-waving protesters won't change the world this time. But that sort of protest is still an effective way to demonstrate determination and numbers: and to draw attention to an issue.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.