On January 23, I went on the trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota to meet with some State Representatives and activists.
Between 2008 and 2013, about 40 young men left Minneapolis to join al-Shabaab, the militant, radical Islamist insurgent group at war in Somalia, between approximately 2008 and 2013. Since then, 11 people from the Twin Cities have been charged with planning to leave for Syria to join Isis. Authorities believe Isis is focusing its US recruitment efforts on Somali Muslims in Minnesota because of the state’s history, and a potential pre-existing recruitment infrastructure.
My first meeting was with Omar Jamal, Somali activist and advocate. Omar is an outspoken critic of radicalization as well as the Government and its policies in dealing with the issue. Whenever there has been an issue of terrorism, he has spoken to media. He said that the government has at times used force and alienated the Somali community which is dealing with the issue of their youth being radicalized. At the same time he said he works with FBI and other security personnel. He says the best way to deal with terrorism is to have an open policy “You can’t accuse someone is you are doing the same to others. US Government has lost the war on terror”. Omar is big on dialogue and discussion both within the community and with people from the outside.
We talked about putting our resources together. He says he is interested in travelling across the country and speaking to youth (specifically Somali) but others as well. He liked the optics of our doing such a tour together. He would like to create a network of likeminded people. He also mentioned a desire to do a series of Youtube videos speaking on these issues.
On January 24, I had a radio interview in the morning about my visit to Minneapolis and the reporter was interested in knowing what I, as a Canadian activist could contribute to the discussion. I explained that the issue of radicalization is across the board in North America and we need to work together.
I had a meeting with Senator Warren Limmer’s where I met six of his representatives. Senator Limmer is very interested in the issue of youth radicalization and he said “we have quiet discussions all the time”. He is interested in programs that will help youth and he is working on a bill dealing with persecuting parents who allow FGM. He asked some good questions. Eventually the women opened up when I spoke about Clarion’s new film and the project of education. I also left a copy of Honor Diaries for them.
“After meeting with human rights activist Raheel Raza, I am shocked by DFL House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman’s incendiary comments labeling her an extremist.
Ms. Raza is a practicing Canadian Muslim and an outspoken opponent of radical Jihadism. She is a fierce advocate of women’s rights and has dedicated her life to fighting against the radicalization of our youth. She was recently awarded Canada’s 150th anniversary medal for service to the country, and has been invited to speak to governments around the world, including the U.S. Congress, UK House of Lords, Canadian Parliament, Swedish government, and the United Nations.”
From there Senator Limmers assistant took me to meet Representative Roz Peterson who is head of the Education Committe. We had a short chat before security came to say that media had set up in the board room for a scrum. She told me she had heard the radio interview in the morning and is glad that something positive has come from my trip. Ms. Peterson told me that it would be good if I spoke to media and gave them my perspective. So I was escorted to the Board room and found Senator Limmer there as well. I spoke to media. Halfway through the event, Omar Jamal turned up and along with him two female Somali women. One older one and a younger women who runs Mothers Against Youth Recruitment who is on the same page as us. They all pitched in and essentially the crux was that while Muslim activists are willing to do the work, the government is too involved in partisan politics to help or intervene. Senator Limmer took copious notes especially when I offered the solutions presented by Clarion.
After the media event I met Mary Franson a State representative who spoke very clearly and later met me in her office as she is working on the FGM bill.
On January 25 I went to meet Rosalyn Park, Director, Women’s Human Rights Program at Advocate for Human Rights. At the forefront of the world’s human rights movement, The Advocates for Human Rights, creates and maintains lasting, comprehensive, and holistic change on a local, national, and global scale. Volunteers, partners, supporters, board members, and staff implement international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. Ms. Park gave me a lot of material and told me about the varied kinds of work they do. We discussed the women’s rights aspect and she told me they do monitoring of the situation in some countries and then document the report provided they have partners and resources on the ground.
Jan 26 – my last meeting was with Mohamed Ahmed who is a husband and father, a manager at a convenience store, and the creator of Average Mohamed, a website presenting counter-radicalization messaging geared towards young people (ages 8 to 16). The project uses cartoons to present Islamic messages that counter the radical ideology preached by ISIL, al Shabaab, and other terror groups, approaching youth in a media format with which they are familiar and interested. Ahmed collaborates with local religious leaders to craft the messages in a way that relays Islamic ideas while dispelling ISIL’s ideology. Ongoing for nearly a decade, the project has been entirely conceived, funded and managed by Ahmed. He said of his project:
Mohammad Ahmad is such a joy to meet and speak with. Full of energy and enthusiasm, he is studying communications full time as a Bush Foundation Fellow.
Some statements he made:
“CAIR has taken us hostage and sends their spies to check on us”
“The 900 pound gorilla in the room is extremism and I am able to reach the kids through my cartoons”
“Youth need a sense of identity and belonging so I tell them about loyalty to this Country and loyalty to God”
He showed me his latest cartoon which is not up yet. Its about driving cars into pedestrians because he says the fear of ISIS is not so much here anymore than the fear that the youth will do something locally and he wants to reach them before the extremists do.
He wants to continue to create his cartoons so he can reach millions of youth and he is confident that he can do this. He also wants to travel the world and speak to youth (something he is doing in schools here). He says he has good contacts both in his community as well as the schools who welcome him but he would like to present a specific project that is broad so it does not seem like he is targeting only Islam and Muslims.
So he wants to make a video program of his cartoons speaking about
He feels if he can get support to do this, he will devote his time to spreading the word. He has major contacts in African countries.