(If this posts look weird it is because I made some changes to the original article that was the editorial of the Star Tribune of February 27th. The words in the reddish print are my additions, which I think the reader should take into consideration when reading the original editorial. I also crossed out what I thought should have been ommitted or re-worded.)
Editorial: A critical juncture for local Somalis and the mainstream media
Irresponsible and careless reporting connecting the Abubakar As-Saddique’s Islamic Center to a suicide bombing and disappearances have has created heightened fear, suspicion and encouraged xenophobia towards Minnesota’s Somali community.
It Wednesday’s open house at the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center in the Phillips neighbourhood of Minneapolis had all the trappings makings of a typical community celebration — colorful balloons, great food, happy families and easy conversation. But there was a tense undercurrent at Wednesday’s open house at the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.
On Monday, FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Council on Foreign Relations that a Somali-American man from Minnesota, one of several suicide bombers in an October terrorist attack in Somalia, had apparently been indoctrinated and recruited by a militant group while living in Minneapolis.
Although Mueller didn’t name Abubakar, as we have been doing, Shirwa Ahmed, the first known suicide bomber with U.S. citizenship, attended the mosque — as did other young Somali men who have disappeared from the Twin Cities in recent months, sparking speculation by the media that they were recruited at the mosque to fight in their country’s civil war.
Leaders of the mosque have repeatedly denied any connection and asked mainstream media to be responsible in its reporting. and The open house was an attempt at a display of transparency in the face of unchecked, increasing irresponsibility by the news media and increasing law enforcement scrutiny profiling, which is now bordering on outright harrassment. Retaining that openness –and developing a continuing to develop a proactive relationship with federal authorities will be an is important challenge for leaders of the growing Somali community in Minnesota.
This could be a critical turning point for the 25,000 or so people of Somali background who began arriving in the Twin Cities in large numbers in the 1990s, and also hopefully a critical turning point in the media’s reporting on the community. As they the Somali community continues to work to demystify Islam in their adopted home, they must just as strongly denounce the dangerous extremism that apparently led Ahmed to drive a vehicle packed with explosives that killed as many as 30 people in Somalia. As the media continues to cover the story, they should be aware of the unintended consequences of insensitive and reckless reporting.
Federal authorities have said Ahmed left the Twin Cities after being recruited by the Shabab, a militia linked to Al-Qaida that is warring against the Somali government. Several local families fear their sons have also been lured back to their homeland by terrorist groups. In a chilling story earlier this month, the Star Tribune’s Richard Meryhew, who was at the open house and wrote a less arrogant piece on the event, described the mysterious disappearance of 18-year-old Mustafa Ali, who fled his family’s St. Paul apartment six months ago and never returned.
The stories of Ahmed and Ali — along with growing problems with drugs, gangs and violent crime among Somalis in Minnesota — were topics of conversation at the Abubakar open house. I also overheard three people from the mainstream media (standing behind me) exchange notes on an Imam – were prety negative. “I think the Somali community needs help more than ever now,” said Abdulahi Farah, 27, a community outreach worker who came to the United States as an 11-year-old.
Minnesota was remains a mostly tolerant, supportive home to the Somalis, but Farah knows that relationships built on hard work and trust over the past few decades are in jeopardy today and the media is making it worse. The soul-searching and community building in the Somali community is healthy, but the media rarely covers this side of the story. Parents whose sons have disappeared deserve answers, and Minnesotans do not need the media putting everyone on red alert, especially without any proof need reassurance that the Twin Cities area is not a training ground for terror. It was encouraging to hear that leaders of the mosque have reached out to the FBI. This was a brave effort on their part as For too long, many Somalis have feared the very law enforcement agencies in Minnesota that provide the safety and security they were seeking when they left east Africa because of racial profiling.
Some of the clan loyalties that divided Somalis in Africa live on in Minnesota, making it especially difficult for authorities to build productive relationships. With that in mind, the media should understand the biases of their sources before parading them as the truth and stirring up trouble for the Somali community. At the same time, Somali-Americans who have made great strides in building better lives in this country need local leaders who can unite the community and responsible media in the face of growing fear and suspicion.
“We need more coming together and working together,” Farah said as he surveyed the crowd at Wednesday’s open house. “What affects one of us affects all of us.” That goes for you too mainstream media.
Read the unedited editorial here.