Photo: At left, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson with CREATE Director Ali Abbas and other National Security Entourage (Credit: CREATE Facebook)
The adage of Midwest as a “flyover-country” is something Minnesotans are familiar with. Elite researchers, high-ranking federal officials, hedge fund financiers and tech tycoons crisscrossing between the two coasts look from above. Occasionally, these plutocrats parachute in to “rescue” us hardworking Midwesterners from ourselves.
One example illustrating the adage recently happened in Minnesota. A team from the National Center of Excellence for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE) at the University of Southern California spent 10 days talking to Somalis in the Twin Cities before hastily writing a report for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in April of this year. Authors of the report even sought and obtained an exemption from the Institutional Review Board’s (IRB) usual requirements. IRB acts as an independent ethics committee that prevents ethical abuses in research.
Despite this critical gap, the report drew two broad conclusions and made a plethora of policy recommendations. Accepting these conclusions and adopting these recommendations would result in a setback for the Somali community, for Minnesota and for all of America.
One of the report’s conclusions: Poverty is not a contributing factor for Minnesota youth at risk of being lured by overseas terrorist organizations. Of course, there is a strong evidence establishing a link between poor economic prospects and criminal behavior.
Here the level of effrontery is astounding. CREATE simply exempted Minnesota’s Somali community from these findings, citing Zakaria Maruf as proof.
Here's what Star Tribune reporter James Walsh found when he investigated Maruf's role in recruiting Somali-American youth for Al-Shabaab:
"Gandi Mohamed, who grew up in the same neighborhood as Maruf and who worships at Abubakar, said he doubts Maruf acted alone.
Mohamed said Maruf was a hothead who often picked fights he couldn't win. Although 'he did calm down and mature' in recent years, Mohamed said, Maruf lacked the 'personality, intellect and temperament' to mastermind an extensive recruiting effort."
A common thread among the departed young men is poverty. Many came from economically disadvantaged households, led by single parents. Maruf’s story and similar ones prove the need for economic intervention.
Instead, the report portrayed Maruf as “socially popular, athletic and succeeding….” Even if these attributes were accurate, one single data point is insufficient to prove the report's conclusion.
The report also speculates on what's alienating Somali-American youth. CREATE researchers argued that youth identity crisis and relationship with parents are greater factors than the grass-root political connection to Somalia — which is so pervasive in Minnesota’s Somali community.
Researchers correctly identified the contributing factors but they got the order of importance backwards. Parents’ almost chauvinistic attachment to Somalia’s politics leads to a generational gap, influencing everything from the second generation’s identity to their relationships.
The report also injected sectarian division by splintering Minnesota’s Somali community into Sufi and Salafi sects. Researchers wrote glowingly about the Sufi sect and shunned the Salafi by linking it to Al-Shabaab.
Sufi and Salafi sects are religious fault lines in third-world countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. Importing third-world religious strife is an incendiary approach to public policy that’s dogging Europe in its struggle against ISIS recruitment.
Britain’s approach backfired by creating divisions and a sense of religious persecution. Terror organizations used the policy to bolster propaganda. The result was a youth exodus of from Britain to Syria and Iraq. Injecting sectarian division into the struggle against Al Shabaab and ISIS is a bad idea.
The report endorsed some organizations in Minnesota’s Somali community working to prevent youth from joining terrorist organizations. Others were written off as “pretenders.” Among those given the thumps-up were West Bank Athletic Club (WBAC) and Ka Joog.
The problem is, WBAC has about 50 players and 150 in a waiting list. Ka Joog works with youth serving around 200 with an emphasis on after-school activities. Meanwhile, other organizations are serving more youth in Minnesota's Somali community. Al Jazri Academy, a traditional Somali school known as Dugsi, serves more than 800 youth. Abu Bakar As-Sidique Islamic Center serves nearly 1,000 youth.
These are but a few examples of organizations CREATE researchers failed to study. The report ends on a narcissistic note, with the elite team describing how they swooped in and penetrated Minnesota’s Somali community in just 10 days, obtaining “critical information.” Then researchers blamed Minnesota’s cold winter (which was mild in 2014-15) for limiting their movements.
I’ve discussed the report with many community leaders. One had a noble suggestion for CREATE researchers: She said a report about how to reform educational institutions would be more welcomed than parachuting into town for 10 days and writing such an insulting report.