In February, the White House hosted an international summit to address violent extremism. President Obama invited a delegation to represent the Twin Cities at the summit and to present our community-led initiative to counter violent extremism. Seven members of the Minnesota Somali community joined government and law enforcement officials to present our plan, called “Building Community Resilience.”
Since the summit, we, the Somali-American Taskforce, have been working to implement that plan. We are Minnesotans of Somali descent. We are mothers, imams, mental health professionals, youth leaders and community leaders. Though our stories are not unique, they are uniquely American. We live in America for the promise of peace and justice.
For our community of Somali-Americans, that means the same thing it means for all Americans: We want our young people to have a good education and job opportunities, and to live in a healthy and safe environment. Minnesota represents for us the promise of America; now we are fighting to fulfill that promise.
However, before we can move forward, we must address the past. Many in our community are suspicious of the government. There are those who say that the Building Community Resilience pilot project is a secret government surveillance program. These rumors are not true — the project has broad support of the community and it is a Somali community-led initiative.
We are the committee charged with leading the first phase of implementing the project. We do not want nor would we ever allow the government to use this pilot to compile information about law-abiding citizens in our community.
The purpose of the project is to prevent violent extremism by focusing on three pillars: prevention, support and engagement.
The first pillar of the plan is to address the community-identified root causes of radicalization to violence. We want to address the inequality and low social mobility that have persisted in the Minnesota Somali community for years. By focusing our attention on creating educational and professional opportunities for young people, and expanding after-school and other youth programming, we hope to prevent new terror recruitment by breaking the cycle of economic frustration that is at the heart of how, Al-Shabab and ISIL have successfully recruited from within our community.
The second pillar is to create community-led support teams to step in at the earliest signs that young people are becoming disengaged from their families and community. Community members including mothers, imams, teachers, coaches, youth advocates and mental health professionals will collaborate to provide support to families.
The third pillar is increased engagement between law enforcement and the Minnesota Somali community. It is important for the safety of our community that we have strong relationships and trust between community members and local and federal law enforcement. Increased engagement can lead to that.
This pilot project is needed now more than ever, because Al-Shabab and ISIL have been recruiting young people from our community to travel to Somalia, Syria and elsewhere to fight and die for a cause that has nothing to do with being Somali or Muslim.
Minnesota Somalis are deeply opposed to violent overseas organizations that claim to wage a war in the name of our religion. That is why we are working closely with other community leaders and government representatives to fight back.
For too long our community has struggled with the problems afflicting us — now is the time to make real and lasting change. We are an underserved community in the Twin Cities and we have been asked what our community needs to increase upward mobility. In the coming months, we will be looking for additional volunteers to serve on specialized subcommittees. There is a place at the table for everyone who wants to help.
We have the backing of government and private entities to help fight back against the scourge of violent extremism that has unfairly defined our community to the outside world.
Now is the time to define ourselves as the entrepreneurial, successful and peace-loving community that we are and have always been.
Abdi Warsame is a member of the Minneapolis City Council. Mohamed Farah is executive director at Ka Joog, a mentoring and tutoring organization for Somali-American young people. Sheikh Abdisalam Adam is president of the Islamic Civic Society of America. This article was also signed by the other members of the Somali-American Taskforce committee.