On Thursday, November 21, 2013, a law enforcement training on terrorism was offered in Minnesota. This training was organized by former Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher of the controversial new Center for Somali History Studies. Yes, terrorism is a real threat to our nation and law enforcement needs to be educated about that threat.
As an educator and a concerned citizen wishing for the safety and well-being of every civilian, I support educational trainings. Yet, I am concerned about this training. Is the training meant to strengthen our law enforcement or is it meant to selectively create a circle within our nation that hardens our deep-seated prejudices and biases to keep the Muslim community marginalized and outside this circle?
American Muslim leaders and leading organizations have been very vocal and firm in unequivocally condemning terrorism and terrorist organizations, including Al Shabab. Last month, Minnesota imams were the first to collectively condemn the horrific attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya. The Council on American Islamic Relations, a leading civil rights organization, has repeatedly stated that “any action that harms innocent civilians is reprehensible and deserves condemnation.” Muslim organizations and scholars are quite vocal condemning terrorism whenever it happens, wherever it happens, and whoever commits it.
So why am I concerned about this training?
As an educator, I focus on two important points: First, evaluate or question the source. Second, evaluate or question the methodology - the research, processes, critical thinking, omissions and numbers. I also immediately separate and remove any emotionally appealing statements.
Let us question the source.
Are the trainers experts on terrorism?
Are their credentials and backgrounds sound or are they individuals who have no qualifications or have deep-seated prejudice against Muslims?
Do any of these experts have the necessary qualifications or level of understanding to speak on terrorism or on the Muslim community?
Do any of these experts have a reputation for accuracy?
Do any of the experts have a motive for being inaccurate or overly biased?
Are there valid reasons for questioning the honesty or integrity of these presenters?
Let us begin with the organizer. Former Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher was referred to as “Ramsey County's most controversial cop.” His own police department alleged that he "exaggerated or falsified" his investigation of domestic and international terrorism threats in the east metro.
SEE: Fletcher Defends Terror Probe (Star Tribune)
In an interview with the Twin Cities Daily Planet, a spokesman for the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office stated that Fletcher's claims that Ramsey County residents were threatened by 22 domestic and 11 international terrorist groups "came from an active imagination" and that the Terrorism Information Briefs "never existed."
City Pages stated that "Fletcher's office apparently dreamed up the whole idea that his jurisdiction was under threat from dozens of domestic and international terrorism groups" and that "the research was done by staffers cruising the internet and watching CNN." It further states: "It's hardly the first time Fletcher and his office have been at the center of controversy. Some of his department's handiwork was employed in the run-up to the 2008 Republican National Convention, when he directed preemptive raids against Twin Cities activists who later became known as the RNC 8. Two years after they were arrested in the guns-drawn raid, the cases against them fizzled."
Along with Fletcher, the co-presenters for the training include: Omar Jamal, Abdirizak Bihi, Mohammed Farah, Michael Rozin, Jeff Weyers, and Gary Olding.
Michael Rozin, "formally of the Israeli Defense Forces, trained at the Israeli Security Academy," was featured in an NPR story on racial and religious profiling at the Mall of America.
SEE: Shoppers Entangled In War On Terrorism (NPR)
Omar Jamal, a convicted felon, has made unsubstantiated, hate-inspired statements, such as referring to Minneapolis as a "slaughterhouse for immigrants."
SEE: When Somalis are in the news so is Omar Jamal (MPR)
Similarly, the Pioneer Press reported that Bihi has had run-ins with the law, including a restraining order for "threatening and stalking" a woman and DWIs. In March 2011, there was an "active warrant for his arrest for violating the terms of his probation."
SEE: Domestic terrorism hearing witness from Minneapolis has had a troubled past (Pioneer Press)
Is this how legitimate community leaders behave? Are these individuals best suited to train law enforcement?
Fletcher has organized controversial trainings for law enforcement in the past. Concerned community members felt the trainings did not distinguish between terrorists and mainstream Muslims and Somalis. The training flyer referred to the terrorist organization Al Shabaab as an "Islamic" organization. It included pictures of Somali men with AK-47s on it with the headline, "Understanding the People of Somalia."
In November 2011, more than 30 Twin Cities Somali and Muslim organizations challenged the credibility of the seminar in Minneapolis. Several police departments across the state declined to participate.
SEE: Muslim groups to Bob Fletcher: There's No "Islam" in Terrorism (Minnesota Public Radio)
Groups Object to St. Paul Somali Seminar, Call It Anti-Muslim (Pioneer Press)
The training claimed that there is "an alarming trend of radical imams recruiting and radicalizing American-raised Somalis to be suicide bombers for the Al Qaeda-affiliated Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab."
However, the FBI said it has no reason to believe the mosque was indoctrinating people:
"At this point, we have uncovered no evidence to show there was any effort of any mosque or mosque leadership or mosque imam to take part in any recruitment or radicalization of these young men," said Special Agent E.K .Wilson of the Minneapolis division of the FBI.
While investigators believe that some of the secret meetings happened in a mosque, it doesn't appear to be a case of a radical imam brainwashing his students. In most cases, Wilson said, it was likely friends influencing friends.
"It looks like the recruitment process of these men was on a very peer-to-peer type scale," Wilson said. "Some of the individuals were more culpable than others, but it was a very lateral chain of command when it came to who is responsible."
SEE: Minnesota Muslim leaders skeptical and disappointed after radicalization hearing (MPR)
In May 2012, Fletcher's training was canceled in Mankato after Somali leaders met with city leaders to discuss the controversial content of the seminar. As a result, all of the city organizers withdrew their support of the seminar.
In March 2013, Catholic Charities, who had agreed to host the training in Waite Park, apologized for the training's anti-Somali/anti-Muslim flyer. They also agreed to remove the anti-Muslim/anti-Somali content from the presentation slides.
The Executive Director of Catholic Charities publicly stated: “It used language that was wrong. It was a mistake on our part. No one should ever think of anyone from the Somali or Muslim community as affiliated with a terrorist organization."
SEE: Muslim Education Event Comes Under Fire (KNSI)
We must support educational trainings on terrorism. It is within our nation’s interest. However, we must stand against trainings by fearmongers. It is against our nation’s interest.
Fearmongering undermines our nation, in particular law enforcement’s ability to effectively protect our country. It undermines peace officers’ relationships with the American Muslim community, leading to a rise in racial and religious profiling. Reports have highlighted law enforcement's use of biased experts and anti-Muslim training materials nationwide. The United States Congress has scrutinized these practices.
SEE: Congress Grills FBI Chief About Anti-Islam Trainings
Let us question the methodology.
A sound methodology is a methodology that can be challenged openly and transparently. It stands on arguments that are complete, critical thinking processes that are cold, sterile and devoid of emotional manipulation. It is difficult to question the methodology of this training.
On Thursday, November 21, CAIR-MN reported that a Muslim contacted the civil rights organization to report that he was barred from this controversial law enforcement training seminar on terrorism. The man reported that he approached the registration table, registered his name and email address, and was provided with a folder containing training materials and the agenda. However, he said that Bob Fletcher then approached him and asked him to leave. Fletcher allegedly told him that the training was by invitation only, mostly for law enforcement and for Fletcher’s Somali friends. Yet, this appears to be pretext. The event was publicized in public venues, including the main page of the organization’s website. The website includes an online registration page open to the community, along with a link to Paypal.
This raises a serious red flag: Omission and suppression of alternative voices, hence the arguments are not complete or sound.
Educational trainings for law enforcement should test for hidden bias. Our ability to understand others can be obfuscated by our own hidden biases and stereotypes. It is easy to argue we are not biased, but the reality is that bias is outside our sense of awareness. Acknowledging hidden biases is the first step to an effective training. Test Yourself for Hidden Bias
In addition, trainings on terrorism should involve terrorism experts that do not have a motive in the training. Trainings that omit alternative voices and relevant evidence can appear to be stronger than they really are.
As we work together to protect our country, we must be vigilant and firm in the face of arguments or expertise embedded with fear mongering and bias. We must do the job well and right and rely on credible sources and factual information. We must not readily accept whoever speaks on the matter without sound investigation. When sources and experts prove to be questionable, we must be accountable and responsible to seek out more reliable information, sources and experts.
A word of caution, it is extremely easy to manipulate people with numbers. Hence, we must seek out experts on the fundamental principles of probability and statistics before believing statistical information offered to us in a manipulative manner.
SEE: How to Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff, and Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences by John Allen Paulos.
When sources and experts are biased or have a self-interest, chances are numbers and arguments are being used to manipulate instead of educate the audience. This is not within the interest of our nation. We must stand against such trainings. Profiling, misrepresenting and alienating an entire community does not help combat terrorism.
Source: CAIR-MN Action Alert
I was listening to a lecture by a notable scholar named Habib Hussein as Saggaf. He is originally from Yemen and I believe he resides now in Abu Dhabi. But he gives weekly lessons on a series "O Beloved Son" by the great Imam al Ghazzali. I try my best to get hold of some of the lessons as there are always some important questions and answers that you discover that help you to understand yourself and those around you. In this last Friday's lesson - one student made a very important comment to the teacher's advice of seeking good company.
The student commented that at times - good people do not accept us. How can we find guidance - when good people reject us, because we are not the images that they seek around them? Some learn to embrace multiple personalities to fit in and others remain outcasts, condemned and unguided. To myself first and foremost, and then to others - let us reflect on that question as we preach tolerance and close the doors of acceptance to those whose manners don't please us.
This blog is meant for those Muslims, and others can listen in as well - who have found the doors of acceptance closed in their faces and are processing feelings of anger and hate and don't know how to embrace multiple personalities to fit in and find themselves alone and outcasts.
Below is a question and answer from a Muslim counseling site which helps troubled Muslims. My hope is other troubled Muslims will benefit from this and those in position of guidance will reflect on the voice of the questioner and the search for guidance in the midst of anger and hate. The questioner is a Muslim woman who was experiencing a lot of injustices from various domestic dimensions and relationships. Her question is rather long but the ending is the most important to reflect on:
"I am feeling useless. And I hate everyone and everything. I pray to Allah but Allah doesn't listen to me. I don't know who to ask for help or where to go. I am not normal as I'm full of hate. My day starts with hate and ends with hate. It is destroying me. But I can't do anything."
Martin Luther King Jr. reached out to these people, to steer their anger in the right direction. All we have now is closed doors, mental institutions, gangs, terror groups, or pills. I am worried when such people, Muslim or non Muslim can only find the worst of people to steer them astray or FBI informants to instigate them to say things to gather stats against American Muslims.
We have a responsibility to anchor each other. Hence, I share below the answer by a Muslim counselor that I respect and follow his responses.
Abdul-Lateef Abdullah is an American convert to Islam. He helps troubled people, both Muslim and non-Muslim. I gather his answers to help people around me who also maybe suffering. Below is his response which I felt was brilliant and share with those struggling with anger and pain out there with no where to go and no one to turn to for help.
Hatred breeds hatred. More hatred breeds more hatred. Hatred is the seed and fuel of Hell. It’s your choice, do you want heaven or hell? Right now you are in hell, you already taste its fire, anguish, misery, for you can only see hatred. You are getting the very thing that you say you hate because you do not see that all these things that have happened and that are happening to you are actually the stimulus/reason you need to TRANSFORM yourself and those around you. You see people doing things that you cannot stand and it makes you angry, al hamdu Lillah(Praise God)! You recognize them as something that you do not want for yourself and for your loved ones. So, are you going to be just like them or are you going to be different? If you follow the path of hatred, you will become just like them or worse. Allah, however, is showing you as clear as day the consequences of such behavior and actions – hell – first here in this life and then who knows what in the life to come. So, you want to follow them on that path? You have been given a gift and that gift is awareness. You can see all the negatives and consequences of what everyone around you is doing. That is the most important first step that is required in order to transform, and without it, transformation is impossible. So, what are you going to do with this gift?
Please don’t talk about Allah as if He is some giant slot machine. You put your 10 cent coin in and you expect a jackpot! Allah does not exist to respond to our demands. We exist for Him, not the other way around. We live our lives filled with hatred and refuse to see anything to be grateful for and we expect Allah to change us? Sorry, but we have to make the first move. Allah says in the Qur’an that He will only change our condition if we first change it ourselves. We have been given the gift of free will here in this life to make choices. The greatest of those choices is whether to live for God or for something/someone else. To live for God means to first and foremost surrender/align ourselves with His will, then to follow His commands and guidance on how to live lives in Islam, i.e. in peace. There can be no true peace without Islam. Islam is much more than “I pray to Allah but Allah doesn’t listen to me.” I beg to differ. Allah hears all prayers and He answers them accordingly. The fact that you think He doesn’t hear you IS the answer to your prayer. It starts with the fact that you think Allah is supposed to exist for you, not the other way around.
The first thing you must do is stop hating because it is destroying you. Yes, there is a ton of perceived injustices happening all around you. So why? Why would Allah give you the insight and awareness of all these things if He did not want you to DO something about it? And that does not mean that you have to try and change anyone else, but rather first you need to surrender yourself to His will, to first accept the way things are, to know that there is a higher wisdom taking place that you just cannot grasp yet, but that you will dedicate yourself to trying to understand so that you can do something to improve the situation for His sake.
First is to align yourself with God, for the sake of knowing and wanting to be close to Him. It’s the primary responsible of human beings before any action can be carried out, and it has to take place in your heart. It may sound difficult given all that you have experienced in life, but you have to know that what has happened to you and those around you is the direct result of NOT living for God, not the other way around. It means more than just asking Allah to make things different. First, it means a dedicated heart that realizes that you have NO POWER, and that all power resides with Allah. It means that He is showing you His clear signs that to live lives of injustice and without mercy (such as what your uncles are doing to your father) is to live in opposition to God’s love and mercy, which is enough to earn His wrath and punishment. And it means that each of us needs to first return to Allah with a pure heart before we can hope to help those around us change. You don’t need to wait for anybody else, you must take the first step because you are the one that has been given this awareness and insight. It came to you. Do something with it!
To continue to simply live in rejection of what is happening is denial. You are actually in denial of what is happening. You believe things should be different, and you cannot accept it. But until you do accept it, and try to understand it, and then try to change it, at least within yourself, is your only choice! Either that or continue to allow yourself to be destroyed with hatred. What kind of life is that? Do you really have any other choice?
Give up. Surrender yourself to His love, mercy and wisdom. Then start over. Stop seeing everything as not the way you want it to be, and start trying to understand things. Seek knowledge and insight so that you can understand what is happening around you. Start living life for the sake of knowing, worshipping and serving your Creator and start fulfilling your life’s purpose and potential. Use the internet or any other means you have at your disposal to learn. Stop hating and allowing yourself to be destroyed for you do have choices. The first choice is whether to accept God’s will and move forward or continue to reject it and burn up with hatred. But you need knowledge and you need support in your effort to do this. Find a teacher, find knowledge, find your true heart and find peace, in sha 'Allah(God Willing)…
The Muslim and African-American communities in Detroit, Michigan strongly feel that Imam Luqman Abdullah is innocent. They may be wrong. They may be defending a guilty man, but they have a reasonable doubt, and that's something that's very valuable in our country. No jury or society can declare a man guilty unless it's sure—beyond a reasonable doubt.
I contacted Dawud Walid, the Executive Director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations to discuss this case.
Wazwaz: Can you briefly explain what happened according to your understanding of the case?
Walid: On October 28, 2009 How we understand it is there were- and this is according to the criminal affidavit- there were three confidential informants, of them at least was an agent provocateur that led the Imam and a couple of other congregants to a warehouse. According to community members, this person was an agent provocateur was passing himself off as a businessperson and bringing them there to do jobs. The Imam owned a pickup truck and he was asked to drive these gentlemen over there to help move what ended up in some televisions at a warehouse. Once they got to the warehouse, the agent provocateur excused himself, and then percussion grenades were then exploded within the warehouse. FBI agents came in with guns drawn. As the individuals were laying down and as we have been told the Imam was not brandishing a firearm, dogs were let loose. As the dogs came through and started to rip through his jacket sleeves right here and we’ve seen the pictures were marks on his face. Then the FBI purports that the Imam then put out a gun and shot the FBI canine, and then they filled him up with 21 gunshots, including one in the back.
The FBI and the police never called for medical assistance for the imam, but they flew the dog in their helicopter to a vet.
Wazwaz: Did the Imam have a gun?
Walid: We’re not even sure if the Imam even had a gun. We sent in a Freedom of Information Act request which has not been answered by the FBI in regards to the necropsy report which is basically on autopsy report of the dog to see what caliber bullets entered into the dog. Because in fact, it could of been bullets the FBI or so-called friendly fire.
Wazwaz: How was he found by the medical examiner?
Walid: According to the medical examiner, the Imam’s body was moved from the warehouse to the trailer and was found with his wrists handcuffed. There was very little blood at the actual scene where he was shot 21 times. The family got his body the following day and an autopsy was done without permission of the family. They retrieved his body with the director of a funeral home who was Muslim. For a longtime, the findings of the autopsy were suppressed by the police.
Wazwaz: Why do you believe the FBI was after him?
Walid: Informants were sent to the mosque claiming they were looking for extremists' activity. The affidavit calls him a highly placed leader of a Sunni fundamentalist group and that he had a plot to overthrow the government and impose Shariah. No one in the mosque was charged for anything. The charges were mainly dealing with stolen goods.
Wazwaz: How was the family notified of the shooting?
Walid: The imam's son, Mujahid, saw the news of his father on television.
Wazwaz: Did you meet Imam Luqman personally? How would you describe him if you did?
Walid: I never heard him give a sermon, but met with him with different community leaders and imams. My interaction with him is that he was a very quiet man. In a group of people, he would sit back and listen. He would wait till he heard everyone before offering his opinion. He did a lot of assistance in helping people who were transitioning out of prison. They owned a few properties that they were fixing to turn into transitional housing. Many people who attended his mosque were poor, some of them being homeless.
Wazwaz: How would you describe the coverage in the media in Detroit?
Walid: In the beginning, the coverage was that he was a radical extremist. A few TV stations reported everything the FBI said as facts. As civil rights groups got concerned - the coverage started to change, there were more editorials and coverage questioning the FBI, police and their suppressing the autopsy report. Congressman John Conyers and others started to get involved. The mayor of Detroit and state representative, Betty Scott called for further investigation.
Wazwaz: How do you feel the investigation is going right now?
Walid: Right now they are reviewing the FBI shooting, but they have not launched a civil rights investigation. We're hopeful that Congressman Conyers will hold hearings regarding the usage of confidential informants and agent provocateurs in houses of worship.
Wazwaz: Has any major civil rights organization spoke on this issue?
Walid: A number of organizations have written Holder letters, like the NAACP, Muslim Advocates, ACLU, and others.
Wazwaz: If you can say one thing publicly to Attorney General Holder what would it be?
Walid: We would like a robust and thorough transparent investigation into the killing of Imam Luqman Abdullah. If wrong doing is found, we hope that he has the courage to fire those responsible and to also prosecute them.
Wazwaz: In such an investigation, doesn't it require a relationship with the community?
Walid: I think it is very important for those doing the investigation, - that they meet the community and to actually see the mosque and the people who were there.
Wazwaz: Does the family have a spokesperson that can speak on their behalf?
Walid: Family has a very articulate spokesperson, Omar Regan, who is a comedian and actor who served as a body double for Hollywood star Chris Tucker. And CAIR has kept this issue in the forefront in the media.
The African-American community in Detroit Michigan feels strongly about getting a platform to tell its story. Only a few media stories have touched on how Imam Abdullah lived and helped the homeless people. I hope people of influence and voice can give them such a platform to be heard and understood, and afterwards, by all means, ask hard and critical questions regarding the case.