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
On December 14, 2012, late in the afternoon - I became aware of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. It was painful to read the stories, emails and newsfeed as they poured over the tragedy. In times of crisis and pain like this, as a Muslim I immediately turn to prayer to gain strength and to reflect on the situation. In the evening, I joined an online prayer service on SeekersHub in Toronto.
The Toronto team was able to gather a large crowd at the Hub and online for our prayer for the victims and families of the murder in Connecticut. "The believer is pained by the pain of another," said Shaykh Faraz Rabbani while leading the prayers for the affected families of Connecticut.
Mainly through social media discussions, I began reading various viewpoints regarding the shooting. Some argued for greater gun control. Is this tragedy due to a lack of gun control policies? Maybe. We can consider this argument. But let us consider the argument that frequent mass shootings of innocent people are not symptoms of lack of gun control policies as well. Did Timothy McVeigh use guns in the Oklahoma bombing?
"My third reason [for opposing the war] moves to a deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the past three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked me, and rightfully so, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today my own government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent…”
I was preparing an article to respond to the current violence in Gaza when I realized that history is just repeating itself. Thus, I looked at previous articles and decided to simply repeat what was written before. It appears to me peace to some means a hope that the Palestinians would just disappear and stop seeking their rights protected under international law. Palestinians are simply fighting for their survival, not the destruction of Israel.
“Israeli hawks represent themselves as engaged in a ‘peace process’ with the Palestinians in which Hamas refuses to join. In fact, Israel has refused to cease colonizing and stealing Palestinian land long enough to engage in fruitful negotiations with them. Tel Aviv routinely announces new, unilateral house-building on the Palestinian West Bank. There is no peace process. It is an Israeli and American sham. Talking about a peace process is giving cover to Israeli nationalists who are determined to grab everything the Palestinians have and reduce them to penniless refugees (again).”
“You can’t defend yourself when you are militarily occupying someone else’s land. Call it what you like, it is not self-defense.”
Some will argue that Israel left Gaza. However, to Palestinians, Israel did not leave Gaza, but instead turned it into an open-air prison. There was a recent report by the IDF to determine what the minimum caloric intake for Gazans should be in order to determine how many trucks of humanitarian aid can be allowed into Gaza without facing starvation.
"The tactics used by Israeli military armed forces in the Gaza offensive are consistent with previous practices, most recently during the Lebanon war in 2006. A concept known as the Dahiya doctrine emerged then, involving the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations."
“Following the 2008-2009 war in Gaza, detailed on-the-ground investigations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the UNHRC and others took place that were quite critical of Hamas and accused them (and Israeli forces) of a number of war crimes. Yet they were unable to find a single case of Hamas using ‘human shields.’ (See pp. 75-78). And I'm seen no evidence that Hamas is doing that now, either. Yet members of Congress and others are still insisting that civilians being killed by Israeli bombardments are because Hamas is using ‘human shields’."
"If the Palestinians go to the UN General Assembly with a new unilateral initiative, they must know they will be subject to severe measures by Israel and the United States," the station quoted Lieberman as saying on October 24.
“I am pained by the parallels I observe between my experiences in Germany prior to 1939 and those suffered by Palestinians today. I cannot help but hear echoes of the Nazi mythos of ‘blood and soil’ in the rhetoric of settler fundamentalism which claims a sacred right to all the lands of biblical Judea and Samaria. The various forms of collective punishment visited upon the Palestinian people — coerced ghettoization behind a ‘security wall’; the bulldozing of homes and destruction of fields; the bombing of schools, mosques, and government buildings; an economic blockade that deprives people of the water, food, medicine, education and the basic necessities for dignified survival — force me to recall the deprivations and humiliations that I experienced in my youth. This century-long process of oppression means unimaginable suffering for Palestinians.”
"When we view ourselves as the protagonist of a story in which we are always right, we collect grievances about other people by noticing everything we do and noting the 'injustices' that are done to us. All of this builds resentment within us and instigates conflict. Dr. Umar’s words deepened that lesson, and were a reminder of how easy it is to remember one’s own good in worship or social relations while forgetting the good of others. Dr. Umar’s lesson taught us that instead of clinging to our actions, it is critical to do as much good as possible without caring about how our actions compare to the actions of others."
“It seems to be an attempt to mirror Al Qaeda, exactly in reverse.”
"The first is that Islamophobia is not merely confined to a war of words against Muslims. Islamophobic words, of which Breivik shared many in his 1,500-page document, often spiral into deeds."
"In light of Oslo killings, will Juan Williams suddenly become afraid of his white peers at Fox News?"
"Got a couple of media calls today about the terrorist attacks in Norway, since they consider me to be an expert on 'Islamic terrorism.' Since it appears the person responsible is a far right-wing Norwegian, I told them to find an expert on Lutheran terrorism."
"Events in Norway suggest the primary threat to European democracy has never been 'Islamofascism'--that clunking, thuggish phrase that keeps lashing out in the hope that it will one day strike a meaning--but plain old fascism. The kind whereby mostly white Europeans take to the streets to terrorize minorities in the name of racial, cultural or religious superiority."
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)…