Law enforcement officials and leaders of the Twin Cities Muslim community gathered Thursday to confront the anxiety that has arisen in the days following Tuesday’s terror attacks in Belgium and the high-profile rhetoric they have inspired.
Plans for the meeting materialized shortly after Texas senator and GOP presidential hopeful Ted Cruz on Wednesday referenced Minneapolis’ Somali-American community as an example of where law enforcement efforts could be concentrated while doubling down on calls this week for authorities to be able to patrol Muslim communities.
“Our experience tells us that when there’s a high-profile terror attack … there will be a corresponding backlash directed at members of the Muslim community,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard Thornton said. “You need to know you can call us if you feel you’ve been the victim of a hate crime.”
Seated at tables that wrapped around a training room inside the Hennepin County Public Safety Center, some of the roughly three dozen in attendance discussed the fear that sometimes creeps into everyday life. U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said he called the meeting out of concern for the community and to ensure its members that authorities will police crimes of hate.
“I’ve never been so concerned like I am now — but this is not about me, it is about the community,” said Imam Mohammed Dukuly of Brooklyn Park. “But I will tell you something: The anticipation of the attack is worse than the attack itself.”
Abdirashid Abdi, a board member at the south Minneapolis Abubakar As-Saddique mosque, said the rise in the number of Somali-Americans in law enforcement positions may encourage more willingness for individuals to report crimes.
“This is perfect timing, because we really need to talk about this,” he said.
Aman Obsiye, a Twin Cities lawyer, said the current atmosphere has been fearful even for him, a University of Minnesota graduate who grew up in the South.
“I’ve never feared to be a Muslim my whole life,” Obsiye said. “I believe that we are living in an era that I will call Civil Rights 2.0, the sequel to the civil rights movement.”
Meetings between authorities and members of the Twin Cities Somali-American community have been held periodically since a few young men began leaving to go fight for the terror group Al-Shabab in Somalia in 2007, and again when the U.S. attorney’s office charged 10 young Twin Cities Somali-American men with plotting to travel to Syria and join ISIL.
On Thursday, attendees called for more meetings to discuss community concerns, a proposal welcomed by Luger and some of the local, state and federal officials attending.
“By you calling this meeting, I believe it goes a long way in removing some of the fears we have,” Dukuly said.
Mohamed Ahmed, whose online cartoon series “Average Mohamed” critiques radicalization, said the community can also do a better job leveraging its resources to come together against extremism.
“This, what you guys are doing, it doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. Only in Minnesota,” Ahmed said. “Let’s get together so we can fight this ideology. This ideology is weak; we can expose it.”