The Council on American-Islamic Relations-Minnesota (CAIR-MN) has been cloud and clear about its concerns with Minnesota’s Counter Violent Extremism pilot program. The pilot program zeros in on the state’s Muslim population, particularly our Somali-American youth.

Chief among CAIR’s concerns is the way the program could mix community outreach and intelligence gathering. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has blurred the line between the two before, according to documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

There are inherent risks with clandestine program(s) designed to prevent disenfranchised youth from joining overseas terror groups and potentially, heaven forbid, turning against their own communities. The most serious risk is a covert operation getting out of hand and leading to violations of basic rights. The best way to mitigate this type of risk is to create a cooperative environment built on mutual trust.

The problem is mutual trust has been in short supply, for reasons both institutional and personnel-based.
CAIR, for example, is a relatively new organization. It was founded in Minnesota as an activist group to provide an Islamic perspective in the lobbying industry in Washington, DC. CAIR later added civil rights advocacy to its portfolio, with a focus on Muslim-Americans.

CAIR's national agenda isn't always aligned with issues pressing Minnesota's Somali community. The nuts and bolts of education and economic upward mobility are peripheral to the organization's lobbying efforts.

But the Minnesota chapter of CAIR has focused on high-profile cases involving Somali-Americans. This is natural considering Somalis make up a majority of Muslims in the state and it was a factor in selecting current CAIR-MN Executive Director Jaylani Hussein.

Hussein has been an effective community leader and worked for different nonprofits and state agencies. He organized summer activities for youth with Muslim Youth of Minnesota and oversaw ARAHA humanitarian response to the drought that killed hundreds of thousands in East Africa in 2011.

Hussein developed and implemented outreach plans for the state’s Agriculture, Department of Economic, Employment Development (DEED) and Metro State University. His new job as CAIR Executive Director presents both an opportunity and a challenge.

US Attorney in Minnesota Andrew Luger has become one of DOJ’s public faces in Counter Violent Extremism. Everything known about Luger indicates he is a fine public servant.

Luger is local and draws from deep knowledge about the state. He has invested considerable energy in reaching out and has developed a personal rapport with some community leaders.

Andrew Luger’s office, in partnership with CAIR, helped reverse the City of St. Anthony’s unjust decision to deny Somalis the right to purchase land for a mosque. Luger helped facilitate a visit by Homeland Security Secretary Jay Johnson, who heard the Somali-American community’s reports of unreasonable search at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Andrew Luger is arguably the best person to hold that post. The alternative could have been an ambitious lawyer from east or west coast, someone who all-too-eager to use the US Attorney Office in Minnesota as a stepping stone for the next political office. 

However, this doesn’t mean Luger should have king’s privileges to administer the Counter Violent Extremism pilot program. Instead, he should be held accountable when he misses the mark.

For instance, Luger failed to adequately communicate the selection criteria for the White House summit participants. His ambiguous statements about wanting presentation from various sectors of the community had unintended consequences.

Not standing with the community at tough times is another problem. When Al-Shabaab issued a video threat against the Mall of America, and Somalis received harsh public glare, Luger resorted to his formal position of prosecutor. This kind of event required a comprehensive response from the Somali community and law enforcement leaders, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, in unison to reassure the general public. Luger had since pledged to support similar efforts in the future.

Third is selective listening. Luger had dismissed those with differing views about the program’s scope, resource allocation and risks. A program of this magnitude is new to Minnesota’s community — that’s why concerns, anxiety and opposition are plenty. This particular issue has to be rectified. It’s imperative that Luger continues reaching out to leaders like Hussein.

CAIR-MN has spoken loud and clear on the Counter Violent Extremism pilot program. Minnesota’s Somali community has received the message. It’s time to proceed with a risk mitigation plan that prohibits grantees, grantors and law enforcement agents from leveraging the program to gather intelligence. The problem of disenfranchised youth cannot wait. US Attorney in Minnesota has the platform, capacity and tenacity to lead such an effort. This is the best interest of the community, state and the nation.

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