A Pakistani-Canadian activist's visit to the State Capitol on Wednesday rankled some Minnesota legislators, while Republican lawmakers in the meeting said Raheel Raza's perspective deserved to be heard.
Raza describes herself as a reformist Muslim focused on "fighting radical jihadist ideologies." She spoke with a small group of Republican legislators, while DFLers said she should not have been invited.
House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, citing the Southern Poverty Law Center, said Raza was affiliated with "hate groups." The DFLer sent a letter to Rep. Roz Peterson, R-Lakeville, Tuesday asking Peterson to rescind an invitation to Raza. Raza said she was surprised by Hortman's comments, and noted she has spoken to the United Nations, U.S. Congress and other governing bodies.
"Instead of putting each other down, we need to find ways to work together," Raza said. "This is why I am here."
She said she advocates for the "three E's": expose, educate and eradicate. She noted that an organization she is affiliated with, the Clarion Project, wants to start school programs to teach educators and parents about how to look for and counter signs of radicalization.
Local Somali activist Omar Jamal met Raza the day before the meeting. He also spoke with legislators Wednesday and expressed frustration with politicians on both sides of the aisle. He said people need to ask what went wrong in Minnesota, given the number of young people here who were recruited to join terrorist groups.
He said he blames Republicans for failing to work with the community on these issues. But he dismissed Hortman's letter as a political move. "You cannot play politics with this issue. It's a very serious issue," he said.
Someone is recruiting children in Minnesota, said Farhio Khalif, executive director of Voice of East African Women. She told legislators she knows there is a problem, but added "I'm also not going to sit here accusing the peaceful religion that we all belong to."
No DFLers, apart from one staffer who recorded the discussion, attended.
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, who was at the meeting, said in a statement that he was shocked Hortman labeled Raza an extremist and that Hortman should not have attempted to silence her voice.
"Rep. Hortman would do well to heed her own advice, listen to those with different life experiences," Limmer said.
Hortman said people with all types of beliefs can hold events in the building, but it's another matter for Peterson to invite Raza.
"As state representatives, we need to be extremely choosy about the people whose views we endorse," Hortman said, adding she is worried about "inflammatory" discussions of terrorism. Hortman said the Southern Poverty Law Center is a credible source to determine what organizations are having respectful and factual conversations.
Raza said the center is not an "authentic voice."
"If they have an issue with the voices of progressive, reformist Muslims that is their problem," she said.