Denmark and Great Britain are an ocean away from Minnesota, but all three share a pressing, complex challenge: preventing terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) from preying on vulnerable immigrant communities.
Unending violence in Somalia and other developing nations has scattered refugees seeking peace and opportunity around the world. The robust economies of Minnesota and these two European nations, along with reputations for tolerance, has made each an epicenter for resettlement. While most immigrants are building new lives and contributing to their adopted homelands, some young people have fallen for recruiters’ lies about building a utopian Islamic caliphate in the Middle East.
The national security risks of a functioning terrorist pipeline are obvious and daunting. It’s for that reason that visitors from countries around the world worried about recruitment within their borders have beaten a path to Minnesota. When confronting a serious challenge, it’s valuable to see how others are working to solve the same problem. In business and policy parlance, it’s called identifying “best practices.” And while Minnesota is still figuring out solutions, the pragmatic prioritizing of community engagement and support by the state’s law enforcement, private nonprofits and social service agencies is rightfully considered a model for others to follow.
But complacency is not an option in the battle against extremism, which is why recent stories in the Star Tribune’s “Radical Intervention” series have provided an important public service. Journalists Mila Koumpilova and Renée Jones Schneider traveled to Denmark and to London in search of additional strategies to thwart terrorist recruitment.
Denmark has taken a community-integration approach to bolstering immigrants’ connection to their new homes. It also helps those who were recruited to terror organizations in the Middle East but have returned to find jobs and learn from their dangerous mistake. Great Britain’s anti-radicalization strategy also relies on integration but more heavily leans on law enforcement to implement programs. The government’s declaration last year that referring people to intervention programs “would now be a legal duty for educators, social workers and others” has also been controversial. There are questions about how effective programs can be if referral to one can result in an officer showing up at a family’s door. Will this encourage or discourage community members closest to vulnerable young people to come forward with suspicions?
The series underscores the value of the community-based approach Minnesota is pursuing, but it should inspire renewed efforts to evaluate new strategies and finish work uncompleted. In particular, the successful legislative effort to provide $2 million in Somali youth development grants, a measure advocated for by the Star Tribune Editorial Board, reflects well on the state’s leadership. But end-of-the-session political wrangling also left a new Somali jobs center in limbo. Badly needed funding to expand the heavily used Brian Coyle Community Center in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood also did not gain necessary traction.
The Editorial Board has also lamented the paltry federal funding — $10 million — dedicated to grants for community organizations working directly with at-risk young people. Experts estimate $5 million a year is needed in Minneapolis-St. Paul alone. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security merits credit for establishing the new grant program and making community measures a key priority. Nevertheless, the $10 million is just a start. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota has long been a strong advocate of boosting such funding. All members of the state’s congressional delegation need to deploy their growing clout to make it a reality.