One of the major powers vested in the American presidency is that of the bully pulpit. The opportunity to bring attention to a particular issue is enormous. President Obama has done that this week by spearheading a summit that included law enforcement agencies and community leaders from three major American cities, Boston, Los Angeles and the Twin Cities. The principal focus was to prevent disenfranchised young Americans from joining international terror groups.
The delegation from the Twin Cities included Somali-American community leaders, because some of that community’s young people have left the Twin Cities to join overseas terror groups. This has put the local Somali community at the center of national attention.
In addition to the budgeted federal resources to support the Countering Violent Extremism effort, the summit has brought some positive effects. News coverage seems to indicate an acknowledgment of the plight of Somali-American young people as a result of economic and political alienation. There is a consensus building around the vulnerabilities that are exploited by terror groups in recruiting these young people.
A derivative of “pulpit power” is the potential to mobilize the entire nation, deploy previously untapped resources and unleash America’s greatness. A few American presidents have done this successfully and one has to hope Obama will be among them in defeating terrorism. Despite the parapraxis of characterizing the Islamic State as Al-Qaida’s “JV team,” Obama is on the right track.
Now that the president has highlighted the issue and asked for the nation’s support, it’s time to seize the moment. Minnesota can lead the way.
The Star Tribune’s Feb. 17 editorial (“Using outreach to combat terrorism”) summed up nicely the idea of others helping Somalis. It read: “As part of the ‘Resilience’ effort, the broader Twin Cities community can also help by reaching out to young Somali-Americans. Sign up as a mentor. Include young East Africans in constructive youth activities. Help connect them with quality education, good social networks and other out-of-school activities that can help them build successful adult lives.”
Other sectors in the state can also make critical contributions. They must join in order for the effort to be successful.
For example, large and small corporations must review hiring practices in all areas of their workforce, including in the boardrooms. The standard line of “not a good fit” is no longer acceptable.
Federal, state and local governments must also do something. The Transportation Security Administration employs one Somali-American at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport despite a large labor pool in the metro area. That’s a dismal record and it ought to change. Furthermore, no Somali serves in Gov. Mark Dayton’s cabinet despite the many qualified and capable Somalis in our state. Local municipalities aren’t faring any better. All of this must change for complete community integration.
Somalis are also absent in sectors that influence culture and attitudes. The four local TV news broadcasts do not feature a Somali on camera. I was filled with pride and embarrassment at the same time when I saw a young Somali woman reporting the news for a local Fox affiliate in Charlotte, N.C. I was so proud of her and saw my four daughters in her. But in the same moment, I was embarrassed that my daughters won’t see someone who looks like them on WCCO (Ch. 4), KARE (Ch. 11), KSTP (Ch. 5) or KMSP (Ch. 9).
I couldn’t help but ask: If this can happen in a state that introduced America to Jesse Helms as a U.S. senator, why hasn’t it happened in the state that gave America Hubert Humphrey?
This is the moment to seize the opportunity to integrate the Somali community into mainstream Minnesota. These proposals aren’t suggestions for preferential treatment but for integrating a community left behind. The motive is not one of asking for charity but a call for self-preservation. The economic and political integration of Minnesota’s newest community will contribute to an America that is stronger and better for future generations.
Jamal Abdulahi is a community organizer and independent analyst based in the Twin Cities. He can be reached by via e-mail at Abdu0037@umn.edu or on Twitter @fuguni.