Community response to feds' MN anti-terror recruiting efforts

A Minneapolis neighborhood group Monday night held a community event about a controversial federal pilot program intended to prevent radicalization in Minnesota's Somali community.

The program, Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), was launched in 2014 by the U.S. Justice Department, and has since generated debate in Minnesota. Some Minnesota Muslims have questioned the pilot's intent and raised concerns that it's simply a way to gather intelligence about local Somalis.

The West Bank Community Coalition leaders said the event at the Brian Coyle Center was an opportunity for community members to learn more about the CVE, also known as Building Community Resilience.

It the first community discussion about the CVE organized by a group not affiliated with the government or a Muslim advocacy organization. People who supported and opposed the CVE spoke at the event.

The aim of the Building Community Resilience project is to empower youth who might otherwise fall into the hands of terrorists, and improve better relations between law enforcement and the community, said Mohamed Mohamud, executive director of the Somali American Parent Association and part of the Somali-American Task Force.

"We either step back and say let the government do whatever they want with the kids, or we go to the government and say that how can we work with you? How can we help you in order to save those kids?" he said.

Jibril Afyare, spokesperson for the task force, said community members want to be at the table with the authorities and tell them: "Hey, this is my community, this is wrong, this is what we need, we need funding, this is what our community is lacking," he said.

Panelists included two members from a task force that is aligned with U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Andrew Luger, a professor at Minneapolis Community & Technical College and Minneapolis Rep. Phyllis Kahn.

Matthew Palombo, a professor at MCTC, said he is concerned about the motive of the CVE program.

"The problem with the CVE it wants us to divert our attention to the ideology rather than focusing on the social and economic conditions in which people are living. And the Somali and Muslim communities in Minnesota are increasingly victims of racism, of Islamophobia, of poverty, of inequality," he said.

However, Palombo, who is the vice president of the Ummah Project, said he applied for funding through Youthprise, a Minneapolis nonprofit organization that administers grants from state and federal sources, corporations and foundations. It's part of the Building Community Resilience program.

Palombo is proposing to create a Somali youth group who act as mediators in schools, at workplaces and in the Somali community.

Task force member Mohamud said he considers it a conflict that Palombo criticized the CVE while seeking support from the same entity that is administrating funds on behalf of anti-terror recruiting project.

The Building Community Resilience program calls for bolstering afterschool and tutoring programs to foster a sense of belonging among young Somali-Americans.

Earlier this month, three Minnesota House DFL legislators called for $2 million in state funding for the CVE.

Kahn, one of the legislators at the event, urged the community members to apply for funding from the CVE. She said the future emphasis of the program should be building community resilience.

"The language that will go into the next bill will be more carefully crafted," she said. "It will not have any reference to terrorism."

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