The Forum That Was

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and Council on American-Islamic Relations in Minnesota (CAIR-MN) organized a forum said to educate Muslim/Somali community in Minnesota about potential civil rights violation by federal government agencies. The forum was held on Friday January 30th at Safari Restaurant, a venue popular with Somalis. Discussion centered around federal agencies like the FBI using egregious tactics to gather intelligence in pursuit of potential terrorists. Tactics said to be so outrageous infringing on citizen’s first amendment constitutional rights.

The Brennan Center recently obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) indicating the FBI spied on communities like the Somali in the Twin Cities. One tactic applied has been reaching out as local law enforcement agencies do to forge working relationship.

The concern is when the FBI blends outreach and investigation. For example, an agent with the FBI befriends with an Imam and learns personal and perhaps damaging information through that relationship. The FBI then uses that information to extract further concessions from the Imam including cooperation to profile innocent members of the community worshipping at the mosque.

Revelation in the documents obtained by the Brennan Center forced the FBI to divulge its own document(s) indicating that Minneapolis office refused to participate a national intelligent gathering project disguise as an outreach. Community leaders are skeptical of FBI's Minneapolis office newly released document(s). Questions such as validity of the document(s) remain unanswered. Also why now and why to specific outlet in the press, Star Tribune, remain unanswered. One could only stipulate it's a part of damage control and trying to salvage a bogeyman perception of the FBI in the minds of the Muslim/Somali community.

Responding to information obtained through law suit under FOIA is not the way to protect a nation from possible terror attacks. It's an old public relations trick. It further alienates Muslim/Somali community in Minnesota.

When the FBI blackmails, Imams lose credibility and trouble youth turn to online particularly social media for spiritual guide. Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Tumbler and Instagram offer both good and bad information free for all. Some of the young men who left Twin Cities to join terror groups established associations through these platforms.

Also participating in the forum was David Schanzer with Triangle Center for Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University. David conducts research on community policing. David's work is partly funded by the Department of Justice. David went through lengthy diatribe on what the community needs to do to make law enforcement work palpable but said nothing about research findings on what federal agencies like the FBI needed to do to improve community relations. David was largely dismissive of community concerns. David said community policing work is considered "squishy, soft and touchy" in counter terrorism circles.

During question and answer session, someone in the audience linked the FBI approach to the Twin Cities Muslim/Somali community to the national movement protesting police brutality in the black community. The panel concurred the fact that Somalis are black certainly adds racial dimension further complicating the relationship between the FBI and Muslim/Somalis in Minnesota.