Muslims in America: One man against lure of terrorism

Jul 11, 2011

Many U.S. mosques, elected officials and even law enforcement agencies have hesitated to address the radicalization of a tiny number of American Muslims, because the topic itself is so divisive. The focus on homegrown jihad is considered either the next front in the war on terrorism or an Islamophobic witch hunt sure to create more ill will. In the second story in the series, "Under Suspicion," about the lives of American Muslims, the Post will examine the struggle of Minneapolis activist Abdirizak Bihi to keep young Somali Americans from falling prey to violent extremists.

Chat with Bihi on Monday, July 11 at noon.

On Faith: What is it like to be Muslim in the United States in 2011? Tell us your story.

Hi!  My name is Abdirizak Bihi and I am here to attempt to anwser your questions.

 

I thank all those who understand and support my work. And for those who want to help out here is my address:

1808 Riverside Ave Suite 211, Mpls MN 55454

or paypal account.

I'm a typical white Lutheran in the Twin Cities and I would like to contribute to your vital work. How would I do that, and with all the money we have funneled to minority programs, why isn't our government, local, state and national, funding every conceivable effort to steer vulnerable Muslim youth away from radicalization? Pennies for prevention is worth billions of Patriot Act disbursements.

Go here, or send it my address:

1808 Riverside Ave So suite 211, Mpls MN 55454

Do you feel that most US mosques are controlled by extremist Muslims, or only a handful? In addition, from what you know, what is the reason for the radicalization? Is it an issue of foreign (Saudi) money and textbooks influencing their agenda, fundamentalist imams and leadership, or that they're just not paying attention to the problem for fear of alienating conservative members of the mosque, instead focusing on other less controversial issues in the Muslim community? How do you think the problem can be properly tackled, without denying Muslims the right to freely practice their religions?

I think overwhelming majority mosques are doing a wonderful work for our community in MN but we have a few imams that has beenvery extreme in their interpretations

I watched Mr. Bihi's testimony at the King hearing and was profoundly impressed by Mr. Bihi's courage and leadership. Mr. Bihi, most American's probably do not know that the Council on American Islamic Relations--a group from which you sought help--was, in fact, identified by the FBI in 2007 as a Hamas front group and was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation Trial. Why do you think the American media--and certain members of Congress--continue to treat CAIR as a pro-American partner in the war on terror? Please explain to the forum how CAIR has thwarted your efforts. Thank you, again, for all you're doing to help your community.

Yes CAIR has never helped the families of the recruited Somali American youth. It sided with the Imams that tried very hard to silence us when we spoke out. For that matter we had to do several demonstrations asking CAIR to leave our community alone

You are the director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center, which is seen as a one-man show. How many staff do you have and why is your website not even functioning?

I do not have any resources at all. I d love to pay all those volunteers. Besides it was a job nobody wanted in the begining but now I see many leaders getting involved

You seem to be doing a great job against an army. I think many Americans would contribute to your cause. Give us a mailing address (not just a pen pal)  so we can support you. It has often been the guy who picks up a cause and runs with it like you who is helped by those cheering you on. -A former peace corps volunteer.

SESAC

1808 Riverside Ave South Suite 211

Mpls MN55454

What standing do you have in the Minneapolis Somali Community? You seem to be a solo player with little support.

Mt history of helping, organizing, interpreting has earned me a good name and that has been a very powerful tool that aided me to stand up for this issue. In the beginig the radicals continously lied to the community that I was out to destroy mosque. That message made alot of the community to doubt me. That was a big tool for radicals. Then I had to prove that I was telling the truth by bringing the families out and claim their sons. Then I had to prove all the youth missing belonged to the center where the leadership were condemnig me. After 3yrs, 95 percent of community treat me well after learning the truth

 

The Peter King hearings were seen by many as Islamophobic and discriminatory against Muslims. You participated in them and many feel you are also Islamophobic and discriminate against Muslims. How do you respond to that?

I appreciate the invitation by Congressman King. It was an opportunity for us to take our case to the American public. I am a Muslim and I love my faith and I am not allow a few nut cases to spoil it

What kind of feedback have you received from the local community in regards to this article?

Everytime that article like this come out, I see two reaction from two groups. People with cultural and language barrirs are lied to by the radicals who misinterpret the article into such things. "Bihi said destroy all the mosques. Bihi said all Somalis are terror minded" And it takes a lot of efforts from meto go afterthat. But those who read english are energized and get the word out

How can local law enforcement be most effective in monitoring and deterring radicalization among Muslim youths.

I think learning the culture and hiring from the community is an important element

What do you consider extreme imams and why are they considered extreme to you? Is it because you disgaree with them and their being conservative?

Islam is very peaceful religion. Fanatic imam misenterpret the Holy Book. They call any Muslim who do not agree their violent and extreme interpretation and nfidel that needs to be condemned.

Hello Mr. Bihi. Unfortunately, as I am a college student myself, I do not have much to spare by way of monetary support. However, this article, your efforts within the community, and the level of your personal dedication to this issue deeply moved me. As a student living in St. Paul, I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to volunteer at the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center, and was wondering if this was at all possible.

In addition, I have a question for you:  How can the municipal government of Minneapolis involve itself more in reaching out to at-risk Somali teens? I have been to the Riverside Towers complex, and it seems purposely isolated from the rest of the Cities. Do you think the city government should take on more responsibility in this matter?

I thank you neighbor very much and I need your valuable time so we can work together with the youth. I think the city needs to be more vissble in terms of investing in the community. The continuation of its absence is not really good

What is so wrong with Somalis being educated about their civil rights and taking an attorney with them when talking to the FBI? A community that already fears law enforcement, this should be encouraged.

For 15 yrs I have been fighting for civil rights in my community whether it is labor issues, discrimination, affordable housing, accessing interpreter or for that matter I have had the only walk in legal clinic in the country for Somali in MN. So I am for civil righs but this question was always framed in amethod that made me look bad

Why is that this group of youths is any more likely to turn to terrorism than say, a group of underprivileged American-born children? I thought Islam was a religion of peace? Are they incapable of thinking for themselves? It's the same argument that has been given for decades about the drug war - "just say no". Why can't these resist the "temptation" to turn to terrorism?

The Somali American youth are the smartest people I know. They very intelligent. But there are several issues here. There is a tremenous pressure from firs generation who want them to grow up like they did back in Somalia. They want the youth to behave like they were in Somalia. They want the youth to speak Somali which mostly can't. You also have over 65 percent manned bysingle moms. You also have almost no resources or programs for youth. There are no choices in this community. The radicals are the ones who filling the dady role model. But when I started working with these youth, it made me cry how they are caught in these situations

Some people are saying you and your supporters are just trying to get the media's attention and that you make your voice heard only when the media is present. What's your response?

I think my work is something that was and is not attractive for anybody with their right mind in the begening. And it is not something I enjoy but I had to stand up to Goliath in my community. Most important thing I would like people to know that in this country YOU CAN Stand UP and let the facts run. Saving my community is no show

What tactic have you had the most success with?

Early in my work I have learned that the stratigy of the radicals was to win the hearts and minds of the community by misinforming them about my work and the issue. Since then my bulk of my work was to educate the community about the reality of the recruitment and brainwashing that was taking place as well as proving to the community that there are many young men recruited as a result of that. I can saykeeping the community informed is very vital

First, I am sorry for the loss of your nephew. It must be a difficult time for you and your family. My question is- you have put a lot of blame on mosques and imams for your nephew's travels to Somalia and death, as well as that of the other missing men. What responsibility do you, as an uncle, take and what responsibility should the parents and families of the other missing men take? It seems easier to blame others for our own lack of supervision and guidance of children.

I want to remind you thatthis issue was not public until We spoke out. Since then we see a huge progress. Mind you the intricacies of the radicalization is very sophisticated and highly advanced. There are many non Somli Americans that have been recruited. The question of the mosque was the biggest tool used by these folks to imply that we were against Mosque. Mosque, as yo know is a holy building and buildings do not committ crimes but people do. Therefore we are holding those leaders whom we have trusted our young to educate but betrayed us and turned our beloved ones into killers in far away Somalia

As a fellow Somali Minneapolitan, I totaly agree with Abdirizak Bihi that few feable minded Imams are doing hatred and extremism in our society. Without the assistance of government entities and individual contributions, Mr. Bihi will not able to safe all those youth who play basketball or attend his meeting at his little office at Cedar Riverside from these fanatic vultures. Please assist whichever way you can to get rid of terrorism here, in Somalia and in many parts of the world. As for Mr. Bihi you are "GEESI" ( HERO) and keep doing your noble work. Why do you think the FBI is not able to capture the mastermind of the terror CAPO in Minneapolis ( to my knowledge from the newswires) small fishes were indicted)? and why do you think the Somali Americans are silent on this issue?

I think my friend

Why are there no resources for Somali youth in the DC area. What would you recommend be done about this?

I think you should stand up for it. You might lose a lot of dear things. It is worth it!

How do you seek to make progress in a community and serve people when you are attacking and villifying their leaders?

I do my best to do what I can. I saw the tears and pain of those mothers. I do not want that to happen to any mom.

I do not attack people or leaders but that does not mean I should be quite and go away from the facts happening. As you know Islam teaches us to speak up agains injustices

Approximately how many police office and social workers are from the active Muslim community who could help bridge differences between government services and Muslim residents?

10yrs ago when we had a conflict with MPD after a Somali mentally ill man was shot, we started to sit down with MPD. We requested that MPD hire Somali speaking policemen. Chief Olson did then. I am very proud to say we have over 7 Somali American policemen working our neighborhoods. The made a tremendous difference. We also have a lot of professionals including Mds, Social worker, RNs, Businessmaen and women. Somali American marines, navy, army and many vets

How concerned are the parents of Somali children in Minneapolis about radicalization in mosques or elsewhere in the community? Do most of them share your concerns and agree with your activist approach?

After we spoke out, Somali American parents are very aware and appreciate our efforts.

How do you establish credibility in the community you are attempting to serve?

Do your best to serve, your work might meet some daring challenges but at the end it'll speak for itself

I want to thank all of you who took the time. I am very honored by all your questions and I am sorry that I could not get to many of them. If you want to help, here is my address

SESAC

1808 Riverside Ave Suite211

Minneapolis, MN 55454

 

or my not so good website (thanks to Annette and Bittany)

http://somalieducationandadvocacy.org/make-a-donation.html

 

Thank you and GOD bless you and America

PEACE

In This Chat
Abdirizak Bihi
Abdirizak Bihi is the director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center. He testified at a hearing on Muslim radicalization in March on Capitol Hill. (Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu / THE WASHINGTON POST)
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