Recent days have been trying for all of us in Minnesota. We have heard stories about terror recruitment problems and the arrests of six young men who were attempting to leave the country. We have seen the grief-stricken faces of mothers on news broadcasts and on the cover of our major newspapers. On April 24 as I read the Star Tribune’s Opinion Exchange page, I came face to face with words of hatred. Former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman’s direct statement that Somalis in Minnesota constitute a “land of 10,000 terrorists” was fear-mongering of the worst sort.
Let’s start with the facts: Six young men with connections to our state were arrested and prevented from traveling to a very dangerous and unsettled part of the world. Apparently, these young men were enticed to join violent extremists in a fight based on a perverted sense of radical views. Actions like these are crimes against our country and must be punished according to our laws. But how Coleman conflates the actions of six young men to tens of thousands of Minnesotans is beyond any form of rational mathematical reasoning.
Despite his intentions, I understand that, as a politician, Coleman — who is also a former St. Paul mayor — was extremely adroit at exacerbating racial divisions and at playing the fear card, especially at election time. But his implication in the April 24 article that there are 10,000 terrorists among us was racist, alarmist and just plain false.
Let me assure the Star Tribune readers that there are not 10,000 terrorists among us. More than 100,000 Somalis and East Africans call Minnesota home. Nearly all of these people are citizens of the United States. For more than 20 years, East Africans have found new homes in this great state. We’ve integrated, have contributed to the economy, have educated our children here, and have tried to create a better future for our families and our fellow Minnesotans and countrymen. We work every day in some the most challenging and lowest-paid jobs in transportation, health care and building maintenance. We do so because we want desperately to be part of the American dream. We are proud, loyal and dedicated Minnesotans and Americans.
But you wouldn’t know that to read Coleman’s words.
Second, Coleman is transparently political. Not long ago, one of his former fellow mayors, Rudy Giuliani of New York, said that President Obama didn’t love America. It was a coldly and cynically calculated act on Giuliani’s part. He knew exactly what he was doing. Coleman is cynically playing the same trick here — making an outrageous suggestion, knowing full well it is a lie, then sitting back and knowing that he’s accomplished the smear in the public’s mind.
Coleman’s call to wake up the governor, the Minnesota Legislature and civic leaders on the need to act is just his cover up for the libel he perpetrated. Obama and U.S. Attorney Andy Luger began working on this issue months ago when a major summit from around the world was held in Washington. The Star Tribune covered that event with a front-page story in February. I and many others have been working with federal, state, county and city officials, as well as those from private companies and foundations, to bring hope, education and meaningful job opportunities to East African youths in our city. One of the biggest things we can do is to not bring the racist stereotypes.
The difference is that the people of goodwill and good faith who have and are needed to work on this problem have not and will not use the hateful, divisive and downright evil tactics that Coleman used in his “Land of 10,000 Terrorist” screed.
There is serious work to do in education, employment, housing, transportation, recreation and health care. But there is also a lot of work to do in getting the issues framed correctly and put into perspective. Coleman failed the most basic test in understanding what needs to be done.