Anti-terror efforts contested

Community members debated drawbacks of a federal effort aimed at local radicalization.

Olivia Johnson

Community members made passionate arguments at the West Bank’s Brian Coyle Center last week as residents of all ages debated whether an anti-terrorism effort in the area would do more harm than good.
 
 
The West Bank Community Coalition held a panel discussion on Countering Violent Extremism — a Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security and FBI program that aims to prevent terrorist recruitment. Critics of the program say it profiles Muslims.
 
 
CVE began in 2011 in Los Angeles, Boston and the Twin Cities in an effort to prevent terrorist organizations from recruiting people in those cities. In Minneapolis, the push to stem radicalization has taken place in neighborhoods such as Cedar-Riverside and in Minneapolis public schools.
 
 
Experts, politicians and community activists joined residents at the event on Feb. 22 to clarify what CVE is. State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, was on the panel and said she came to the event to listen to her constituents’ thoughts on the program.
 
 
“I made it very specific when we’re doing it … [CVE] was not for law enforcement like tracking people, arresting people and so forth,” she said. “It was for the kind of community revitalization efforts that will avoid the necessity to have interaction with law enforcement.” 
 
 
She said residents should avoid a boycott of state and federal CVE funding, which many residents have considered.
 
 
“If there’s money out there … and you can take it, you grab it, and you make sure it’s used the way you want it to,” Kahn said.
 
 
Last year, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety received $250,000 in CVE funds to prevent terrorist recruitment but hasn’t used it because of community dissent, Kahn said.
 
 
Biology, society and environment sophomore and former Cedar-Riverside resident Shacni Hussin said he went to the meeting to stay involved with the community.
 
 
“In the long run, I don’t think it’ll be a good idea,” he said of the CVE initiative. “Instead of trying to bring [residents and authorities] together, it’s us versus them.”
 
 
Southeast Como resident Abshir Mohamed went to the event to hear people’s opinions on CVE.
 
 
“[The program is] only focusing on the Muslim communities,” he said. “It further stigmatizes Muslim communities. That divides up the community.”
 
 
Minneapolis Community and Technical College philosophy professor Matthew Palombo is the faculty adviser for the Muslim Student Association and sat on the panel.
 
 
“There are serious problems with this program,” he said. “I think it … created a lot of the feelings of distrust. This is in many ways preying on vulnerable communities that experience poverty.”
 
 
Palombo said he thinks communities shouldn’t accept CVE money but said the FBI and DOJ have lost the credibility needed to run the program’s funding. 
 
 
“CVE diverts our attention to the ideologies rather than the socioeconomic status of the people who hold them,” he said at the discussion.