Sunday, September 19, 2021

Muslims in Minnesota reflect a frightening, rapidly changing landscape after September 11, 2001

When terrorists leveled New York City’s Twin Towers, Kasim Busuri shares the fear felt by all the other eighth graders sent home early from their middle school class in North Mankato, Minn. It was not until the next day that he too had to shoulder the fear of others.

As one of a handful of refugees and the only Muslim boy in his class, classmates barged in with questions in their own way: “Are all Muslims the same as these people did? Has your religion taught you to attack unbelievers?”

“People were asking me questions I couldn’t answer,” said Busuri, who had never previously considered himself a particularly devout devotee. Suddenly, the confused teen needed to have his soul-searching conversation with his imam, or religious leader. He too needed an answer.

He got them. “I became more religious, and learned more about my religion because I was defending it,” Jordan, Minn. K Busuri, who runs a day care center in Shakopee and an adult day center in St. “People said, ‘Your religion is the religion of terrorism,’ and I would say, ‘No, Islam is about peace.’ I knew they were scared when they were saying such things to me.”

In 2014, Qasim A. Busuri. (Courtesy of Javier Tavera)

The events of September 11, 2001 forced a lengthy reckoning for many Muslims in Minnesota that was as intrinsic to their communities and to themselves as it was to the community at large. Suddenly under a microscope, Muslims find themselves confronted by classmates and colleagues, law enforcement and political leaders, the media and neighbors, and even each other. It’s the investigation that has never completely gone away.

“Imagine if you, and your brother, and your sister, and your father, and your mother, all of you were suspected as criminals. What would you be feeling? This is every Muslim family after September 11th. “Muslims, they were calling each other, they were saying don’t leave your home, don’t go to work “

Some women asked religious leaders if they could temporarily remove their traditional head covering, or hijab, to better blend in with society. The prospect divided the imams, Mohammed said, with most leaning against it.

Muslims in Minnesota reflect a frightening, rapidly changing landscape after September 11, 2001
Hassan Mohamed, the imam of the Islamic Dawa Center in St. Paul, left, and Mohamed Hassan, a community leader who was coordinating the local response to the famine in Somalia in 2011. (Amy Forlity / The Associated Press)

Some Muslims – many of them immigrants and refugees – put American flags on their doors or work desks to prove their patriotism. For others like Jayalani Hussain, increased public scrutiny prompted a sense of urgency and a need to organize and respond.

Hussein was 19, still a student at Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids, and was having breakfast with his mother when he heard of the attacks in New York. Within months, he and five other students had organized a Muslim student union on campus. Critics rushed to his meetings to tell him that “we were terrorists, we were sleeping demons,” he recalled.

The reaction made him more determined. Hussein, who had been invited to speak about Islam at Progressive Christian Churches after the attacks, later joined the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and eventually became its executive director.

Some of the animosity never really went away, said Samqab Hussain, a St. Paul resident who once ran for city council. He described the rhetoric of the last four years as particularly difficult to stomach.

“What about mass shootings in America? When one white person does it, we don’t say they all do it,” he said. “Imagine if I applied the same formula to white Americans as we apply to Muslims, assuming that every white American was a mass shooter. This is not correct. The word ‘Islam’ literally means peace. That’s what people don’t understand.”

Hate crimes are on the rise

In 2000, the year before 9/11, the FBI reported 28 official “hate crimes” – or documented criminal acts of verbal abuse, harassment or violence – fueled by anti-Islamic sentiment across the US. Events escalated.

Muslims in Minnesota reflect a frightening, rapidly changing landscape after September 11, 2001
In this September 18, 2016, file photo, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Jaylani Hussain, speaks at a news conference in St. Cloud, Minn. (AP, file via Jason Wachter/St. Cloud Times)

Those numbers will decrease over time, while remaining in the three digits. In 2019, 176 anti-Islamic crimes were registered, according to the Federal Bureau of Uniform Crime statistics.

The Anti-Defamation League under-reports hate crimes, and the FBI acknowledges that only 2,100 of the 15,000 law enforcement agencies participating nationwide actually submitted data in 2019.

Within 11 weeks of the 9/11 attacks, the Council on American-Islamic Relations described more than 1,450 anti-Muslim incidents in the US, including eight in Minnesota. One incident involved a man in traditional Somali clothing in his 60s who was punched by an unidentified assailant at a Minneapolis bus stop. The man died a few days later, but in the absence of further information on the perpetrator’s intent, officials at the time declined to make the attack an official hate crime.

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Local Connections to 9/11

Minnesota’s connection to the terrorist attacks came against a backdrop of mistrust.

A few weeks before 9/11, Zakarias Moussaoui – a French national of Moroccan origin – was arrested in Egan on immigration-related charges after raising suspicions at a flight school. She wrote in a court motion that she had “used the Internet to get in touch with the Bin Laden group” at a Kinko’s store in Egan, referring to 9/11 mastermind and international terrorist group leader Osama bin Laden. was used. al Qaeda. Moussoui later pleaded guilty in US federal court to plotting to kill American citizens as part of the attacks. He is serving a life sentence.

Muslims in Minnesota reflect a frightening, rapidly changing landscape after September 11, 2001
Zakarias Moussaoui (Courtesy of Carver County Sheriff’s Office)

Relations between law enforcement and the Somali community in particular became strained. In November 2001, federal agents raided hawala, or Somali-owned money-transfer shops, on the suspicion that they were helping to finance terrorists. Most of the shops and owners fled.

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Over the years, CAIR-MN has emerged as an outspoken critic of the US Attorney’s Office in Minnesota, which has kept a close watch on the Muslim community. Other prominent Muslim leaders have worked closely with the office to combat extremism.

“There was division, but it is good to cooperate with the law,” said Samqab Hussain. “If someone is doing wrong, he should be held accountable. That’s what I believe.”

Officials have highlighted recruitment efforts that have lured some young Twin Cities men to fight for Islamist terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab in Somalia and Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Jaylani Hussain said CAIR-MN meets annually from 100 to 150 Muslims who have been interviewed by federal law enforcement and are seeking legal guidance, “but the FBI has no case against them,” he said. “Once you have a lawyer the questions are closed.”

Patriot Act, War on Terrorism

In the weeks following the destruction of New York’s Twin Towers, President George W. Bush called on Americans not to discriminate against their Muslim neighbors. Meanwhile, his administration quickly enacted the USA Patriot Act, a cornerstone of the government’s “War on Terror”.

The act allowed the FBI to legally survey everyday Americans and monitor their phone, email, banking and Internet activity without probable cause. A government “no-fly” list came together so quickly that children under the age of 12 got on it, except for a few passengers from the plane.

The domestic effects of the War on Terror have been far-reaching even two decades later, and have come to the fore under leaders of both major parties. Jayalani Hussain said he makes frequent trips to Somalia as part of a relief organization, “and I never came back without being pulled into some sort of secondary screening.”

By 2008, anger against Muslims in America had subsided. But then Barack Obama – a black man whose father was a Muslim – was elected president. Jayalani Hussain said that anti-Muslim sentiment will soon attain new heights.

Muslims in Minnesota reflect a frightening, rapidly changing landscape after September 11, 2001
Mohamed Omar, executive director of the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, condemned the previous day’s fire-bombing at the mosque on Sunday, August 6, 2017. No one got injured. (Christy Belcamino / Pioneer Press)

In August 2017, a fire broke out at the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, as members began to gather for prayer. No one was injured, although the Imam’s office was damaged.

Illinois anti-government activist Michael Hari – leader of the “White Rabbits” militia group – was indicted last year on five counts related to hate crimes and civil rights violations. Earlier, two accomplices had confessed their crime.

Some “protect America” ​​rhetoric came from top to bottom.

Calling refugees cover for terrorists, President Donald Trump signed an executive order in January 2017 banning foreign nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries from visiting the US for 90 days. Despite the legal challenges, the so-called “Muslim ban” was amended and extended to the entire presidency. This ended in January, shortly after a change in administration.

“In Trump’s time, the fear was back. The problem was ‘Islam.’ That’s what he was saying,” said Mohamed of the Minnesota Dawa Institute. … It is the custom of some Muslims that was the problem. But he was attacking the whole religion, not a few followers of the religion.”

Mohamed said that despite all the mistrust, the events of 9/11 also opened an opportunity for non-Muslims to engage with and strive for a better understanding across cultures and religions.

“After 20 years, what big lessons can we learn from both sides? What they learned from Americans, many of my non-Muslim friends, is that Muslims are not the way they are portrayed after September 11th,” he said. “What we learned is also that not all white people are racists.”

Muslims in Minnesota reflect a frightening, rapidly changing landscape after September 11, 2001
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