BBC reporter defends right to ‘ask tough questions’
First of a two part story
Justine Ruszczyk Damond’s shooting death in July by a Somali MPD officer has put the city and its Somali residents in the national spotlight. It’s not the first time. The FBI has since 2007 identified the Twin Cities as a recruitment hub for young Somali males for overseas terrorist groups. That and the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies are growing concerns in the local Somali community.
“This administration has targeted this community and made a number of issues, including the Muslim ban, that we are concerned [with],” said Executive Director Jaylani Hussein of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN). What they did not need is yet another negative portrayal of their community.
In late March, BBC Reporter Owen Bennett Jones hosted a live broadcast on his network’s Newshour program titled, “Somalians in America: A Community under Pressure.” The event was broadcast from Augsburg College, located in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood where there is a large population of Somalis.
Jones’ program was later replayed on Minnesota Public Radio (MPR). His one-topic discussion that centered on the issue of terrorist recruitment offended many Somali community members in the audience for its narrow focus on this sensitive topic.
After the event, MSR attended an invitation-only reception at the Wellstone Center Neighborhood House in St. Paul. Jones said his radio audience wanted to know more about terrorism and ISIS. He felt that the information was a legitimate reason to look for conflict and report on it. He saw no need to apologize for reporting the news.
In a sit-down interview with MSR, Jones explained that one of the reasons he came to the Twin Cities as part of his mini-Midwest tour was because of Donald Trump’s negative comments in his trip to Minneapolis two days before the election. Jones found it interesting how Trump won so many votes by saying things that resonated with the voters.
“There are two aspects to this,” said Jones. “There is the Somalian-American perception in their community that they are unfairly portrayed.” Jones said the other aspect was the American and European fear of immigrants. He pointed out it was important to try and talk about the growing fear and mistrust on both sides of the problem.
Hussein, who also attended the Augsburg event, told MSR he was concerned about Jones’ agenda. That kind of report emphasizing terrorist recruitment along with other misconceptions about the Somali community bothers him and others. There are other complex and politicized issues besides terrorism, said the CAIR-MN leader, adding that terrorism shouldn’t be the issue to which Jones devotes his program.
Jones agreed with Hussein, but only to a point. Jones was surprised by the audience reactions during the Augsburg event, the Brit reporter said. “The feeling among some of the Somalian-American leaders was that the media portray them incorrectly, and they are prejudiced…that we don’t show the full view of that community. We come with a preconceived agenda.”
He said it was his responsibility — despite the Somali community members’ reactions — to ask tough questions about recruiting Somali youth. “My view is when communities say things like ‘Why do you never report on Somalian-American nurses doing their job of treating people?’ that’s not news to me. Obviously it’s great, but it’s not news.” Jones continued, “It’s just not interesting.”
Rather, Jones pointed out that Somalians — as well as all Americans — need to be more concerned about the picture Trump is painting for America that young men and young women [are volunteering] for violent Jihad.
Jones concluded, “The fear is so great [among some Americans about Somalis being recruited] that the U.S. president is playing up to those fears.”
Next: Hussein and others discuss the history of Somalis in the U.S. and in Minnesota.
Sources used in this report included Wikipedia, Somali Museum of Minnesota and CNS News.com.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.