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These Teens Are Making Their Voices Heard Against the Countering Violent Extremism Program

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Imagine going to school, or a club or program when your classes are done for the day. Sure, your behavior is being watched by teachers and program leaders — but imagine if some of them were also asked to report any supposedly suspicious behavior to the police.

For some of those impacted by a government program called Countering Violent Extremism, this is not imagination, it’s real life. CVE is a government program started by the Obama administration in 2014, that builds initiatives meant to prevent radicalization with regard to terrorism, and does so by building partnerships with organizations, programs, and faith leaders, while funding, monitoring, and collecting information on these endeavors. And yes, youths are affected by this, too. In Minneapolis in particular, where CVE’s main target is the Somali community, which is comprised largely of refugees who are black and Muslim, one partner of the program is Minneapolis Public Schools.

However, as a recent report from the NYU School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice claims, CVE programs are “built on two shaky premises”:

The first is that extremist ideology is a precursor to, and driver of, terrorism. While this proposition has some intuitive appeal, it has been disproven by decades of empirical research. Many people hold views that can be described as “extreme and never act violently; the reverse is also true. The second premise is that there is a predictable path toward terrorism with clear markers that can be used to identify potential terrorists. This notion has also been repeatedly debunked by empirical research.

This program is also accused by many groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), of targeting Muslims in particular. “Observers note that CVE is generally driven by news events, that the current program exclusively targets American Muslims and find that claims that the government is targeting all forms of violent extremism are inconsistently supported,” CAIR writes on its website. “There are arguments that the current CVE initiative undermines our national ideals, such as government not having a role in the free exercise of religion.” And as the Brennan Center for Justice report points out, “teachers and psychologists have sounded the alarm about CVE. The nation’s second-largest teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers objected strongly to an FBI CVE program, describing it as ‘ideological profiling and surveillance’ that would have ‘a chilling effect on our schools and immigrant communities, jeopardizing children’s sense of safety and well-being and threatening the security and sense of trust of entire communities.’” Teen Vogue reached out to the Department of Justice for comment regarding these allegations.

CVE follows a legacy of counter-terrorism programs and policy, including the National Security Exit-Entry Registration System (or NSEERS), which was a program created in 2002 by the Bush Administration and officially axed by President Obama during his final days in office that was meant to prevent terrorist attacks by tracking male immigrants from 25 mainly Muslim-majority countries. And consider that CVE resembles former FBI programs like COINTELPRO, which is a domestic counterintelligence program that lasted from 1956 to 1971 and initially started to “disrupt the activities of the Communist Party of the United States,” according to the FBI’s website.

Community members, like youth organizer Ayaan Dahir, believe CVE not only engages in profiling, but that they are also dehumanizing. And, according to a secret FBI report, as The Intercept reported out in 2016, “It can be difficult, if not impossible, to predict for any given individual what factor or combination of factors will prompt that individual’s radicalization or mobilization to violence.”

In Minnesota, a nonprofit organization named Youthprise is in charge of managing and redistributing CVE money through grants. However, in February of this year, Youthprise was the target of protesters challenging the organization’s participation in CVE. When asked about this, Youthprise told Teen Vogue: “We are committing to continued investment in the Somali community. We are committing to working with Somali youth to make decisions about what these investments should look like. We are committing to helping dismantle Islamophobia and to supporting Somali youth. We are committing to seeking funds aligned with our values rooted in positive youth development. We are committing to not seeking funding that is tied to deficit-driven anti-radicalization purposes.”

In the Twin Cities, it is Somali youth who are making noise against CVE. Two youth groups doing this work include the Young Muslim Collective and the Anti-CVE Campaign. Young Muslim Collective, started in February of 2016, is a coalition of students from the Twin Cities area, and was started to create change and address the struggles of marginalized Muslims in Minnesota. They have done this by hosting community events about CVE, organizing actions around CVE and Islamophobia, and hosting vigils for victims of Islamophobia.

Meanwhile, the Anti-CVE Campaign is an initiative started in June 2016 predominantly by Minneapolis-area high school students. They, too, have organized protests around CVE, and taught workshops about the policy and Islamophobia around the Twin Cities. Both of these groups, are majority black, entirely Muslim, and all youth.

Most recently, in June, Young Muslim Collective hosted a vigil in honor of Nabra Hassanen, Philando Castile, Charleena Lyles, and the victims of the Finsbury Park attack and Grenfell Tower fire. In addition to organizing panels and protests, they also celebrate the beauty in being young, black, and Muslim by hosting Iftars (the meal that breaks fast at sundown during the holy month of Ramadan), classes, and hosting events to dissect all the ways race and faith intersect.

“[CVE] directly affects my community, because of the pilot programs that were brought into my community and into the nonprofits that directly affect my community,” Anti-CVE Campaign leader Mahamed Salad, a rising senior at Minneapolis South High, tells Teen Vogue. “Systematic Islamophobia or oppression has affected me my whole life, in regards to just me day to day being questioned and being asked like why I am in America or why I am doing the things I do.” He adds that obstacles are ever-present in his organizing — “as a Muslim, for sure, and as an immigrant, those two things definitely affect me,” he says.

“Because of my age, people kind of look at youth and say, oh these kids only care about the latest iPhone, or sports, and things like that, and sometimes it’s true. But they don’t see that we also have intellect and insight, and bright ideas and bright minds … and that we are just as much a part of this community as anyone else,” he adds.

Ayaan Dahir of Young Muslim Collective, tells Teen Vogue that the best advice she would offer young people wanting to make a difference in their community is to educate themselves about the problem first. “I know when you first really understand an issue and you start uncovering something that is not obvious, there is an overwhelming urge to move and act. But your action needs to be coupled with education. You can’t undo a system you don’t understand,” Ayaan says. “Read, read, and read again. Be critical of everything you read and let your personal experience inform your education. And then act. There is no blueprint, no how-to guide, or GPS on what you should do in your exact moment. The only way to learn what works is to learn what doesn’t.”

Don’t fear taking missteps, Ayaan adds: “If you’re a human being, you are 100% likely to be wrong on something. It is up to you to choose how you will apply your knowledge to the movement and what role you want to take on.”

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Diaspora

Somali Man charged the deaths of 4 in fatal I-55 accident

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STAUTON, IL – A Colorado truck driver has been charged following an investigation into a multi-vehicle accident that killed 4 people and injured 11 others. Mohamed Jama, 54, of Greeley, Colorado, turned himself in to the Madison County Jail Monday.

The accident happened on southbound I-55 in Madison County on November 21, 2017.

The fatal accident killed 2 sisters, Madisen and Hailey Bertels and a friend, Tori Carroll, and an out of state woman, Vivian Vu in another vehicle.

Authorities say the accident occurred when a tractor-trailer driven by Mohamed Jama failed to slow down and stop for cars in front of him in a construction zone.

By the time it was all over, 7 vehicles were damaged and the people inside them injured or killed.

The sisters attended high school in Staunton.

The deaths deeply touched Staunton where people knew the young women or knew people who were their friends. Many in town were still grieving the loss. Matthew Batson said, “I’ll hear stories about them all the time, even though it’s been five months? Yes, it’s a lasting effect.”

The Madison County State`s Attorney Tom Gibbon said if convicted of all the crimes Mohamed Jama could spend the rest of his life in prison. With summer coming on and more construction zone Gibbons says there`s a warning for all of us.

“Each of us out there in our cars we really need to pay attention, watch out, slow down you never want to see something like this to happen again it so terrible for all the victim I’m sure that no person would want to be the cause of something like this.”

Jama is charged with 4 counts of reckless homicide and 8 counts of reckless driving. He`s being held in the Madison County Jail without bond.

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Books

CANADA: Edmonton author aims to boost diversity in children’s book publishing

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EDMONTON—Two years ago Rahma Mohamed’s then four-year-old daughter saw an Elsa costume, complete with blond braids, and pleaded with her mother to buy it so she would look “beautiful.”

That’s when Mohamed decided her kids needed more cultural inspiration than the blond princess from Frozen.

After a year of work, the first-time author published Muhima’s Quest, a children’s book that tells the story of a young African-America Muslim girl who wakes up on her 10th birthday and goes on a journey.

Now, Mohamed’s at work on her second book, which is due out at the end of the month. She’s on a journey of her own, she said, to boost diversity in children’s publishing.

“I wanted to create a character who had African descent and is a Muslim in a children’s book because I just found out that there were none that were available in the mainstream,” she said.

Her books show kids it’s OK to be different, she said. Take her first book: some Muslims don’t celebrate birthdays, she explains, and the little girl in the book struggles with her faith and questions why she doesn’t celebrate like her classmates do.

“The overall message is that we do things differently, but that part is what makes us beautiful,” Mohamed said.

She said she felt it necessary for her kids to see themselves represented in the books they read in order to “enhance their self-confidence, as well as bolster their sense of pride.”

Mohamed, who writes under the pen name Rahma Rodaah, self-published her first book and since last summer, has sold 200 copies locally.

“It does take a lot of resources and you have to self-finance, but I believe in the end it’s worth it,” she said.

She hopes to go bigger with her second book, which focuses on the universal concept of sibling rivalry, and features a young girl who plans on selling her little brother because she believes he is getting all the attention.

“My overall goal is to portray Muslim Africans who are basically a normal family.”

Mohamed says her previous book was well-received by parents at readings she had done at public libraries and schools.

“Most of them who are Muslims really loved that the kids could identify with the characters,” she said.

The books also acted as a conversation starter for non-Muslim families, she said.

She said, for her, the most exciting part of the journey is knowing that she is making a difference in shaping the minds of young Black Muslims.

“We are underrepresented, misunderstood and mostly mischaracterized. It is time we paint a different picture.”

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Minnesota

When radicalization lured two Somali teenagers … from Norway

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Mukhtar Ibrahim

In October 2013, two Somali teenage girls named Ayan and Leila shocked their parents by running away to join ISIS in Syria. Their radicalization story is unusual in that it happened in Norway.

Acclaimed Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad spent years researching what happened. Now her book, “Two Sisters: Into the Syrian Jihad” is available in the United States.

Seierstad, who discusses her book Monday night at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, said she didn’t go looking for the story.

“The story actually came to me,” she said. “It was the father of the girls who actually wanted the story to be written.”

His name is Sadiq, a Somali man who worked for years to bring his family to Norway. He hoped for a better life. He thought things were going well, then everything collapsed when Ayan and Leila disappeared.

When the girls left home, their parents were in shock, Seierstad said. “They hadn’t understood what was this about. Why? And then as months went by and they got to learn more about radicalization, they realized that all the signs had been there. That the girls were like a textbook case of radicalization. And he [Sadiq] wanted the book to be written to warn others, to tell this story to warn other parents.”

It is a perplexing story. Ayan and Leila were bright, and opinionated. They didn’t put up with being pushed around.

“And that is somehow part of why they left, in their logic,” said Seierstad, adding that the girls were convinced Syria and ISIS offered a chance of eternal life.

“They believed that life here and now is not real life. Real life happens after death. And this life is only important as a test. So the better your score, the better you behave in this life, the better position you will have in heaven for eternity. So isn’t that better?”

Seierstad is known for her in-depth reporting. Her book “One of Us,” about Anders Breivik, the gunman who killed 77 people in Norway’s worst terror attack, is an international best-seller.

When published in Norway Seierstad said, “Two Sisters” became the top-selling book for two years running. What pleases her most is the breadth of her readership. She gets email from young Somali girls, and also from government officials who want to prevent future radicalization.

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