A questionable headline frames terrorism discussion

On today’s Star Tribune op-ed page, former senator Norm Coleman took a one-sentence point — we need to figure out how people get so disaffected here that joining a terrorist organization seems like a logical choice — and expanded it to several paragraphs that offered no significant roadmap for doing so.

Coleman took a veiled shot at Gov. Mark Dayton, who said essentially the same thing on Wednesday that Coleman wrote today.

“I think we need to do a better job, all of us, in providing a lot of good reasons for young Somali youth to see their better future here in Minnesota,” Dayton said on Tuesday.

But it’s the headline of the piece that’s particularly shocking, one that presumably wasn’t written by Coleman.

It’s a familiar construct. Who hasn’t seen some variation of the “Land of 10,000” cliche before?

But by using it against a smaller headline linking Somalis with terrorism, it suggests that thousands of Somalis here are potential terrorists. That, coupled with Coleman’s lack of substance, delivers an offensive — and we hope unintended — message.

“We’re certainly not the villains many of you make us out to be,” a Somali commenter on Coleman’s op-ed said.

While Coleman is correct — we have to understand what attracts people to terrorism — the headline provides the worst possible innuendo: “because they’re Somalis.”

Coincidentally, on an opposite page, a letter to the editor offers a better starting point for the discussion in a fraction of the number of words.

The April 23 letter about the ISIL arrests shows an astounding ignorance about the responsibility Minnesotans share for the men leaving to join the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. While it is not Minnesota’s fault entirely, we share the blame for not providing these men with an environment in which we treat them as equals. Right now, people of color are unfairly targeted by the police, given fewer chances to succeed and ignored in favor of white Minnesotans. Not only that, followers of Islam are still viewed with fear and misunderstanding by the general (white and Christian) public. It is arrogant to simply toot our own horn and declare that we have many aspects we are proud of while ignoring our darker underbelly. The letter writer asks “[i]n what way can we do better?” We can do better by treating people of different races and religion with the same respect we usually reserve for white Christians.

Andrew McCoy, Falcon Heights

That letter responded to one yesterday, which in turn was responding to Gov. Dayton’s comments in the aftermath of the arrests of six people in a federal terrorism probe on Monday.

I’m confused by Gov. Mark Dayton’s reaction to the arrest of six men from Minneapolis who planned to join the terrorist group ISIL. “I think we need to do a better job … in providing a lot of good reasons for young Somali youth to see their better future here in Minnesota,” he said. As I understand it, these young men had a place to live; attended public high school, with the plethora of free or low-cost extracurricular activities those schools offer; attended religious services; sought free legal counsel; had access to the beautiful natural spaces and rich cultural opportunities (again, many free) our community offers, and four of them attended Minneapolis Community and Technical College. In what way do we need to do better? It seems these young men had access to every freedom and opportunity that thousands of Twin Cities young people take advantage of every day, including the freedom to not engage. And the freedom to choose another path.

Sarah Barker, St. Paul

Coleman recommended a task force study the situation, hardly an innovative idea.

Here’s one: Stop writing offensive headlines when framing the issue.