Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) called for a more lenient sentence for nine Somalian men in Minnesota who were convicted of attempting to join ISIS in November 2016.
Omar, then a Minnesota assemblymember-elect, wrote in a letter to the judge presiding the case, Michael Davis, about “the ramifications of sentencing young men who made a consequential mistake to decades in federal prison.”
“Incarcerating 20-year-old men for 30 or 40 years is essentially a life sentence. Society will have no expectations of the to be 50 or 60-year-old released prisoners; it will view them with distrust and revulsion,” Omar wrote. “Such punitive measures not only lack efficacy, they inevitably create an environment in which extremism can flourish, aligning with the presupposition of terrorist recruitment: ‘Americans do not accept you and continue to trivialize your value. Instead of being a nobody, be a martyr.’”
Omar advocated for “a system of compassion” as a response to “fanaticism.”
“If we truly want to affect change, we should refocus our efforts on inclusion and rehabilitation,” Omar said. “A long-term prison sentence for one who chose violence to combat direct marginalization is a statement that our justice system misunderstands the guilty. A restorative approach to justice assesses the lure of criminality and addresses it.”
Omar added that such violent fanaticism stems from “systematic alienation” resulting from being barred from the instruments needed to induce change.
“If the guilty were willing to kill and be killed fighting perceived injustice, imagine the consequence of them hearing, ‘I believe you can be rehabilitated. I want you to become part of my community, and together we will thrive,’” Omar wrote. “We use this form of distributive justice for patients with chemical dependencies; treatment and societal reintegration.”
Omar’s letter concluded by stating, “The restorative approach provides a long-term solution – though the self-declared Islamic State may soon suffer defeat, their radical approach to change-making will continue as it has throughout history – by criminalizing the undergirding construct rather than its predisposed victims.”
According to a 2017 New York Magazine report, only one of the men, Abdullahi Yusuf, was given the opportunity to participate in a jihadi rehabilitation program. The rest received “lengthy” sentences.
Omar’s office did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment as of publication time.