Op-Ed

Mall attack shatters ‘Minnesota nice’ image, small-town safety

Students of St. Cloud State University marched Tuesday in a show of peace following a rally responding to Saturday’s knife attack at a mall. Authorities say 20-year-old Dahir Ahmed Adan stabbed 10 people before he was killed by an off-duty police officer.
Students of St. Cloud State University marched Tuesday in a show of peace following a rally responding to Saturday’s knife attack at a mall. Authorities say 20-year-old Dahir Ahmed Adan stabbed 10 people before he was killed by an off-duty police officer. Associated Press

What makes this attack different from all other attacks? The terrorist rampage at a shopping mall in St. Cloud, Minn., that sent nine people to the hospital with stab wounds last weekend came way too close to home.

A Lexington native, I lived in Minnesota as a kid from 1978-1989 and as an adult from 2008-2015. I went to rabbinical school and did my assistantship in New York, so I consider that a former home, too. Thank God no one was killed in any of the terrorist incidents last weekend other than the attacker in St. Cloud.

The difference, as those us who don’t currently live in the Top 10 biggest cities can tell you, is that it feels as if you never hear anything about us unless there’s a terrorist attack, a natural disaster or a presidential primary campaign.

But St. Cloud isn’t like everywhere else and this isn’t like all other attacks. Not only isn’t Saint Cloud a major city, it’s about an hour and 15 minutes (depending on how fast you drive) from the nearest major city — namely the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Another metro area that most Americans don’t think about very often.

Something else that makes St. Cloud distinct is that it is remarkably diverse for a city of its size. I say the following as a Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion fan: Saint Cloud is not Lake Woebegone. It isn’t a homogeneous, predictable place “where all the children are above average.”

The Asian, African and Hispanic populations have increased steadily for a number of years. In particular, the area has experienced a considerable influx from Somalia. You can walk around town or on the campus of St. Cloud State University and see Muslim men in traditional dress and Muslim women wearing the hijab.

It is also home to a small, but active, Jewish community that meets regularly for worship and cultural programming (at the Unitarian Church, of course). There are any number of Somali families right in the neighborhood, including more than one whose backyards run alongside that of the church.

It’s a real-world place with real-world problems. Some misguided individual put leaflets with derogatory language about Muslims on light posts. A local mosque was targeted by arsonists and another raided by vandals. A few years ago, the bishop convened an interfaith gathering where clergy expressed solidarity with the Muslim community and insisted on improving tolerance and trust. But until last weekend, I don’t recall an incident of religious violence that sent multiple people to the hospital. Saint Cloud wasn’t one of those places.

The headline “ISIS claims responsibility for multiple stabbing attack in St. Cloud, Minnesota” still feels very strange.

Unfortunately, there is nothing uncommon about gun violence, drug violence and domestic violence in small to mid-size cities. But this is different. The ethic of “Minnesota nice” is no laughing matter to Minnesotans. Minnesota Muslims being recruited to join a war overseas is one thing. Minnesota Muslims stabbing fellow Minnesotans is another.

This isn’t even like the 9/11 participants who trained at the Twin Cities airport but didn’t target Minnesota. This attacker lived in and carried out his attack in Saint Cloud. Like the people of Boston after the marathon bombing, the people of Saint Cloud are coping with betrayal, and betrayal is a heavy burden to bear.

So now, more than ever, it’s time for Minnesotans to be Minnesota nice. Minnesotans don’t judge an entire group based on the sick actions of a few. Minnesota nice holds no place for mindless retaliation, it takes offense to being deliberately offensive.

May the victims of these terrible attacks speedily recover from their wounds. And may the people of Minnesota persist in being nice, even in a world that sometimes seems to have forgotten what being nice is all about.

Rabbi David Wirtschafter of Temple Adath Israel in Lexington was a visiting lecturer at Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict, both in the Saint Cloud area.

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