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America the beautiful

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JIM WALSH / JIMWALSH086@GMAIL.COM

Abdulwahid Osman didn’t have much time to talk late Monday afternoon, so he spoke fast, and with the urgency of a man on a mission. As I interviewed him in his Midtown Global Market law office, six of Osman’s Somali-American clients sat outside in the waiting room, eager to see their lawyer about deportations and other legal family matters.

Me, I wanted to talk to Osman, one of the few Somali-born immigration attorneys practicing in Minneapolis, about the United States Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate Donald Trump’s travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries (Somalia, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Yemen and Libya), which came Monday morning after two federal appeals courts blocked the order. Instead, I got the greatest pre-Fourth of July pep talk ever.

“I came to this country as a refugee, and today I’m a licensed practicing attorney in the state of Minnesota, and I have benefited a lot from freedom of religion in this country,” said Osman, after explaining how the travel ban “could have been worse,” in that it doesn’t include immigrants coming to America to be reunited with family. “I understand what it means to be a refugee seeking to enter the United States, and I understand what it means to become a refugee who made it in this country. I have a family, I have young children, I have a house, I have a legal practice and I am a proud former refugee.

“If that doesn’t mean anything to Donald Trump, it’s up to him. But it means a lot to America. It reflects the American value. America is an idea to us; it’s not a specific country or religion. We come here for a few ideas, one of which is freedom of religion, that you won’t be judged by the color of your skin, that you have equal opportunity as anybody.

“I’m living example of that. I litigate cases in court every day. I go up against white Anglo-Saxon Caucasians who were born here and come from rich families, and sometimes, or many times, I win the cases against them. It doesn’t mean that … me being … 17 years ago, having nothing … being able to graduate from the University of Minnesota Law School … only in America that is possible. I couldn’t have made it in any other country, and if Donald Trump has a problem with that, excuse me? He should do what he’s doing, but he’s not going to change the nature of America.

“America is to us that idea: diversity, respect, rule of law. Those are the key things that make America exceptional. If he wants to make America a country of specific people or a specific religion, he is a traitor to America itself. Because the idea of America has always been that beacon of freedom where everybody says, ‘OK, I could make it. Nowhere else, but in America that’s the only place you can make it, regardless of the color of your skin.’ That’s why Americans voted twice for Barack Obama — someone who has such an international background, who grew up in different countries, born here. … That is the America that we feel is under threat. And I’m glad we have the court system — which is the last line of defense against transgressions that infringe upon our constitutional rights.”

Osman speaks with the passion and assurance of a man who came to Minneapolis as a refugee 17 years ago and who has worked to become an Islamic law scholar, an adjunct law professor at the University Of Minnesota, a Hennepin County Human Services Officer and a vital resource for the Somali-American community in the Twin Cities. As he spoke, surrounded as he is by one of Minneapolis’s most multi-culti malls and neighborhoods, he proudly pointed to the diplomas and certificates of achievement hanging on his office wall.

“To us, the travel ban reflects a very dark history,” he continued. “It’s known that any country that tries to exclude certain religions and people in the history, that country is doomed. It didn’t work in Nazi Germany, it didn’t work in any other empire throughout history. And Muslims around the world? 1.6 billion people of all races, all cultures. You can’t ban them. You can’t ban half of the world.

“So this travel ban is actually an assault on the very foundation of America. This has nothing to do with security. People can be vetted for security reasons, but that’s not going to make America secure. It will only make America look bad in front of others. This country came through a lot: internment camps, slavery before that, civil rights movement, economic inequality, all of that. And now if Donald Trump wants to take us back and to play to the worst instincts and the worst insecurities of rural America — if that’s what he wants to do, he doesn’t represent America. He doesn’t know what ‘refugee’ means. The Syrian kid who is being bombed by Russian aircraft? He’s not a threat to America. If Trump doesn’t want to help, that’s up to him, but that’s not America. And I hope that our courts, especially the Supreme Court, which has always been the refuge for upholding the basic rights of what’s best about this country, will ultimately resoundingly rule against this draconian so-called travel ban.”

These days, business is more than a little brisk at Abdulwahid Law Firm (2929 Chicago Ave., suite 110, 612-501-7384), and it has been since Trump promised to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants in his first 18 months as president.

“I’m very busy, as you can see,” said Osman. “I’m one of the very few Somali-born lawyers here, and our community is such a large community that uses our services. We not only practice law, we assure the community, we are the eyes of the community, we explain the legal system, we explain the rule of law, we explain the constitutionality of the human rights that these people have, so we have a lot of work. I’m a very busy guy.

“Somalis are doing very well. And our president came to the hangar at the airport before the election to give a hate speech against refugees, that’s all he came for, and then he left, that’s how irresponsible he is, to enflame the Minnesotans against us when he doesn’t even know who we are, and he doesn’t care. And he wants to be our president?

“The fact is, Somalis have a lot of success stories. We are a very vibrant community, and we are so proud of Minnesota and the way it welcomed us, and the way it is, despite everything that’s going on, trying to understand. And Minnesotans, and Americans also, need to understand that we came with a culture. We have our own baggage. It will take time to integrate into the Minnesotan culture. We are the first generation. I’m not going to dress or speak like you, but my kids are now fully Americanized. They speak like you, but I don’t, I have accent, and I can’t help.

“That’s how we grew up. That’s the story of every first generation in this country. When the Italians came, and the Jewish came, and Eastern-Europeans, and Polish, and Irish, they were made fun of and discriminated against, just like we are. So this is a typical American story, and if Donald Trump’s not happy with that … he has no more claim on this country than I have.”

 

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at jimwalsh086@gmail.com

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Fartun Ahmed is first Somali-American woman elected to a school board in the country

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LAKESHORE WEEKLY — HOPKINS — Fartun Ahmed was elected to Hopkins school board Tuesday Nov. 7, making her the first Somali woman in the country to be elected to a school board and the second to be elected to public office.

She campaigned as part of a bloc with Chris LaTondresse and Jen Westmoreland-Bouchard under the message that every family in the school district should be able to access the resources they need to understand the system.

Campaigning against Steve Semler and Kevin Bennett, the bloc won the three open seats. Turnout was nearby double that of two years ago — 21,501 people voted for school board candidates in this year’s election; 12,159 votes were cast in 2015.

“It shows our district is ready to move forward,” Ahmed said. “It shows our district is open to connecting and engaging with someone despite the differences they may have.”

The three campaigned as a tight ensemble. They door-knocked every weekend in October, met with students and attended school board meetings. Neighborhoods even organized gatherings to meet the candidates.

People frequently recognized who they were upon opening the door, Barb Westmoreland said. Westmoreland is the mother of board member-elect Westmoreland-Bouchard. She described how Fartun felt after a day of door-knocking:

“For many of these people, they just had a lot of questions. They were really curious; they wanted to talk with a Muslim woman who wears a hijab,” Westmoreland said.

Ahmed, 26, was born in Somalia and moved to the United States when she was 3. With her family, she moved around Minnesota for a while before settling in Hopkins. As the oldest of eight children, Ahmed was the first in her immediate family to attend school.

She finished high school in 2009 with a GPA of 4.0 and moved on to study at Metropolitan State University. During her undergraduate years, Ahmed was appointed to committees formed by U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger. Later, she obtained a full-ride dual masters from the University of Chicago.

“She’s a standard bearer for her family,” Westmoreland said. “First one to go to college, she has a master’s degree … for her to come back to this community and say ‘I really want to be a part of it and I want to make it better,’ I just admire her so much for these values.”

Ahmed is grateful for Hopkins Schools and the resources the district provided for her family when she entered schools, she said.

“It shows you what America is that my parents — who had no idea, who had never went to school, who don’t even know how to read or write in Somali — can raise this daughter who can be elected to a political position in an office,” she said, “and that’s what America is.”

However, despite the district’s efforts, the resources at hand right now don’t match the need for the 45 percent who are students of color, Ahmed said.

Working as an executive director at her family’s Family Resource and Childcare Center gave her insight. Family after family came in, addled in trying to navigate the school system. Many families with whom she spoke changed their minds to stay in Hopkins, but others left to open-enroll in neighboring districts.

Leaders in the community should understand the issues varying community members are facing, Ahmed said.

On the day before the election, Ahmed’s 8-year-old sister wrote her a letter for good luck, saying she looks up to her oldest sister.

“I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m doing this is because I want her to grow up in a community where she knows her leaders and people will listen to her and people will respect her,” Ahmed said.

The campaign results proved that people underestimate their own community, she said. Hopkins was ready for leaders in public office who reflected a cross-section of the community.

Westmoreland said the relationships the trio formed with voters throughout the past several months will propel them into office.

“I feel a great sense of hope,” Westmoreland said, “and I think a lot of other people do, too. Everybody’s looking for goodness in our own community, that we really want to work together to make sure everyone’s life here is good and going well.”

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Scared liar Alex Jones: U.S. has ‘colonized Minnesota with Somalis’ [VIDEO]

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CITY PAGES — On Monday, legendary Hollywood shitheel James Woods tweeted a video depicting Somalis at the Mall of America.

Are these things connected?

EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED! WAKE UP SHEEPLE!

This we learned from a nine-minute clip from Alex Jones, a disturbingly popular conspiracist who has never let the fact that everything he says is a lie detract from the fact that it would be scary if it was true.

After showing the same clip James Woods had posted, Jones begins: “Mall of America yesterday…”

Wrong. The video’s timing is unclear, but it was almost certainly taken during Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday which many Somali Minnesotans celebrate with a trip to the Mall of America. This year, Eid al-Adha fell on August 31 and September 1, which is only “yesterday” if you, like Alex Jones, have been awake for the last 10 weeks.

Here’s an NPR story (from 2006) about why Muslims go to the mall to celebrate Eid.

Hold us, we’re scared.

Ahem. Continue, Alex.

“Mall of America yesterday was about 95 percent Somali…”

Wrong. This one small part of the Mall of America (the Nickelodeon Universe) appears to be heavily Somali or East African… during a very brief clip… recorded, again, on a day when Muslims traditionally gather at the mall. The Mall of America is enormous, though: 500-something stores spread out over 4.9 million square feet of space.

This video shows a couple hundred people. The Mall of America averages more than 100,000 visitors a day. Most are white.

Anyway, sorry to cut you off again Alex, continue.

“Mall of America yesterday was about 95 percent Somali. Now, that’s the main area where they’ve been resettling for 40-plus years…”

Wrong. The vast majority of Somali-Americans emigrated to the United States (and Minnesota, specifically) as refugees from a civil war … during the 1990s. That’s not 40 years ago.

OK, sorry Alex. Proceed.

“Now, that’s the main area where they’ve been resettling for 40-plus years. The U.S. Government has been bringing Muslims in, from the most suppressive, most radical Muslim nation…”

Wrong. Those are subjective assertions to begin with, but, while Somalia is essentially tied for dead last in freedoms, it’s down there with countries — Saudia Arabia, Yemen — the U.S. considers its allies.

As for “most radical,” Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan — again, all U.S. allies — suffer more terrorist attacks than Somalia. And most terrorists or would-be terrorists who target America are from… America.

OK Alex, go on.

“The U.S. Government has been bringing Muslims in, from the most suppressive, radical Muslim nation, where women are sold at slave auctions to this day…”

Not wrong, per se, but misleading as hell. Jones is almost certainly referring to sex slavery as practiced by Al-Shabaab militants, a group which consists of maybe 9,000 people — in a country of 14 million.

The way Jones phrases it makes it sound like slave auctions in Somalia are sanctioned, and happening everywhere, all the time. It’d be like describing the United States as a “nation where people get shot at country music concerts,” or a “nation where people live in St. Cloud, Minnesota.”

Is there… more?

“The U.S. Government has been bringing Muslims in, from the most suppressive, radical Muslim nation, where women are sold at slave auctions to this day. It has the highest murder rate in the world…”

Wrong.

“It has the highest murder rate in the world, and women are seen as, basically, animals. Now, our government, as part of the diversity VISA program, has colonized Minnesota with Somalis.”

Oh, fuck this. This is going to take all day. Imagine how exhausting it would be if the people who watch Alex Jones — or feed this hokum into his teleprompter — cared whether what he said was even remotely true.

You can watch this clip if you want, but please, go in knowing virtually every single thing in Jones says is either provably incorrrect, or has been twisted beyond recognition into something pointy, which he then waves right in front of his terrified viewers’ bug-eyes. At one point Jones starts talking about “drag queen festivals.” At another, he calls Abdiraham — Jones calls him “Adderdam” (wrong), then “Abababa” (wrong) — “our new Somali God.” Then he says the word “zero” 16 times in a row. It’s… well, it’s pretty much like every other Alex Jones clip.

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Minnesota Somalis embrace Election Day

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MINNEAPOLIS – In the mid to late 1990’s, Minneapolis become home to thousands of Somali refugees.

We now have the largest population in the United States.

And today, on Election Day, we were shown something absolutely remarkable about our Somali community in Minneapolis’ Ward 6.

They voted early at seven times the rate of other areas in the city.

As first and second generation immigrants they are taking their civic duty to a record-breaking level.

Ali Isse has been getting out the vote early in Ward 6 and his response to this?

“It’s just a normal campaign. (We are) just working a little bit harder,” Isse said with a shrug.

That’s a humbling way to describe it but the reality is too important to not say out loud. These Somali Americans hold a passion to vote because they know, more than many of us born in the U.S. know what it means to be able to do so.

“This is one of our dreams you know, the reason that we are here because we never had a good democratic system and once you get one you will enjoy it and that’s why people are eager and happy to go out and make sure their voices are heard,” Isse said.

It’s simply beautiful really. To watch a community embrace democracy that way. Especially when that community hasn’t been as embraced by the American community.

“A lot of times we are a stereotyped like, oh Somalis they can’t integrate or they can’t get along with other people but that’s not true and this is one of the ways we can prove you know hey we just like everybody else,” Isse said.

Well, in this way, not even in the slightest with these kinds of voting numbers.

And to be specific to Ward 6, look at the city council race they are voting ON. A race with three Somali candidates.

“Even though we are still first and second generation here generally our community is very active in terms of what is going around on local and national level and there are a lot of issues now in terms of the immigrant refugees and all kind of things,” Isse said.

It’s a classic American idea. If you don’t like the way the system works, do two things. Vote. And. Run.

“We’d rather have more on the ballot than not and that’s something we are really proud about,” Isse said.

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