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Somali Refugees Are Not a Threat

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Slate — We still don’t know exactly what motivated the Ohio State student who wounded 11 people with his car and a knife on Monday, before a campus police officer shot and killed him. We know that the student, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, was a Somali refugee, and that he felt Muslims were subject to unfair scrutiny in his community, and in the United States in general. We know that he posted a rant on Facebook just minutes before the attack, saying he was “willing to kill a billion infidels in retribution for a single DISABLED Muslim.”

We also know that ISIS claimed credit for the attack on Tuesday, but that doesn’t tell us much. One of the group’s shrewdest strategies has been to embrace violent acts by Muslims around the globe, whether or not it played a direct role in them. The tactic makes the group seem more potent and broad-based than it really is. President-elect Donald Trump readily accepted this claim, highlighting the ISIS link along with Artan’s Somali background in a tweet on Tuesday.

The tweet echoed Trump’s past warnings about the threat posed by Somali refugees in the United States, suggesting they will face increased scrutiny under his presidency. It’s also possible that he will follow through on his campaign proposal to ban refugees from the country, despite the ongoing violence there. Somalis in Columbus, and across the country, are on edge: Many have children and other close relatives in Somalia, or in Kenyan refugee camps, who are in the midst of the already arduous application process for a family reunification visa.

To blame Somalis and ISIS for acts of violence like Artan’s, and to respond with a crackdown on the group as a whole, may strike some as an understandable reaction. But in fact, it is a misdiagnosis of the problem—and a deeply misguided solution. That’s not only because it’s unfair to blame the group for the sins of a tiny number of individuals. It’s also because it’s counterproductive and misses the point.

The time I’ve spent with Columbus’ Somali community, working on a master’s thesis about young Somalis and the threat of radicalization in 2010 and 2011, revealed that its troubles stem not from a lack of scrutiny, but a surfeit of it. Many of its members escaped the armed conflict in Somalia only to face new obstacles in the U.S. heartland: poverty, alienation, and a wholly justified sense of persecution. The reaction from Columbus Somalis in the wake of Artan’s attack was one of horror—at the act itself, but also at the likely consequences for their community. This was Somali Americans’ worst nightmare, and something that many of them have been working for years to prevent.

abdul-razak-artanTo be clear, Artan’s Facebook posts are scary, and his act was brutal. There’s no excusing it. And he is not the first Somali refugee in the United States to wish or inflict violence on innocent neighbors. In recent years, a handful of Somali refugees in Columbus, Minneapolis, and other cities have been linked with similar attacks, including a 22-year-old man of Somali descent who stabbed eight people in a Minnesota mall in September. ISIS claimed responsibility in that case, as well. There have also been multiple reports by the FBI of foiled plots involving Somali Americans in recent years, although it’s unclear in many cases to what extent the plots were serious to begin with. And a handful of young Somali Americans have either traveled or allegedly planned to travel to Somalia or Syria to join terrorist or insurgent groups. (There was also a foiled plot earlier this year in which three white Americans allegedly planned to blow up a Kansas apartment complex that was home to more than 100 Somali immigrants.)

No doubt Somalia is a troubled country, scarred by religious violence. That’s why people are fleeing, and why the United States has taken in some 100,000 refugees from the nation in the past 15 years. But based on what we know about the perpetrators, the troubles that lead to these sorts of attacks don’t seem to originate in Somalia, nor with ISIS or any other international terror group.

According to the New York Times, Artan left Somalia at a young age, finding refuge with his family in Pakistan before entering the United States two years ago. Once here, he seemed to thrive at first, graduating with honors from Columbus State Community College before transferring to Ohio State. Sources told the Times there was no evidence he harbored any radical ideology, at least until the Facebook rant. Nor does he seem to have been active in the local Muslim community.

The St. Cloud mall stabber, Dahir Adan, was born in a refugee camp in Kenya and had lived in the United States since age 2, becoming a U.S. citizen in 2008. Again, he did not seem to be part of any religious extremist groups, and indications were that he acted alone in the stabbing. To whatever extent these young men became radicalized, then, it seems to have happened here in the United States—and without the knowledge of others in their Somali American communities.

When I grew up in Columbus in the 1980s and 1990s, the city’s Somali-born population was negligible. The influx of refugees began in the early 2000s, when Somalia spiraled into chaos following a failed U.S. intervention and an Ethiopian incursion. When I returned in 2010, its population had boomed past 20,000. Estimates now put it closer to 38,000, if not more.

The Somali community in Columbus is, by American standards, quite poor and socially isolated. Muslim, black, and culturally foreign, it’s hard to imagine a group of people more likely to be marginalized in a Midwestern U.S. city. Add to that the language barriers and personal traumas that many Somali refugees face, and you have what seems like the perfect recipe for poverty, alienation, and ultimately, radicalization. No one who understands the situation can be shocked that a few Somali Americans have turned to violence, or that this violence has taken a form that resembles Islamic terrorism.

What’s surprising, if anything, is just how rare these outbursts have been. For all the publicity around a handful of stabbings and FBI stings, fewer than a dozen of the more than 100,000 U.S. Somali refugees have ever attempted anything like Artan did. And while the country has seen a spike in mass killings over the past 10 years, including many by white Americans, not one has been perpetrated by a Somali refugee. In other words, these refugees, despite everything stacked against them, have overwhelmingly rejected violence and radicalization.

This is not a fluke or an accident. Spend any time in Columbus’ Somali American community and you’ll quickly see that it is not a hotbed of anger or radicalism. Rather, it is a hotbed of entrepreneurial spirit, economic optimism, religious piety, and conservative family values. It is, in these respects, stereotypically American. Somalis in Columbus, as in other U.S. cities, have reinvigorated flagging neighborhoods by opening markets, restaurants, and community centers in vacant storefronts and shopping malls. A former T.J. Maxx in Northwest Columbus has become the Global Mall, a vibrant warren of Somali-owned businesses including halal grocers, clothing boutiques, and barber shops.

But there is one respect in which Somalis’ lives differ markedly from those of other Americans—even from other groups of poor immigrants or ethnic or religious minorities. The shadow of suspicion hangs over their heads constantly. FBI agents hang around their mosques. Police check up on them regularly to ask if they’ve heard of anyone becoming radicalized. They realize they may never again see their loved ones who remain in Somalia or Kenyan refugee camps, and they know that the reason is because many Americans fear them. “I had a Somali woman in my office today who has a 7-year-old daughter with a family-reunification application that has been pending for years,” says Angela Plummer, executive director of CRIS, a Columbus nonprofit that helps refugees find homes and jobs. “They’ve followed all the rules. I’m extremely worried that they may never be reunited. It’s devastating.”

It’s a feeling that Somali Americans deal with on a daily basis—the feeling of being feared, of being watched, of the deck being stacked against them. And the vast majority of them deal with it incredibly well.

But in any community, refugee or otherwise, there are people who struggle to get along in society, who feel socially untethered, out of place, hopeless, desperate, or angry—or suffer from mental illness. Being poor and isolated certainly doesn’t help. Nor does it help when your paranoia has some basis in reality—that is, when you really are being watched everywhere you go. In Somali communities, as in others, a few people deal with this poorly. Instead of bearing up, they break.

People can break by turning to drugs or gangs or weird cults, depending on their experiences and the cultural context. In Somali American communities, there’s a scarier alternative. It’s the one offered by ISIS, and by other extremist groups, and by a relatively small number of radical imams around the world, some of whom have online platforms. That alternative is to channel one’s discontent into religious fervor, hatred of the West, or a personal jihad of some sort—and, eventually, into a public act of violence against strangers. There are even specific blueprints available for how to do it. According to the New Yorker, the ISIS magazine Rumiyah last month published a special issue on knife attacksthat included highly detailed advice on blades and killing techniques.

Again, it’s impossible to know exactly what was in Artan’s head when he drove a car into pedestrians and stabbed people with a butcher’s knife. But the act appears to have had less in common with coordinated strikes by international terrorist groups than with the actions of other young Americans—mostly white and male—who open fire in a school, an office building, or a church. Jared Lee Loughner, Dylann Roof—these are young people who snapped, perhaps saw themselves reflected in a hate-filled cause, and decided to take others down with them.

“I don’t think Somali American youth are different from any other youth in the sense that they’re adolescents going through adolescence,” says Mohammed Farah, a third-year student at Ohio State who is the son of Somali refugees. “I do think Somali American youth may or may not be going through a lot, but we’re not a monolith.”

To attribute an act of violence by a troubled individual to ISIS is to play into the group’s hands. Not only does it boost ISIS’s stature, it sows the very enmity against Muslims in Western societies that fuels extremism’s appeal to the disaffected. It leads to headlines like this one on Fox News: “Ohio State attack latest stain on Somali community in Columbus.” (It was filed in the “Terror” section.) And Farah told me he is worried it could lead to even wider suffering than that which Artan himself inflicted. “Abdul Razak Ali Artan had 11 victims, and that is a tragedy,” Farah said. “I would hate for all refugees in America to also become his victims, and Donald Trump’s victims.”

The real problems in Somali refugee communities are not religious or geopolitical, but economic and social. The way to solve them is to help create the conditions for Somali refugees and their children to thrive, so that fewer of them even consider the option that Artan chose. That’s not an easy fix, either. But at least we’d all be in it together.

Source: Slate

UK

LONDON: Crowd pickets Wormwood Scrubs demanding justice following death of inmate

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GET WEST LONDON — More than two weeks on from the fatal stabbing of a young man in his Wormwood Scrubs prison cell a large crowd gathered outside the Shepherd’s Bush institution to protest.

Khader Ahmed Sahel, 25, was of Somali origin and his sudden death on January 31 has shocked and angered a tight knit community who believe it could have been prevented.

On Thursday (February 15) Khader’s mother, Amima Duleah, and his older brother, Said Yusuf, both from Northolt, Ealing, were among those to picket the prison’s gates in Du Cane Road, demanding justice.

Following his death Khader’s 20-year-old wife Salma has been left to bring up their two-year-old son, Ahmed, alone.

Speaking to getwestlondon Mr Yusuf, 29, described the last time he visited his brother in prison, he said: “His state was a bit bad, you could see the violence from his body – he’d been in fights inside

“He was mentioning that there was no safety inside and that there was neglect from the guards.

“He was scared inside the prison – for his life.”

He added: “We want justice for him and we would like for this prison to either be closed or to be fixed so this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

The protest was organised by Somali campaigning group Gaashaan, which has set up a petition asking the Ministry of Justice to combat the issue of violence in prisons and reassess the safety of inmates in institutions across the country.

Speaking to getwestlondon, Gaashaan leader Sahel Ali said: “We are coming together to protest against the brutal stabbing of an inmate of Somali ethnic background, Khader Sahel.

“Khader was 25 years old, he was at the beginning of his life, he left behind a family and a child.”
Salma Hassan, has been widowed aged 20 after her husband was fatally stabbed in Wormwood Scrubs prison on January 31 (Image: Salma Hassan)

He added: “There is nothing wrong with locking up people who commit crimes or break the law of the land but what we are unhappy, angry about and against is that people’s safety inside jails has been compromised.

“And this happened a month after a report was published highlighting a surge in prison violence – that is what people are angry about today.”

A prison inspection in December revealed a high surge in violence on top of chronic staff shortages and lack of food at Wormwood Scrubs.

Following the report Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said it painted “an extremely concerning picture.”

Wormwood Scrubs inmates Ahmed Khayre, 21, Enton Marku, 20, and Khalif Dibbassey, 21, all appeared at the Old Bailey charged with Mr Saleh’s murder on Tuesday (February 6).

The Recorder of London, Nicholas Hilliard QC, remanded all three defendants in custody.

Dutch national Mr Khayre, of HMP Belmarsh, British national Mr Marku, of HMP Wandsworth, and French national Mr Dibbassey, of HMP High Down, will return to court for a plea and trial preparation hearing on April 24.

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Canada’s institutions repeatedly failed former child refugee Abdoul Abdi

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The ethical case to fight the deportation of former child refugee Abdoul Abdi from Canada is a straightforward one with no visible shades of grey.

Yet it has ballooned into a needless battle exposing federal and provincial indifference to non-citizen children.

On Feb. 15, a Federal Court will hear an emergency request to temporarily stop Abdi’s deportation.

The broad strokes of Abdi’s story are these.

Instability was the only constant in the life of this man, born 24 years ago in Saudi Arabia to a Saudi father and Somali mother. He lived for four years at a refugee camp in Djibouti and then at age 6 landed in Canada along with his sister and aunts.

At age 8, child protective services scooped him and his sister out of their aunt’s home for reasons unknown. This is not surprising — research in Ontario last year showed Aboriginal and Black children are far more likely to be investigated and taken into care than white children.

The family now speculates this could be because their aunt, who didn’t speak much English, took too long to register them for school.

Abdi bounced around among not one or two or a dozen homes but 31 of them, some, he says, abusive situations. A study last year by Ontario’s Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth linked foster care experiences to later outcomes of homelessness and criminality, among others.
Abdi, too, got sucked into illegal activities.

When he messed up, he faced the consequences. About four years in prison for multiple offences, including aggravated assault.

He is also paying the price for errors by the system.

On Jan. 4, no alarm bells were sounded in the labyrinthine corridors of power in Canada, when Canada Border Services Agency officers arrested Abdi as he left prison after serving his sentence and was at the gates of a halfway house.

They were going to deport him, they said. Send him packing because it turned out the kid who grew up in Canada was not a Canadian citizen. His crown parents — the Department of Community Services — had never applied for a citizenship for him.

Where was he being banished? Not to Saudi, his birthplace, which might have been the logical though still unjustifiable choice, but to Somalia, the place of his mother’s ethnic origins, a place so dangerous that Canadian officials and planes don’t go there. A place whose language Abdi does not speak, and where he knows no one.

Repeatedly abandoned as a child, Abdi is now an officially unwanted adult.

It has taken a village, for us to hear of Abdi.

More accurately, it has taken a set of extraordinarily large-hearted individuals, many of whom have never met Abdi, but who are tied together by a passionate rejection of injustice to bring his story to the forefront of our nation’s conscience.

Last month, Halifax poet laureate and activist El Jones chronicled in the Halifax Examiner just one week of the collective action taken for Abdi.

In it she wove the stories of disparate lives criss-crossing through past injustices. How Jones came across Abdi via Coralee Smith, the mother of Ashley Smith who died in 2007, asphyxiated from a ligature tied around her neck as correctional officers watched.

How Abdi’s sister Fatouma courageously challenged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a town hall in Nova Scotia, thereby ensuring national attention on this case.

How Jones and journalist/activist Desmond Cole questioned Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen at a National Black Summit in that city, and endured criticisms of being disruptive and rude and not supporting a fellow Black minister.

“As though,” Jones writes, “having a Black man sign the deportation papers is progress.”

She writes of Abdi’s “fantastic” lawyer Ben Perryman who finds himself suddenly under the glare of media spotlight.

And of the near-misses, the small successes, the support and amplification from Black Lives Matter and academics/activists Rinaldo Walcott and Idil Abdillahi, and student activist Masuma Khan among others.

Here is an important thing:

“All of us have jobs, and school, and families,” she writes. “This isn’t even the only thing we’re advocating on this week, because there’s always more suffering, more rights being denied, more people in need.”

Yet Jones writes of hope, and of love that carries them forward.

Their undertaking serves to underline the inhumanity of the decisions that mark this case.

Federal minister of public safety Ralph Goodale refused to pause a deportation hearing while Abdi’s lawyers mount a constitutional challenge to his deportation. At its hearing on March 7, the Immigration and Refugee Board will not review the complexities of the case to decide if Abdi can enter or remain in the country, his lawyer told the CBC. His criminal record will inevitably lead to a deportation order, he said.

A deportation order would automatically strip Abdi’s permanent resident status.

No PR status means he can’t keep his job, means he risks going back to prison; being employed is a condition for his release.

And round and round it goes.

This is the face of institutions ganging up against vulnerable individuals. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told an audience in Quebec it’s time to recognize anti-Black racism exists in Canada. “Canada can and must do better,” he said.

What are we waiting for?

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Diaspora

Why a group of Seattle mothers and children came together to write their own alphabet book

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SEATTLE TIMES — Over meals of traditional food and tea, five Somali mothers and their children gathered in their NewHolly neighbourhood this past year to create a children’s book.

The Seattle families brought in family possessions, rooted in Somali culture, to be photographed to appear alongside the appropriate letter of the alphabet. The plan now is to distribute 1,000 copies of “Baro Af-Soomaali” locally, before marketing the book more broadly.

Necessity was the mother of invention for these families as they decided to do something about the fact that even in Seattle — where the Somali community is among the largest in the nation — there aren’t enough books in Somali.

The Seattle Public Library has about 200 books in Somali, according to the library system, and under half are children’s books. There are very few board books.

Packed into the NewHolly Gathering Hall in Southeast Seattle, a crowd of hundreds celebrated the launch Friday of the new children’s alphabet board book, “Baro Af-Soomaali,” for the Seattle Public Library system and beyond. The title translates to “learning Somali.”

The overarching goal of the project: to provide a tool for Somali parents who want to share their culture while teaching their children English.

During their workshops, each family was assigned letters and began creating artwork for the book. They brought in family possessions, rooted in Somali culture, to be photographed to appear alongside the appropriate letter of the alphabet. Next to “D,” for instance, is the word “Dambiil” and a picture of a basket.

Project leaders plan to distribute 1,000 copies of “Baro Af-Soomaali” locally, before marketing it to libraries, schools and retailers across the country and globe, according to the library system and Seattle Housing Authority. The book will also be available as a free PDF download on the system’s website.

The book was funded in part by The Seattle Public Library Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Race to the Top Deep Dive 3 with Puget Sound Educational Service District and Community Center for Education Results.

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