Above, Nimo Yusuf - just one of the many Somali-Americans who may be targeted by hate as the war on terror turns toward Somalia
They can be seen everyday on Minneapolis sidewalks, on buses, in Starbucks, or at Target. Somalis have made a home here. But in a post-bin Laden era, will Minnesotans turn against their new neighbors?
A recent NY Times article reports that American military forces are expanding their drone war into Somalia and Yemen, suspected breeding grounds for Al Qaeda.
Increased concentration on Somalia could result in a blinding of the Minnesotan populace, unable to see anything but a terrorist in their neighbor. Local Somalis risk becoming them, general and undifferentiated.
Minneapolis, nicknamed Little Mogadishu, is home to tens of thousands of Somali immigrants, and Minnesota boasts the nation's largest concentration. Many are naturalized citizens, fluent in English. But their style of dress, particularly that of females who wear the hijab or head scarf, makes them stand out.
I have worked with many Somalis, some as my ESL students, others as my colleagues in teaching. I even got the chance to meet the great Somali humanitarian, Hawa Abdi. It should - should - go without saying that Somalis are as diverse in beliefs and moral character as any other population. But once people get scared, all of a sudden they become blind to that diversity. Anyone associated with the object of fear is wrapped into it automatically. A blanket is thrown over their true faces, replaced by the featureless face of the Other.
The NY Times article concludes with this note:
More than 30 Somali-Americans from cities like Minneapolis have gone to fight in Somalia in recent years. Officials say they fear that Qaeda operatives could recruit those Americans to return home as suicide bombers. (Mazetti & Schmitt, 2010)
The quote does not state which factions, of the numerous splinter groups in Somalia, the thirty have joined. Many may be fighting against Al Qaeda sympathizers. Yet what do officials conclude? They all could be joining up with Al Qaeda.
Fear makes us paranoid. If we are not careful, anti-Somali hatred could explode in the months to come.
Let's not become blind to our fellow citizens and neighbors. Minnesota Somalis are Minnesotans.
Grizwold, E. (Nov. 1, 2010). Dr. Hawa Abdi & her daughters: The saints of Somalia. Glamour. Retrieved July 2, 2011, from: <http://www.glamour.com/women-of-the-yea
Knoll, M. (Dec. 14, 2010). Minnesota home to nation's largest Somali population. ABC Eyewitness News. Retrieved July 2, 2011, from: <http://kstp.com/news/stories/S1882964.s
Mazetti, M. & Schmitt, E. (July 1, 2011). U.S. expands its drone war into Somalia. NY Times. Retrieved July 2, 2011 from: <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/02/wor
UPDATE: White House weighs limits of terror fight NY Times (Congress debates the US's rights to kill who, how many, and why outside of Pakistan and Afghanistan)
UPDATE: Blowback in Somalia: How misguided US policty turned the country into a playground for Islamic militants AlterNet (tells the inside story of the US's new support for former Shabab-allied warlord Indha Adde)