Thursday, December 4, 2008

Recruiting for Terror? Somali Minnesotans Missing, One Found Dead

Minnesotans are disappearing. They're Somalis, young men. Anywhere from 10 to 40 or more have dropped out of sight in the last year.

One of them came back to his family recently, dead.

The odds are pretty good that he's one of the suicide bombers who went off in Somalia during October.

It took DNA tests to identify what was left as Shirwa Ahmed, 27, but now his body has been returned and his family could give him a traditional Muslim burial.

The executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in Minneapolis, Omar Jamal, puts the number of missing men at between 15 and 20 over the last year. (Los Angeles Times" (November 27, 2008)

Somali Americans, Terrorism, Bias, and Common Sense

There's something odd going on in the Star-Tribune coverage of the disappearing Somali men in Minneapolis. About a week ago, an article explained why Somalis go back to Somalia:

"Many would like to return to their homeland someday. Some even do. But if they go, they say it's only to gain fresh perspective -- not to fight...."

Fair enough. That article led with what a clothing store owner, Ilyas Maye, had to say about going to Somalia for a visit. I found his situation familiar. Some Norwegians in the Red River Valley of the North, where I grew up, would visit the old country after they'd settled and started living the American dream.

That's not the America the Star-Tribune lives in, though. Later in the article:

"...Many [Somalis] have found only disappointment here -- lost jobs, trouble with the law, poor prospects. So, he said, they go back to Somalia for a fresh start or to reconnect with their culture. Or, he [Ilyas Maye, the store owner] said, 'to do something good.'

"But federal officials continue to investigate whether some young Somali men are returning to their homeland with more dangerous intentions, a source familiar with the case said, adding that several have left the Twin Cities in recent months. What authorities are trying to determine is whether they are participating in terrorist activities...."
(Minneapolis Star-Tribune (November 26, 2008))

"But federal officials continue to investigate...." I get the impression that the Star-Tribune thinks it's unreasonable for federal officials to investigate the possibility that terrorists are kidnapping or recruiting American citizens, because of what the clothing store owner said.

I believe that Ilyas Maye said that, and that there is an element of truth in his statement. I do not, however, accept the idea that Somalia is a land of opportunity for those fleeing a suspicious and hostile America.

And, I do not think that it's unreasonable for federal officials to look into whether terrorist organizations are recruiting American citizens.

Now that what was recoverable of Shirwa Ahmed has come home, the Star Tribune published a moving description of his burial, and this interesting statement:

"...But his death -- and the reported disappearance of as many as 10 young Somali men -- continues to fuel rumors, fear and anger among Minneapolis' Somali community. Some worry that local men have been indoctrinated at local mosques to return to the land of their families to fight. Others question the motives of those who have raised alarm without providing hard proof...."
(Minneapolis Star-Tribune (December 3, 2008))

The Star-Tribune is down to 10 missing Somali men. And, "...Others question the motives of those who have raised alarm without providing hard proof...."

What, it's not nice to talk about terrorist organizations talking American citizens into becoming suicide bombers?

I know: there are those who think of themselves as 'real Americans.' They see more recent immigrants as "those people." Bias is a very real human phenomenon. People can be biased against Somali immigrants; immigrants in general; and the FBI.

Minnesotans are Disappearing - This is a Problem for All of Us

I think it's doing Somalis in Minnesota a disservice to maintain a polite silence while young men go missing. Sure: someone here or there will think that all those Somalis are terrorists. Odds are, they'll think that no matter what's in the news.

The fact remains that Minnesotans are dropping out of sight, and that one of them showed up very dead: probably as the star player in a suicide bombing.

I'm with Omar Jamal, when he says of Shirwa Ahmed, " 'Honestly I look at him seriously as a victim and not as a criminal, I think of him as a young victim,'..."
(FOX 9 (December 3, 2008))

I think it's very possible that Shirwa Ahmed was a suicide bomber: and I'm not excusing that act. But I also think that people can be persuaded: Particularly if the persuader claims to be using the authority of their religious beliefs.

There is no way of knowing what was in his mind. What is certain is that he is dead, and that others may be killed if terrorists are recruiting young men for what they see as a holy war.

Minnesota isn't the only state where terror recruiting seems to be going on: but it's where I live, which makes the targeting of Minnesotans a rather personal matter for me.

A Little Common Sense, Please

I'd be a happy camper, if more news services got a grip and realized that:
  • Somalis in America are people - not a socio-ethnic mass
  • People disappearing is important, and should be discussed: even if a few bigots will make wild statements
  • Somalia is probably not a better place to find work than America - even these days
Happily, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune isn't the only news outlet around. Some seem a bit more willing to see people as worthwhile individuals, not ethnic and economic masses.

I found this a touching comment on the farewell Shirwa Ahmed's family gave him:

"...During the funeral Wednesday, Shirwa Ahmed was neither celebrated as a martyr, nor condemned as a killer. He was buried simply as a Muslim man, who died so close, yet so far, from home."
(FOX 9 (December 3, 2008))

News and views: Related posts, on tolerance, bigotry, racism, and hatred.

Background: Somalis in Minnesota

Quite a few people coming to America from Somalia move to Minnesota. It's not the climate that attracts them: it's the jobs.

Minnesota has produced the most turkeys per year in America five times during 2000-2007 (USDA). That means that over 40,000,000 Minnesota turkeys have to be processed each year.

There are a lot of chickens around here, too: 46,600,000 in 2007. That's not in the same league as Georgia's 1,471,000,000 cacklers, but the Minnesota birds have to be processed, too. (USDA)
What Does This Have to Do With Somali Immigrants?
Getting a job in any country is a bit challenging, if you don't speak the local language. Most people in America speak English: and many of the Somali immigrants are, at best, less than fluent in that language.

Some jobs, like taking chickens and turkeys apart, don't need well-developed language skills, so quite a few Somali wage-earners get jobs in Minnesota packing plants. It's not exactly a glamor career: but it puts food on the table.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.