Say the word “immigration” and everyone in the United States instantly thinks about Mexico and border patrol. Ask residents of Sweden, Finland and Norway what comes to mind with that same word and the reaction is far more reactive. They are experiences a rise in violence (particularly against women) in their small, historically peaceful countries that directly correlates to immigration. Somalian immigrants, people from a war-torn nation, have begun to find new homes around the world. But with the sudden surge of Somalians in the Scandinavian counties has come violence unfamiliar to them.
On the other hand, for many of the young Somalians, violence, suffering and degradation are all they have ever known. This is not a defense, merely a fact. Even more worrisome is the number of Somalians taking up residence in the U.S. This would be fine, as we are a nation based on the principle of bringing in dissidents from faraway lands to become one big happy melting pot. I like the idea of offering refuge to those who suffer. According to the Census Bureau, the St. Paul-Minneapolis community in Minnesota is now the largest Somali population outside of Mogadishu, with some 85,700 members. But with this emergence of a new group comes the issue of recruitment and religion that can no longer be ignored.
If you know nothing about Somalia, know this. It is a country nestled on the horn of Africa, between Ethiopia and Kenya. It has the longest coastline with over 10 million people of which the majority is Muslim. Its history is both compelling and complicated but in recent years, as drug lords and extremist groups (sometimes one in the same) vied for power the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) was formed in an attempt to control all the fractions. This, too, splintered into more radical groups, one such being Al-Shabaab, and any sense of government have failed, leaving its citizens to fend for themselves.
If you’re watching the news, you already know that the radical group Al-Shabaab is taking credit for killing over 60 people in the Kenyan shopping mall. The entire purpose was to kill non-Muslims and send Tweets around the world of their super brave moment of gunning down defenseless shoppers. While their Twitter accounts have been shut down, authorities have identified at least four of these terrorists as Somalian-Americans from, you guessed it, St. Paul-Minneapolis.
Herein lies the issue of recruitment. This is not a surprise to any government agency as most nations have been watching the aggressive recruitment process of Muslim extremists. But what was a surprise is the recruitment tactics going on here in the United States.
Young men, particularly African-American males, are being targeted as potential recruits in the U.S. prison system. That the extremists are looking for young men, lost in a system, typically poor and most often with very little education, is not a surprise. These are the same qualities found in the Middle Eastern and African extremists. What is frustrating is that any person with any sense of morality or decency could rationalize shooting a little girl because she wanted an education or beheading a teacher all in the name of their God.
It is important to note that Muslims and extremists are two very different groups and I have no issues with peace loving practicing Muslims. In fact, due to the nature of my father’s former job (Director of African Affairs at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C.), my family has had the pleasure of many friendships with Muslim families.
Such crazy groups as al-Qaeda or the Somali al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab are the minority but no less dangerous.
It was only when I spoke to a (former) prisoner that I understood how the hooks are put in. Years ago, I did an interview with a man who had spent his entire adult life in prison. He spoke candidly about the recruitment of religion in prison. Baptists, Methodists, Catholics and Muslims, to name a few, hand out literature and vie for time to teach. According to him, the biggest difference was that members of the Nation of Islam were actually fellow prisoners and were the most aggressive about the teachings. The set up was perfect, he said, as prisoners were unaware of splintered extremist groups that throw acid on little girls, gang rape women, or throw hand grenades in shopping malls. Instead, they focus on teaching about empowerment through Allah and prisoners, who would naturally crave some sort of empowerment while in prison, buy in. Then, with nothing but time to serve, the slow indoctrination begins.
As I wrote this piece, I hope not to receive any letters quoting the Holy Bible or criticizing the Quran (Koran). The purpose of this editorial is not to highlight one religion over another or to blaspheme any Holy teachings. I would, however, be remiss if I did not ask the Muslim community where they are in all of this. Practicing Muslim are appalled – quietly. They disapprove of such vile actions – quietly. The overwhelming majority of Muslims disagree with the cowardly acts of suicide bombings and the vicious assaults of women and children – quietly.
Even now as hostages are being held in the Kenyan shopping mall and people were shot specifically because they were non-Muslim, why are there not protests around the world within the Muslim communities to 1) show the rest of the world how detestable they find these acts of senseless violence and 2) stand up against the minority extremists? Can they not see that by remaining quiet for so many decades the minority is becoming more and more dangerous to both their own personal safety and to their religion? Do they not see that only they truly have to power to shut all this down? How can they remain still as women are brutalized, men tortured, nations and peoples are destroyed? If you feel so moved to write a letter, I would ask that you send a letter to the United Muslim Association or the United American Muslim Association with respectful inquiry.
Finally, let us ponder our new Miss America. While Muslim extremists are launching full-on attacks against innocent school children, Sunday shoppers and café patrons, words can also be destructive. With the crowning of our new Miss America came a barrage of hate Tweets, letters and blogs. Nina Davuluri, the first Indian-American Miss America, says she knew this would happen were she to win the crown. It is ironic that the unofficial tagline for Miss America is, “I wish for world peace.”
Apparently, you can only say that if you’re a white Christian. So, before we cast stones and tiaras, we must not judge other religions, races or cultures but we need to take a stand – not quietly – against hate and violence. After all, don’t we all want world peace?
Now residing in “the nicest city in Texas,” Alexandra Allred is the author of numerous books, including White Trash, Damaged Goods and the Allie Lindell series. Visit her website, www.alexandratheauthor, or Twitter @alexandraallred but always check out her column the WDL as she ponders all things Waxahachie and beyond its borders.