AVOID MUSLIM SOMALIA
Christmas celebrations banned in Somalia, Tajikistan and Brunei
December 23, 2015
Somalian government declared holiday is ‘only for Christians’ and festivities could prompt attacks from al-Shabaab, as other countries issue strict warnings.
The governments of three countries – Somalia, Tajikistan and Brunei – have banned Christmas celebrations this year, with punishments ranging up to a five-year jail term.
Somalia issued a ban on Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in the Muslim country on Wednesday, saying the festivities “have nothing to do with Islam”.
“We warn against celebration of Christmas, which is only for Christians,” Sheikh Mohamed Kheyrow, director of Somalia’s ministry of religion, said on state radio. “This is a matter of faith. The Christmas holiday and its drum beatings have nothing to do with Islam.” He said the ministry has sent letters to the police, national security intelligence and officials in the capital Mogadishu instructing them to “prevent Christmas celebrations”.
The announcement had echoes of Islamist militants al-Shabaab, which controlled the capital Mogadishu until 2011. Among their edicts was to ban Christmas celebrations.
It was not immediately clear what prompted the government announcement. Somalia is almost entirely Muslim, but it hosts thousands of African Union (AU) peacekeepers, including from the majority-Christian countries Burundi, Uganda and Kenya. The country, which is struggling to emerge from two decades of fighting and chaos, has also seen a growing number of Somalis returning from Europe and North America, sometimes bringing foreign traditions and attitudes with them.
Officials also said that Christmas celebrations may attract attacks from the Islamist militants al-Shabaab.
“Christmas will not be celebrated in Somalia for two reasons; all Somalis are Muslims and there is no Christian community here. The other reason is for security,” Abdifatah Halane, spokesman for Mogadishu mayor, told Reuters. “Christmas is for Christians. Not for Muslims.”
Last 25 December, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for an attack on the main AU base in Mogadishu, which lasted several hours and left three peacekeepers and a civilian contractor dead.
The majority Muslim but nominally secular central Asian republic of Tajikistan has also issued its toughest-ever ban on seasonal celebrations, banning Christmas trees and gift-giving in schools.
The country has been cracking down on Christmas and New Year’s in recent years, and banned Father Frost – Russia’s equivalent of Santa Claus – from television screens in 2013. Halloween celebrations in the capital, Dushanbe, have also been targeted by police, with revellers dressed as zombies and vampires reportedly being detained in 2013 and 2014.
The oil-rich sultanate of Brunei, has also banned Christmas celebrations, under a shift towards hardline Islamic law. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, one of the world’s richest men, announced last year he would push ahead with the introduction of sharia law, eventually including tough penalties such as death by stoning or severed limbs.
Religious leaders in the sultanate warned this month that a ban on Christmas would be strictly enforced, for fear that Muslims could be led astray. “Using religious symbols like crosses, lighting candles, putting up Christmas trees, singing religious songs, sending Christmas greetings … are against Islamic faith,” imams said in sermons published in the local press.
Punishment for violating the ban is a five-year jail sentence, and the government warned last year that Muslims would be committing an offence if they so much as wore “hats or clothes that resemble Santa Claus”.
Although Christians are free to celebrate, they have been told not to do so “excessively and openly”, in a directive that has had a chilling effect on the south-east Asian nation, which sits on a corner of Borneo island.
Businesses have been warned to take decorations down and authorities have stepped up spot checks across the capital. Hotels popular among western tourists that once boasted dazzling lights and giant Christmas trees are now barren of festive decor. “This will be the saddest Christmas ever for me,” a Malaysian expatriate resident told AFP, requesting not to be named for fear of reprisals from authorities. “The best part of Christmas Day is waking up and having that feeling that it is Christmas, but there’s just none of that here and you just feel deprived.
“All this is just because of what the sultan wants. In 2013, I saw many Muslims together with Christians having a good time at their house parties. Everything was normal and good,” he said.
Most people are too scared to speak up about the ban, and while some privately gripe about the rule they know there is little to be done. “I will be working on Christmas after church. We just have to cope,” a Filipino waitress – one of Brunei’s many guest workers – said.
Some people dared to post pictures on social media depicting Christmas cheer using the hashtag #MyTreedom, part of a global campaign to highlight oppression against Christians. At least one church in the capital sported decorations that were visible from the street, a rare glimpse of holiday cheer in the otherwise decoration-free city.
“The ban is ridiculous. It projects this image that Islam does not respect the rights of other religions to celebrate their faith,” said a Muslim mother in the capital, also too scared to provide her name. “Islam teaches us to respect one another and I believe it starts with respecting other religions even if what is being banned are ornamental displays.”
Others were more tempered, and urged the prohibition to be respected. “It is an Islamic country and so with respect to the law, churches need to keep decorations indoors,” said a Christian Bruneian, unfazed by the strict rules. “The meaning of Christmas for us isn’t all about Christmas decorations.”
However, the prohibition does not extend to the business interests of the sultan, whose estimated $20bn fortune includes the historic Beverly Hills Hotel – part of his Dorchester Collection with branches in London, Paris, Milan and Rome.
It is Christmas as usual this year in the upscale Le Richemond hotel in Geneva where guests are greeted by lavish displays in the hotel lobby, include bowls overflowing with pine branches, ornaments and candles aplenty. The Le Meurice hotel in Paris advertises a Christmas eve seven-course gourmet menu for €650 – before drinks – while the Beverly Hills Hotel is also decked out for the holidays.
Before unveiling the hardline law, the sultan had warned of pernicious foreign influences such as the internet and indicated he intended to place more emphasis on Islam in the conservative Muslim country.
Strict rules against homosexuality in sharia law, punishable with death by stoning, sparked a backlash among A-listers including John Legend, Jay Leno, Ellen DeGeneres and Richard Branson, who called for the hotels to be boycotted.
The sultan is no stranger to controversy at home either – the monarchy was deeply embarrassed by a family feud with his brother Jefri Bolkiah over the latter’s alleged embezzlement of $15bn during his tenure as finance minister in the 1990s.
Court battles and investigations revealed salacious details of Jefri’s un-Islamic jetset lifestyle, including claims of a high-priced harem of foreign women and a luxury yacht he owned called “Tits”. Some say that Brunei is on a dangerous path towards religious intolerance in a state where only 9% of its 430,000 population are Christian.
a globalised world, many countries are trying to unite different people
and different religions but it doesn’t seem to be the case here,” a
Catholic foreign worker in Brunei told AFP. “What’s happening here is
that Christians are being alienated from the majority Muslim community.”
12 Are Killed in Bombing Outside Hotel in Somalia
By MOHAMMED IBRAHIM
The New York Times
JULY 26, 2015
Somalia — A vehicle packed with explosives detonated outside a landmark
Mogadishu hotel long favored by diplomats and top government officials,
killing at least 12 people and wounding many more, witnesses and the
authorities said on Sunday.
Jazeera Palace Hotel, close to both Mogadishu’s airport and a United
Nations compound, was heavily guarded and had been considered one of
the safer places in the city, despite previous attacks.
on Sunday afternoon, a suicide bomber, driving on Airport Road, got to
within about 100 feet of it before triggering a thunderous blast that
ravaged the hotel and sent smoke billowing skyward.
Shabab, an Islamist extremist group, claimed responsibility for the
bombing, saying it was in retaliation for the killing of civilians
during a recent offensive by Somali and African Union troops against
Shabab forces in the southern part of the country.
of the people known to have been killed or wounded were pedestrians or
motorists. It was not immediately clear if the bombing, which also
destroyed several neighboring houses, had caused injuries or deaths
inside the hotel.
A man who lives near the hotel said he was watching television when the blast occurred.
the explosion happened, I saw myself laying on the ground and the
television set as I was watching broke apart onto the ground,” said the
man, who asked not to be identified because he feared for his safety.
resident said he had seen at least 10 bodies. Hotel employees said on
Sunday evening that at least three of its guards were among the dead.
Abdikarim, a journalist with Universal TV, a Somali network that has
its headquarters in London, was killed in the attack, and a colleague,
Salmaan Jamaal, was wounded. They had been in a car on Airport Road,
according to Abdullahi Hersi, the East Africa director of Universal TV.
“We will miss Mohamed,” Mr. Hersi said. “He was our correspondent in the Gedo region and was on a business trip to Mogadishu.”
Photographs from the scene showed the hotel in ruins. It housed several embassies, including those of Qatar, Egypt and China.
In a statement, Somalia’s president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, strongly condemned the bombing, which he called a terrorist attack.
“The terrorists want to obstruct the people’s choice to live in peace, which will never happen,” he added.
recent African Union and Somali campaign against the Shabab seized two
strategic towns, Bardera in the Gedo region and Dinsoor in the Bay
region, as well as several villages. The offensive unfolded shortly
before President Obama’s visit to East Africa.
In his statement, Mr. Mohamud said that those defeats had led the militants to attack civilians.
In January 2014, the police beat back an assault on the hotel by armed gunmen and suicide bombers.
In September 2012, suicide bombers tried to assassinate Mr. Mohamud at the hotel shortly after his election.
The Shabab also claimed responsibility for the killing of a lawmaker in Mogadishu on Saturday.
Somali Militant Group Executes Girls Accused of Spying
Voice of America
28 October 2010
The Somali government has condemned the public
execution of two teenage girls, killed by the Islamist militant group al-Shabab.
An al-Shabab firing squad killed the two girls Wednesday in the city of Beledweyne, on charges that they had spied for the government. Hundreds of people watched the execution after al-Shabab called on the town's residents to observe.
In a statement Thursday, Somalia's government called the killing a barbaric act and said it had no Islamic or humanitarian justification.
An al-Shabab judge says the two girls admitted to spying after being arrested last week by Islamist fighters.
The aunt of one of the girls told VOA Somali service that the girl's parents knew she had been arrested but did not learn of her death sentence until al-Shabab sent out vehicles with loudspeakers, urging the public to attend the execution.
She identified the girls as 15-year-old Ayan Mohamed Jama and 14-year-old Horiyo Ibrahim.
Al-Shabab has carried out other executions along with amputations and whippings in the parts of Somalia under its control.
The group, which has declared allegiance to al-Qaida, aims to topple the Somali government and turn the country into a strict Islamic state.
Somalia Violence Continues as Militants Declare War
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
A Somali hotel frequented by lawmakers in the region was attacked Tuesday, just one day after a radical Muslim group warned of a new "massive war" in the country.
At least 35 people were killed in the Muna Hotel bombing, including six parliamentarians.
The attack only extended an outbreak of violence that rattled the capital city Mogadishu, Monday, when 40 civilians died in fighting between al-Shabab and Somali and African Union troops.
Al-Shabab fighters declared war against what they called invaders and are believed to be in control of much of Somalia.
The country has not had an effective government for nearly 20 years.
Al-Shabab has increased its attacks in recent months. The U.S. has linked the group to al-Qaeda.
Last month, the group claimed twin bombings in Uganda during the World Cup final, killing 76 people.
Somalia is recovering from a period of ten years without a central Government and civil war. Even before this, the country was ridden by poverty and women's situation was difficult. Thus, there is little reliable data available from Somalia from the lost decade of the 1990's. We know, however, that the Somali society, basically rural, is mostly traditionalist and holds on to Muslim and non-Muslim practices. As there has been no central Government for ten years to enforce the law, one can expect that traditional law has only grown stronger. The Somali interpretations of Islam are generally not favourable to women's rights, and include the almost universal practice of female genital mutilation.
Large areas of Somalia are not under control of the new government in Mogadishu. Somaliland in the northwest, drawing its history back from the British colony Somaliland, unilattery declared its return to independence in 1991. Somaliland has been polically stable since independence, but is not recognised by any country. Little is known about women's situation in Somaliland, although the country's constitution provides for equal rights, including special rights to education. The constitution is however partly based on the Muslim Shari' a laws. One can assume the tradistional practices remain strong in rural Somaliland.
The northeastern corner of the country is presently independent under the name of Puntland, a more unstable state not recognising the Mogasishu government but claiming it works for the unification of Somalia in a federal state. The situation of women in Puntland is not well known.
The legal information below will refer to Somalia under control og the Mogadishu government. Information on Somali traditional can be expected to have the same validity in Somalia proper as in Puntland and Somaliland.
Women are subordinated systematically in the country's overwhelmingly patriarchal culture. Polygyny is permitted, but polyandry is not. Under laws issued by the former government, female children could inherit property, but only half the amount to which their brothers were entitled.
According to the tradition of blood compensation, those found guilty in the death of a woman must pay only half as much to the aggrieved family as they would if the victim were a man.
Violence against women is known to exist in Somalia. About 98% of all Somali females undergo FGM. Infibulation is the form practiced. Women in Somalia averagely give birth to 7,18 children (2000 est.)
Women are subordinated systematically in the country's overwhelmingly patriarchal culture. Polygyny is permitted, but polyandry is not. Under laws issued by the former government, female children could inherit property, but only half the amount to which their brothers were entitled. Similarly, according to the tradition of blood compensation, those found guilty in the death of a woman must pay only half as much to the aggrieved family as they would if the victim were a man.
is no national judicial system in Somalia. The judiciary in most
regions relies on some combination of traditional and customary law,
Shari 'a law, the penal code of the pre-1991 Siad Barre government, or
some combination of the three. For example in Bosasso and Afmedow
criminals are turned over to the families of their victims, which then
exact blood compensation in keeping with local tradition. Shari 'a
courts continues to operate in several regions of the country, filling
the vacuum created by the absence of normal government authority. Shari
'a courts traditionally ruled in cases of civil and family law, but
extended their jurisdiction to criminal proceedings in some regions
beginning in 1994. In the northwest, the self-proclaimed Republic of
Somaliland adopted a new constitution based on democratic principles,
but continues to use the pre-1991 Penal Code. A U.N. report issued in
September notes a serious lack of trained judges and of legal
documentation in Somaliland, which cause problems in the administration
of justice. In Bardera courts apply a combination of Shari 'a law and
the former penal code. In south Mogadishu, a segment of north
Mogadishu, the Lower Shabelle, and parts of the Gedo and Hiran regions,
court decisions are based solely on Shari 'a law. The five Islamic
courts operating in Mogadishu are aligned with different subclans,
raising doubts about their independence. The courts generally refrained
from administering the stricter Islamic punishments, like amputation,
but their militias administered summary punishments, including
executions, in the city and its environs. With the collapse in December
1998 of the Shari'a courts in north Mogadishu headed by Sheikh Ali
Dere, the application of physical punishment appears to have ceased.
The right to representation by an attorney and the right to appeal do not exist in those areas that apply traditional and customary judicial practices or Shari 'a law. These rights more often are respected in regions that continue to apply the former government's penal code, such as Somaliland.
The traditional practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is near-universal in this country. About 98% of women undergo this harmful procedure. Infibulation, the most dangerous form of FGM, is the common practice in Somalia
. Main sources: U.S. Department of State, CIA, Mundo negro
Hyphenated identities, fractured lives
Somali immigrants make Rochester their home
"When you flee your country, you don't even know where you're going, what direction you're going. You say, 'OK, I need to save my life.'"
IsseAbukar pulls out a box of pictures, a postcard of Mogadishu, Somalia, before it was ravaged by civil war, and a business card, frayed and yellow with age. The box, says Abukar --- a former partner in his family's weaving company --- contains everything he brought from his motherland.
In a classroom at the FamilyLearningCenter, a city school district program that holds classes for non-native English speakers, another Somali describes her family: herself, her husband, and three children. American life is good, she says through a translator. She has, she claims, never experienced much loneliness or culture shock or linguistic barriers. Later in the interview, however, she breaks down and cries. There is a fourth child left in Somalia, a daughter that immigration services refuse to recognize as part of her family. "Always, she calls and she's crying," the woman says. "And then I start crying." For the briefest moment, the woman's pain takes shape, becomes palpable. "I don't want to talk about her," she says, and she rises from her seat. A door clicks.
A tiny box; a tiny omission; a tiny store of memories containing only those things worth remembering. There is no denying it: Compared to the dangers of living in a refugee camp or hiding from rebel forces or wondering if there will be enough water to last the day, this life is better. This is heaven. This is home? Maybe.Sometimes. It depends.
Those unfamiliar with African culture and history tend to see all Somalis --- and indeed all Africans --- as a single entity. But for Somalis, who watched their country disintegrate into civil war 15 years ago, the lines dividing them run deep. Clan loyalties dominate, and though many Somalis in America and elsewhere are working to shed those distinctions, time beats to a slow drum. Somalia itself is in ruins. Anarchy reigns.
But if suffering could be measured, few would know its depths as keenly as the Somali Bantu, a minority group that has suffered centuries of social and educational marginalization. The Bantus first came to Somalia in the 18th century as slaves from Mozambique and Tanzania, but few of them managed to assimilate into mainstream society even after slavery ended in the early 1900s.
The Bantus became especially vulnerable when civil war broke out in 1991. Because agriculture networks collapsed with the war, the largely agrarian Bantus were among the few with stockpiles of food. Lacking clan protection due to their minority status, both bandits and civilian Somalis robbed, raped, and killed Bantus with impunity. An estimated 10,000 Bantu had fled to Kenyan refugee camps by 1994. In the camps, however, Kenyans and Somali refugees continued to target the Bantus, who were forced to set up along the compound's dangerous outskirts.
Recognizing that Somali Bantus could never return to their homeland, the United States government agreed to let 12,000 Bantu refugees resettle here about five years ago. It was among this country's largest relocation efforts in two decades, and its largest effort ever with African refugees. The first wave of Bantu refugees began arriving in 2002. Typical of refugees from other countries, most Bantus relocated to smaller cities, where resettlement agencies hoped they would experience less disorientation and culture shock.
In Rochester, there are now more than 300 Somali families, of which about 60 are Bantu. Ironically, as the two groups begin to reconcile their differences thousands of miles from home, it is often the Somali refugee who is best equipped to help the Bantu. Whereas most Bantus cannot speak Somali, the country's main dialect, many educated Somalis can speak at least a rudimentary form of the Bantu dialect, MaayMaay. They are also more likely to have acquired some English either during their time in America or in Somali schools.
While refugees in general face a host of challenges upon arriving in this country, from securing a job to learning English, Somalis and Somali Bantus often view their role in this country from different vantage points. What it means to be Somali-American fragments, to some extent, along class lines.
For Abukar, a senior member representative for the Genesee Co-Op Federal Credit Union, the overarching goal has been to regain what he lost when he came to the United States 10 years ago. "You see, when I start I was working different jobs," he says. "Any job I go, I don't care, you know, what I'm doing. But I was just looking about how I can support my family. Second, I was thinking about how you can change your life. Right now, I have skilled job. Still I'm not happy. You know why? Because I'm not free, because I work for someone. I used to have my own business. I never worked nobody; my father never worked nobody."
Jennifer Carroll, a family doctor with BrownSquareHealthCenter on Lyell Avenue, says Abukar's attitude is typical of those who have lost everything. "When you see that kind of dramatic drop in socioeconomic status, in the best-case scenario you work really hard to get back to where you were," she says.
But for Somali Bantus, dreaming --- even the ability to dream --- can be new and disorienting. Says 21-year-old Aweys Hussein, a Bantu who relocated here with his wife and family three years ago: "We wasn't happy. It was difficult. We don't know where we can go. It was a difficult life." Hussein's come a long way, though. Aside from becoming a father, he managed to move into his own apartment, find a job at Wegmans, and begin working toward his GED. His 18-year-old wife, BisharaKasim, is in 10th grade at JeffersonHigh School. She wants to be a doctor. And in a society that values large families, Kasim is thinking the unthinkable: two kids. But they are young and less set in their ways than their elders.
Through a translator, Hussein's father, AbdurahimMukumbira, says he hopes to own a house in a few years. But with eight children, including one just born a few months ago, limited English ability, and a job as a dishwasher at an AIDS clinic, Mukumbira must still rely on food stamps, Medicaid, reduced-price school lunches, and housing allowances. His wife stays home to tend to the baby. Asked if he wants any more children, Mukumbira chuckles. "Only God knows that," he says.
For all their differences in social status, age, and upbringing, Carroll, who has been studying the Somali community for a decade, says Somalis are bound by one of humanity's darkest and most powerful forces: trauma. "The cross-sectional studies that have been done across a variety of refugee populations show routinely across the board that over 85 percent to 90 percent have either felt their life directly threatened or witnessed the life of a loved one being threatened," she says. "The scope of exposure to traumatic experiences is staggering."
Dehydration, starvation, poverty, attackers in the bushes, unemployment, despair, nightmares: This is a refugee camp. It is a place, says Abukar, where air and waterborne diseases run rampant, where the line between life and death dims."If you need to survive, it's fine. If you need to die, it's fine," he says. "There's no medication. If you're sick and you need to go to hospital, and if you don't have money, you will die. My mom, she died in the refugee camp. Malaria. Not big disease. Malaria only."
How one responds to trauma differs from person to person, says Carroll, but she adds that many Somalis externalize emotional concerns as physical ones. That means that joint pain can signify muscle-clenching flashbacks; headaches, recurring nightmares. "There is some stigma about which symptoms get expressed and which don't," Carroll says.
But refugees here know that they are the lucky ones. That knowledge, however, carries with it the weight of responsibility. Traumatic disorders compound present-day stresses: the guilt of abandoning loved ones, the expectation of happiness, and the strains of poverty. "Another cause of mental problems that emerged is the theme of post-migration stress, such as protracted economic strain in the United States with the pressure to provide for family members remaining in Africa," wrote Carroll in a University of Rochester-funded study of how mental illness is understood, expressed and treated among Somali refugees.
MuminaShangolo, a full-time student at the FamilyLearningCenter, says finances are very tight these days. Her husband earns minimum wage and can barely support his family of five, and Shangolo periodically sends money to Africa so her father and sister can buy their medications.
Many Somalis' economic troubles are exacerbated by their large immediate families --- an asset turned liability. Abukar jokes that in Somalia, children are like social security: The more one has, the better the retirement options. Not true in America, though, where the cost of living is among the highest in the world.
Despite their myriad pressures, Somalis seldom receive private counseling, says Carroll. This disinclination toward psychiatric care likely stems from several factors, from Somalis' reluctance to discuss personal matters with a stranger to fears associated with riding public buses where signs are entirely in English.
Moreover, one of the greatest challenges for both psychiatric and medical practitioners is finding translators who speak English, MaayMaay and Somali. As it stands, many Bantus struggle to communicate through their former persecutors. "The Somali Bantus were a slave class. I've had Somali Bantus look at a translator who's more of a Somali background and say, 'Every time I look at that guy I see the guy who shot my father and raped my sister,'" says Louise Bennett, a family doctor with Westside Health Services on Genesee Street.
NibhanGudle, a Somali translator at Westside, says the need for both Bantu and female translators is essential to meet the needs of his community. He has, he says, seen many cases where patients respond to doctors' questions based on what they think he would expect to hear. Others simply never come back. "They say, 'OK, thank you very much. We'll be back to you.' That's it, they're gone," he says.
"Gone." These anonymous patients fade into Rochester life, much as they would have faded into life at a refugee camp, or hidden from rebels on the long trek to the Kenyan border, or, for women, shielded sexual assaults or rapes from family members.
The silent and the invisible --- few fit this definition better than Somali women. Born into a traditional Muslim culture, Somali women seldom receive education or work outside the home. Virginity at marriage is sacrosanct and most sexual crimes go unreported, says Carroll, who has spent the last year interviewing 34 Somali women with funding from the Department of Health and Human Services. "A lot of women who had been raped or sexually assaulted and several of whom had acquired HIV as a result didn't want that information included in their asylum claim even if it would be their ticket to freedom to the US," she says. "To them it would be better to have their asylum claim denied than to let people know what happened."
In addition, while female circumcision is a taboo here in America, some studies report that more than 90 percent of Somali women undergo the procedure, which ranges in severity from removal of part of the clitoris to excision of all of the clitoris and labia minora. "When I first started taking care of this community, I didn't know how to approach the issue," Carroll says. "But I would be remiss if I didn't address this because it's part of women's health."
While most Americans' reaction to the procedure is one of shock, even revulsion, many Somali women think that in light of current hardships, now is not the time to attack the time-honored tradition, Carroll says. So her approach has been to ask women if they have been circumcised, if they're experiencing any difficulties, and then move on. "Keep the moralizing, keep the political stuff out of it. Just focus on what is the meaning of this for this particular person right now. That's how I think about it," she says.
One of the greatest challenges of her project, says Carroll, was simply convincing the women that their stories were worth telling. "One of the lessons we learned as part of our project was that in certain countries or backgrounds where women don't have the same role as men...and often don't have the same educational opportunities or opportunities to become independent outside the home, they're not used to people asking their opinions about things. A common answer that we would get is, 'Well, I can't tell you anything that you don't already know. You're the doctor.' So engaging women in ways that would really allow them to speak freely and comfortably about their own experiences was actually harder than it might seem," says Carroll, who relied on female interpreters only.
HassanAbdi, an Ethiopian-born Somali who has been in America for 15 years, says Somalis must also re-evaluate gender roles. "It's not hard to change," he says. "It's a matter of not knowing how to change." Often, he says, men tell their wives that it's OK if they don't work or get a driver's license or learn English. The thought process, he says, goes like this: "I tell my wife not to drive. I'm thinking I'm doing positive. Now, 10 years, five years later, what I'm thinking now? 'Oh shit, she can't drive.'"
Ironically, says AbdullahiJama, a Somali case manager for CatholicFamilyCenter, a long history of subjugation actually helps Bantu women adjust to life in America. Compared to Somali women from more advantaged backgrounds, these women are more willing to use public transportation and get jobs, however menial, he says.
This role reversal is evident at the FamilyLearningCenter, where most of the Somali students are of Bantu origin. "Bar, car, F-F-F, fff, faaar," enunciates ESL teacher, Robert Shaver. The class repeats after him. A few giggle as Shaver feigns falling off the desk, saying: "Don't ffffall off the desk."
Surrounded by their peers, their kids safe in the day care center downstairs, the women appear relaxed, at ease. Asked why she wants to learn English, HawaMsanda, a mother of five, says through a translator that then she will be able to do everything: drive a car, buy groceries, maybe even get a job. Her days before the learning center, she says, consisted of getting the kids ready for school and housekeeping. Even that was OK, though, she says --- much better than the 15 or so years she spent at the refugee camp.
For the women and men who spend seven hours a day, five days a week in a classroom, the struggle to learn English is admirable. Spoken fluency can take years; written ability even longer. But if before the future was too bleak to ponder, now it can at least exist. Carroll says that the move from thinking entirely in the present to pondering the future is a subtle but powerful shift. "We talked about this a lot when we were doing our analysis," she says. "When you've had a life that was so marked by uncertainty and day-to-day survival, how do you change your life framework to start to think about future-oriented goals?"
As Somalis begin to envision new possibilities in their own lives, they often look to their children to fulfill the American Dream --- to go to college or buy a house or get off welfare.
The truth is, some will and some won't. Many Somali children, especially those whose entire life was spent in an refugee camp, have never known what it's like to feel safe, or to have enough food, or to view themselves as anything but outsiders. What these children have experienced, says Mike Boucher, a social worker with St. Joseph's NeighborhoodCenter who has worked closely with Rochester's Somali community, confounds comprehension. "When I hear the word 'camp' I don't know what that means," he says.
Despite America's luxuries --- water fountains and escalators and textbooks for all --- many of these children find this country disorienting. They must struggle to belong, for the most part, in difficult urban environments without English fluency or even a basic understanding of this country's social norms. And, says Boucher, the onus is on Somali children to preserve their traditional Muslim roots, which can mean eschewing everything from alcohol to dating to premarital sex. Compounding the problem is the fact that few Somali parents --- particularly those of Bantu origin who themselves never learned to read, write or complete basic math equations --- can help their children adjust academically.
That presents a huge problem because many refugee children's education already lags behind that of their American peers, says Bennett, who visited Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya a few years ago. While the majority of children went to school in the camps, she says, their training "looks good on paper."
Aside from being behind academically, many Somali children wind up in special education classes, Bennett adds, because English as a Second Language tests typically rely on Western concepts. For example, some tests ask children to identify fruits that don't exist in their native desert climate. "If you talk about African foods or African backgrounds they might be able to test better than if you put them into an American urban setting," she says. "They should be tested in their own language, and they should be tested using some non-written and verbal materials."
Under the current system, adds Abukar, children are placed in grades according to their age, which means that a 15-year-old who has never even held a book will become a high school student. And with interpreters in short supply, Abukar and other English-speaking Somalis often translate at parent-teacher conferences, or help these children with their homework. American educators must create special programs for Somali refugee children, Abukar says.
Educating Somali children, however, is a challenge facing communities across the country. The federal Education Department recently determined that public schools in Springfield, Massachusetts, failed to provide Somali students with adequate educational services, the New York Times reported earlier this month. Although Springfield public schools will soon expand their tutoring services and concentrate Somali students in fewer schools, Mary Beach, assistant to the superintendent of the Springfield schools, said in the Times articlethat the biggest challenge is finding enough translators to meet demand.
Abdi worries that as parents and educators work out these kinks, Somali kids are getting lost in the shuffle. And increasing numbers of Somali children are getting involved with drugs, alcohol, and crime, he says.
Formal support systems for Somalis do exist, but that help typically lasts for only a few months. Most Somali families are initially paired with representatives from CatholicFamilyCenter, a nonprofit organization that receives federal funding to help refugees. CFC case workers help Somalis acclimate to all aspects of daily life, from academic placement services to job skills training to everyday logistics, such as finding the nearest grocery store or using public transportation. The goal, says Jim Morris, CFC's resettlement program manager, is to help refugees become self-sufficient as quickly as possible.
That's partially because federal funding for everything, save employment services, dries up after half a year. "Within six months, to buy a car, to get a driver's license, to get insurance --- it's hard," says Abdi. Many Somalis who have been in the States longer help newcomers with transportation, paperwork, tutoring and other daily challenges. But most Somalis interviewed agree that there is great demand for long-term assistance.
Abukar notes that very few Somali families --- even those who have been here for several years --- own a home. "To own house, some people they scared. You know why they scared? Because of mortgage payments. They scared about the long-term payment. Some people they don't have credit score. Some people, right now they need to buy a house but when you save $30,000 and you have to pay $38,000, they say 'Wow, I don't want to buy a house,'" he says. "If the government supports those families, then they can afford to live."
Aside from serving as role models, interpreters, and ad-hoc taxi drivers, Somali immigrants who arrived in America years ago have also become social educators for newcomers struggling to belong in a foreign culture. Abdi, for example, encourages parents to support their children in activities outside of academics. They have to realize that their children's sports and hobbies are important, too, he says. "I know one guy in HoneoyeFalls. This one guy, he is very good with soccer, but I asked his father, would you ever go to his game? He said, 'No,'" Abdi recounts.
But in the perpetual tension between assimilation and preservation,identity means different things to different people. Where Abdi emphasizes parental involvement in sports, others emphasize Islam or traditional dance or the virtues of respecting your elders. Or all of the above. What does it mean, really, to become American? Or more specifically, to become Somali-American?
For many children, home is a dusty field in a Kenyan refugee camp or a foggy memory or, possibly, here. America. The land of immigrants and second chances. And, for the Somali, a place where one can begin to consider the future. How awesomely frightening.
There are certain questions we must all ask, says Bennett. Not just as health-care professionals or social workers or church leaders, but as individuals. As Americans. "There is the myth of the great American melting pot. Come to the United States, the land of opportunity. This is what the United States has stood for --- opportunity and freedom," she says. "The question is, What is the reality for people when they do actually come here? What is their happiness level?"'
For the 20 or so members of the Somali Bantu Soccer Team, happiness is this: a bitterly cold February Sunday, a concrete floor inside the South Avenue Recreation Center, one soccer ball, a handful of shin guards, basketball shoes, soccer cleats, green and yellow jerseys, and a wild "Ruuun!" shouted in English. "Soccer," jokes AwesoMkomuu, "is in our blood."
For another group, happiness is knowing that in its own conflicted way America will provide. "In the camp, you wake up in the morning. You don't know where you're going. Your kids crying, they need milk. You don't have money. You don't have charcoal. You don't have furniture. You don't have bed to sleep," says Abukar. "But United States, even if you don't have insurance, you can go to a doctor. The government, they will cover. You don't have food, you go to social service, you apply. If social service doesn't give you food, you go to Open Door Mission."
For others, though, happiness still waits behind a closed door. Hidden in a gap in the floorboard, or tucked out of sight in a refugee camp half a world away. If you ask Somalis if life is good, they will always say "Yes," says Jama. Do they mean it, though? Maybe.Sometimes. It depends.
But if attitude is survival, does it matter?
When IsseAbukar and his wife, Khadija, fled Mogadishu, Somalia, they left just about everything --- including each other. Isse carried a camera, Khadija their daughter.
They made a choice, Isse explains. "This militia, when they see all family together, they feel that this family is together because they have money," he says. "They will kill you," adds his brother, AbukarAbukar. The Abukars share their story one wintry night from the comfort of their Northeast Rochester home. The walls are decorated with maroon tapestries, Khadija's favorite color. The kids are watching Cartoon Network and drinking mango juice out of plastic glasses. It all feels a little surreal.
Isse and Khadija found each other at a Kenyan refugee camp a year and a half later. It was luck. Or God.Or both. Both recount stories of families who never discovered various members' whereabouts. During the Abukars' four years in the camp, their hut burned to the ground. Isse's camera was spared. He took a picture. The background is brown; dust swirls in the air.
AbdurahimMukumbirasays when he fled, he was convinced his family would all be killed by armed militia, or perhaps hungry animals. It took him three weeks to get to Kenya. He languished in a camp there for more than a decade. How one survives in a camp varies, says BisharaKasim, Mukumbira's daughter-in-law. Example: Refugees with bikes transport people back and forth; on an average day they earn about 40 Kenyan Shillings, or 50 cents.
Mukumbira and Kasim arrived in Rochester three years ago. Kasim's five siblings and parents stayed behind. Kasim would like to sponsor them to come over as soon as she can. "They will come now," she says. "I hope."
Muslim militias claim control in Somali capital
BLOW DEALT TO U.S. EFFORTS TO HALT VIOLENCE
By Jonathan S. Landay
WASHINGTON - Muslim militias claimed Monday to have routed warlords allegedly backed by the United States after weeks of fighting for control of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, dealing a setback to U.S. efforts to contain the spread of militant Islam.
U.S. officials and other experts warned that if the militias consolidated their victory, they would establish an Islamist state where Al-Qaida could secure bases from which it could spread its violent ideology to other East African and Horn of Africa nations.
The Islamists' claim of victory in Mogadishu comes as the United States and its allies struggle to contain growing Islamist violence in Iraq and some of the fiercest attacks in Afghanistan by the Taliban since that Islamist militia was driven from power in 2001.
Al-Qaida-inspired extremists might be allowed to use Somalia as a refuge from which to support and mount operations against Yemen and Saudi Arabia, the world's No. 1 oil producer, located a boat ride away across the Red Sea, said U.S. officials and other experts.
``If they can grab control and maintain it, Somalia becomes a little place that becomes important to Al-Qaida and other Islamists,'' said Michael Scheuer, who was the first chief of the CIA unit that tracks Osama bin Laden and his network.
John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group, a conflict-prevention organization, said it's too early to predict what could happen. The secular warlords could rebuild their forces with outside aid and launch a counteroffensive for Mogadishu.
The United States hasn't been directly involved in Somalia since 18 U.S. soldiers were killed in Mogadishu in 1993 during vicious street fighting, depicted in the film ``Black Hawk Down.''
But the Bush administration has deployed about 1,500 U.S. soldiers in the tiny nation of Djibouti, on Somalia's northern border, as part of a regional strategy of preventing Al-Qaida and other radical Islamist groups from operating in the rugged, poverty-stricken and largely lawless Horn of Africa.
The United States has been secretly supporting a coalition of secular Somali warlords, the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism, according to leaders of a largely powerless transitional central government restricted to the city of Baidoa, according to regional observers and news reports.
Prendergast said three alliance leaders recently told him that they were receiving funds from the CIA. The CIA declined to comment.
The bloodiest fighting in more than a decade erupted in February between the alliance and the Islamist militias. The militias are associated with courts that have succeeded in the past several years in bringing order to some areas by enforcing Islamic law.
The violence escalated last month as Islamist militias moved to take control of Mogadishu, with hundreds of people dying in street battles.
Princeton Lyman, a former senior State Department official, said the Bush administration should begin working urgently with regional governments and Somaliland, an unrecognized self-declared independent nation in northern Somalia, to contain Islamist militias.
Somali minister blames US for latest violence
16 May 2006
Somali officials on Tuesday
blamed the latest violence in their lawless capital, Mogadishu, on the United
States, which they accused of meddling in domestic affairs by funding an
alliance of warlords.
"The US is behind [the latest violence] through its financial and military support of warlords and its interference in the country's internal affairs," said Somali Health Minister Abdel Aziz Sheikh Yussef at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo.
Mogadishu was this week the scene of deadly battles between Islamic militia and gunmen loyal to a US-backed warlord Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism, the worst violence the capital has seen for 15 years.
The warlords claim the country's Islamists are harbouring foreign fighters and Muslim extremists, including al-Qaeda members.
While the US has not explicitly confirmed its support for the alliance, US officials have told Agence France-Presse that the alliance has received US money and is one of several groups it is working with to contain the threat of Islamic radicalism in the country.
But Yussef denied Washington's claims of "creeping Talibanisation" in Somalia.
"The people of Somalia deal with officials of the Islamic courts because they are appointed by tribal chiefs and have a good reputation compared with the warlords, contrary to what the US claims," he said.
During his visit to Cairo, the health minister asked the Arab League to fulfil their promise of $500 000 in aid money to help with the deteriorating health situation caused by years of violence, adding that the number of functioning hospitals in Somalia was now down to three.
"It is the innocent people who die every day that are the victims, and they are dying in larger numbers than the fighting parties," said the minister.
Somalia, a nation of 10-million people in the Horn of Africa, has been without a functioning central authority since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 plunged it into anarchy. Since then, warlords have been battling for control of a patchwork of fiefdoms.
More than a dozen attempts to restore stability have failed. The latest, a transitional government set up in 2004 in Kenya and now based in the town of Baidoa, west of Mogadishu, has been undermined by infighting and proved unable to assert control. -- AFP
MOGADISHU, Somalia, Sept. 17, 2006
(Associated Press) An Italian nun
was shot dead at a hospital by Somali gunmen Sunday, hours after a leading
Muslim cleric condemned Pope Benedict XVI for his remarks on Islam and violence.
The nun, who was not immediately identified, was shot in the back at S.O.S. Hospital in northern Mogadishu by two gunmen, said Mohamed Yusuf, a doctor at the facility, which serves mothers and children. The nun's bodyguard and a hospital worker were also killed, doctors said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, and it was not clear if it was directly linked to the pope's comments. Two people had been arrested, said Yusuf Mohamed Siad, head of security for the Islamic militia that controls Mogadishu.
Earlier Sunday, a Somali cleric criticized the comments the pope made in a speech last week for offending Muslims. The pope had cited the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam's founder, as "evil and inhuman."
"The pope's statement at this time was not only wrong but irresponsible as well," said Sheik Nor Barud, deputy leader of the Somali Muslim Scholars Association.
"Both the Pope and the Byzantine Emperor he quoted are ignorant of Islam and it is noble Prophet," he told journalists at a news conference in the capital Mogadishu.
In Rome, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi called the nun's slaying "a horrible episode," the Italian news agency ANSA said. "Let's hope that it will be an isolated fact."
Lombardi indicated the shooting could be related to the uproar over the pope's remarks.
"We are following with concern the consequences of this wave of hate, hoping that it does not lead to grave consequences for the church in the world," he was quoted as saying.
Benedict apologized earlier Sunday for the angry reaction to his remarks, which he said came from a text that didn't reflect his personal opinion.
Witnesses also said the shooting and the pope's comments appeared to be linked.
"These gunmen always look for white people to kill, and now the pope gave them the reason to do their worst," said Mohamud Durguf Derow, who was at the scene when the nun was killed.
The nun, who spoke fluent Somali, was believed to be around 60 and had been working at the hospital since 2002, said witnesses at the hospital on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Somalia has been without an effective central government since warlords overthrew it's longtime dictator in 1991 and divided the nation into fiefdoms. The Islamic fundamentalists have stepped into the vacuum as an alternative military and political power.
The current interim government was established two years ago with the support of the United Nations, but has failed to assert any power outside its base in Baidoa, 150 miles from Mogadishu.
The Islamic group, which seized the capital and much of southern Somalia this summer, is credited with bringing a semblance of order to the country after years of anarchy, but some of its leaders have been linked to al Qaeda and there are fears of an emerging Taliban-style regime.
Somalia Reconciliation Conference Opens, but Soon Stalls
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
Published: July 16, 2007
NAIROBI, Kenya, July 15 — A national reconciliation conference that diplomats have described as a make-or-break opportunity for Somalia’s troubled transitional government opened in Mogadishu on Sunday. But it barely got off the ground. Top opposition leaders did not show up, and the session was quickly postponed.
The conference organizer, Mohammed Ali Mahdi, a former warlord, greeted about 1,000 delegates who had gathered in an old police warehouse in Somalia’s bullet-pocked capital, saying, “I urge you to rise above your respective clan and sub-clan in order to bring normalcy to our country.”
But then he adjourned the meeting until Thursday, saying he wanted to wait for more people.
Somalia’s transitional government seems on the brink of disappearing into the same vortex of violence that has consumed 13 previous transitional governments. Even as the delegates were meeting on Sunday, mortar shells whooshed nearby.
“It’s true, we’re seeing another Baghdad in the making,” said a Western diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic protocol. “But if this conference produces a road map, albeit with a few simple priorities, there’s a little hope.”
Somalia desperately needs that hope. Since 1991, when the central government imploded, it has been a stateless mess of warring clans, blown-up buildings, starving people and no clear path forward.
The national reconciliation conference was supposed to bring the warring factions back together. The plan was to invite 1,325 elders from Somalia’s dozens of clans and sub-clans and have them meet for at least 45 days to discuss clan differences, disarmament and radical Islam, a growing issue since an Islamic government briefly took power last year.
“Our hope is that the tribes will forget all their wars from before,” said Abdi Haji Gobdon, a transitional government spokesman, before the conference.
But the Islamists and hard-core members of opposing clans, who are thought to be the backbone of the growing insurgency — are boycotting.
“The government doesn’t have a political vision for the country, they are not following a just process for the distribution of resources, and the president is using his militia as a clan militia,” said Mohammed Uluso, a former agricultural minister and leader of the Ayr clan, which remains mostly hostile to the government. “So, no, we don’t feel there’s any reason to attend this conference and lend it legitimacy.”
Ibrahim Hassan Addou, the former foreign minister of the Islamist movement that briefly controlled the country for part of past year, said that until the Ethiopian troops that returned power to the transitional government left Somalia, the Islamist leadership had no interest in attending a conference.
“Somalia is under occupation right now, and people are not free to express their views,” he said by telephone from Dubai. “So what’s the point?”
Ethiopia invaded in December, with covert American help, and ousted the Islamic movement, which had managed to pacify much of the country. Ethiopian and American officials had accused the Islamists of harboring terrorists.
Since then, the Ethiopian forces occupying Somalia have been struggling with an Iraq-style insurgency that has quickly progressed from drive-by shootings to suicide attacks and cellphone-detonated bombs. Mogadishu is so dangerous again that other nations hesitate to send peacekeepers. Despite pledges from African countries to send 8,000 soldiers, only 1,600 Ugandans have showed up so far.
Meanwhile, the transitional federal government, a United Nations creation that has never had much grass-roots support, seems stuck in a rut. Its job is to shepherd the country toward elections in 2009. But it has yet to register voters or even organize a census. Piracy off Somalia’s 1,880-mile coastline is a serious issue again, threatening to cut off crucial food deliveries to a population that is often just a few handfuls of grain away from famine.
Part of the problem is that the transitional government does not act like the multiclan outfit envisioned by the United Nations. Instead, many Somalis, especially in Mogadishu, see it as Darod clan revenge against the Hawiye for what happened in the early 1990s, when Hawiye warlords ran Darod clan members out of Mogadishu. Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the transitional president, is a former Darod warlord. Tensions between the Darod and Hawiye, two of Somalia’s biggest clans, have dominated modern Somali political history.
“Elders used to solve the problems among the tribes long ago,” said Bile Mohamoud Qabowsade, a Darod delegate. “So this conference may pave the way for a lasting solution among Somalis.”
But the conference cannot succeed if representatives of major groups do not attend. Another possible reason that they stayed away is that the conference was to be limited mostly to clan issues, and not political ones. Had the government opened the possibility of picking a new prime minister or discussing more equitable ways of sharing revenues from Mogadishu’s port, about the only source of tax income right now, more opposition members might have come.
While the transitional government is billing the conference as a historic, one-of-a-kind meeting, it is not much different from the transitional Parliament, which is made up of representatives of all major clans in a formula that reflects Somalia’s demographics. The Parliament has been essentially neutered, though, and recently more than 50 members made a formal statement demanding that they be consulted on important decisions, not ignored.
Most foreign diplomats assigned to help piece Somalia back together seem worn out — and pessimistic. European diplomats who had promised to attend the conference canceled their flight at the last minute because the pilots refused to fly into Mogadishu.
“I don’t think this could be opening in any worse conditions,” another Western diplomat said, also speaking on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic protocol.
One of the most radical ideas about governing Somalia came from a recent letter to the editor of a Nairobi newspaper: split the country into clan-based fiefs and rotate the president every few years.
“The status quo can’t go on,” the first diplomat said. “Something’s going to change. For better or worse, I don’t know.”
Mohammed Ibrahim and Yuusuf Maxamuud contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.
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