A Somali On The Margins

As I have a reasonable sized group of friends and acquaintances who are affiliated with (the) Ohio State University, and as I have for some reason a particular interest in the problems and repercussions of the collapse of Somalia it is of little surprise that I would be interested in the statement of a representative of the Somali community in Columbus, Ohio after the recent terrorist attack by a Somali young man there.  This gentleman, for whom English was not his first language, and maybe not even his second or third, commented that it was an especially bad time for there to be a terror attack coming from the Somali community.  This is true for a few reasons, most obviously because Somalis are prolific refugees escaping the wreckage of their failed nation [1], and because a Muslim terrorist attack from a refugee population approaching the presidency of someone who has shown a marked coolness towards Muslims and refugee populations is clearly a case of colossally bad timing.  It is easy to empathize with a gentleman trying to defend the legitimacy of his marginal population, although I wonder how many people will empathize and how many will only sympathize.

Empathy here requires something more than merely recognizing that there is never a good time for terrorism and that this is clearly a difficult matter for local Somalis.  In the eyes of some people, there is no connection between certain political and religious worldviews and terrorist violence, and no amount of anecdotal evidence can prove otherwise in their eyes.  In the eyes of other people, any mistake or blunder by any person or group of people is enough to label entire and somewhat massive groups as suspect.  The statements of the Somali gentleman express an expectation that his population will be judged harshly for the mistakes of one young man and that in the contemporary political climate that there will be larger repercussions for this.  As someone who has lived much of my life as a fairly marginal person in often marginal groups, I have a great deal of compassion for this gentleman and for others who are in his position, and to the extent possible I would like to give some sort of comfort and some sort of context.

Why should the activities of one troubled young man cause a world of trouble for a fairly large group of people?  Despite my interest in Somalia and the independence of Somaliland in general, I must admit I know few Somalis personally.  I enjoy the music of K’Naan [2], but that hardly makes me unusual.  I would think it far better for Somalis to be able to live among Americans and assimilate as merely one among a larger population of professionally-minded people of somewhat exotic and unusual origin, but given that the Somali presence in the United States is still relatively new, it is understandable that they should wish to settle in ethnic enclaves that reduce the speed and extent of cultural assimilation and acculturation.  Yet the Somalis should be a large enough and well-understood enough group that isolated acts should not bring the entire community in disrepute.  The fact that they do not feel comfortable enough here to feel a sense of security suggests a high degree of anxiety with their neighbors, and I do not consider myself the sort of person who other people should be that anxious about concerning my friendliness or willing to accept those who act in a peaceable and friendly manner.  Nor do I consider the United States the sort of nation that goes out of its way to be hostile to immigrant populations.  To be sure, there are plenty of suspicions of strangers, but the best way to resolve these is to no longer be a stranger.  Those populations that show themselves to be supportive of the United States as a whole tend to earn a lot of goodwill and social capital as a result–it would be well worth the effort.

How does one know one is a marginal population or a marginal person, though?  Different people would be on different margins depending on who was doing the measuring.  For some reason, throughout my life I have always found myself on the margins for one reason or another.  As a northern-born proud Yankee in the rural South who managed to befriend socially unacceptable people simply because they were the only ones friendly, I made a lot of enemies as a child.  As a teenager I moved to a majority black neighborhood, where I was on the margins in a different way.  Moving to Southern California, Thailand, and the Pacific Northwest only added to the many and complicated ways I was an outsider, my nomadic life only making myself more odd and distinctive compared to those who were relatively stable in the areas where I was a stranger.  There are subtle ways that one knows one is an outsider and on the margins.  One is a step behind concerning the social rules of a given place one happens to be, one has to learn the language and pick up on the little cues that are so easy to ignore.  One is either viewed as a curiosity in a museum or one is ignored, and in neither case does one feel truly accepted.  Even when other people are trying to be friendly and welcoming one often feels anxious and nervous and insecure, feeling different and uncomfortable.

How does one go about overcoming this?  This is the part where I struggle the most with the problem of being an outsider.  There are two related aspects of reality that must be dealt with.  The first is the outer directed interest in making others safe and helping others feel safe, as well as the objective reality of being safe in one’s surroundings.  To the greatest extent possible, should we desire to feel comfortable we must recognize the need of others to feel comfortable and work towards this end.  Even if, objectively, we have been accepted and appreciated, we must feel that acceptance and appreciation.  Our internal subjective reality does not always correspond with the actual external reality, but that internal reality is often what we make our decisions on, and we cannot neglect how we feel even if it is an imperfect guide as to what is.  Surely, I would not consider the legitimacy of the presence of Somali refugees, many of whom reside in this country as a result of a series of American blunders like propping up the mad dictator Siad Barre as a counterweight to a Soviet-aligned dictatorship in Ethiopia, to depend upon perfection on the part of all of the members of their community.  I do expect them to police their own people and encourage friendliness and acceptance of American ways, or the making of plans for a departure to a nation whose ways better suit their own consciences, if that better suits their aims.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/02/15/book-review-somalia-the-new-barbary/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/05/13/a-modest-proposal-for-a-plebiscite-to-resolve-the-status-of-the-republic-of-somaliland/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/11/10/somalias-piracy-dilemma/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/11/04/busloads-of-somalians/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/01/06/wave-your-flag/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/07/23/the-dusty-foot-philosopher/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/05/03/album-review-night-train/

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About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Musings, Somaliland and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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