Insight News

Feb 12th

Somali immigrants must conform to American cultural norms

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Twin Cities Somali residents and citizens are no longer in Somalia and it is high time a number of them acted accordingly.

Twin Cities Somali residents and citizens are no longer in Somalia and it is high time a number of them acted accordingly.

A fairly academic point is the flap that kicked up so much sand over whether cab drivers could or should be compelled to accept customers who carry liquor among their belongings. It is a completely understandable fact that, whatever the reason may be, liquor is considered unclean in Somali culture. And were Somali drivers operating in their native land, they would be well within their rights to refuse service on that basis. However, the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport is located in the United States, where liquor is quite popular and many people transport it to and fro. Now, if you chose to be a cab driver and operate at the airport, where fares are plentiful and money is good, you do not get to disrupt this culture's scheme of things by inconveniencing travelers because of your proscribed sensibilities. Instead of picking and choosing who you will serve among the many hustling and bustling money spenders, work a less traveled route where you are not as likely to have fares who have liquor with them. In other words, get with the program, instead of insisting that the program get with you.

A by no means academic case is the recently reported one in which, last summer, Afif Abdiaziz Ahmed raped his wife with a knife and beat her so badly she is permanently brain-damaged, unable to care for herself or their 17-month-old child. When he was sentenced to 17 years in prison, noted activist Omar Jamal of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center informed a newspaper, in the aftermath, that he tried to get the wife's relatives to appear in court on her behalf but may as well have been talking to a brick wall. That nobody in the Somali community wants to so much as discuss the matter. In fact, as Jamal points out, community members discourage women from reporting abuse to the authorities and, in the event that reports are made, community members pressure victims to abandon the case – by either dropping the charges or failing to appear in court. In Minnesota, neither dropping charges nor skipping court is enough to stop the proceedings, but that is not the point. The point is that this has not, for a very long time, especially in this state, been a culture that aids or abets violence against women. It is not something kept behind a given community's closed doors. You do not get to brutalize and incapacitate a defenseless woman just because you are a man. Not in this culture, you don't. And Somalis, having come to America and availed themselves of benefits attendant thereto, are, whether they like it or not, in this culture. If they are going to take and enjoy what is comfortable and convenient about life here, they have no right to selectively insulate themselves from what they don't like – as in the system's ability to protect women from abusive men.

In that newspaper report, Lucky Farah, a legal advocate with Minneapolis' Domestic Abuse Project observed that when a woman is victimized, elders and family members "stick together to try to solve the problem. That's how it's always been in Somalia." Well, they are not in Somalia, anymore, and that is not how things are done, here, in their new land.
Somalis who are inextricably bound to tenets of their homeland should be willing to risk life and limb by going back to war-ravaged Somalia and be bound to those tenets there. Otherwise, being harbored in the safety of this society has a price tag: you are compelled to conduct yourself in accord with its cultural norms, not yours.

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