There’s nothing more American than Somalia’s war

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The jubilation in Fatima Haidara’s voice is as clear as her telephone connection from Nairobi, Kenya, to her brother’s cellular phone in Lewiston. Her brother, Mohamed, owns a Somalian store on Lisbon Street.

“Yes, we are very happy,” she says about conflict in her native land. Backed by Ethiopian forces, the two-year-old Somalian transitional government has wrested the country from control of the Union of Islamic Courts. It’s the first organized, secular government in Somalia since 1991.

Fatima lived in Lewiston-Auburn, Mohamed said, before resettling in Nairobi last year. Now she longs to return to Kismayo, a coastal city in southern Somalia. “It’s the best place,” she says. “It’s so beautiful,” she says about Kismayo. “It’s got the ocean, and a big beach.”

In the back of the store, Mohamed’s laptop plays the Internet stream of Al-Jazeera television, even though he often disagrees with its views. The prime minister of Ethiopia, he says, should be given the Nobel Peace prize for helping the heretofore weak transitional government into power.

“My people support the U.S., we support Ethiopia,” he says excitedly. “If we don’t kill the terrorists, they’ll go back to [the Somalian capital] Mogadishu.”

Mohamed can’t speak for all Somalis, though.

While he praises Ethiopia, others criticize that country and its support from the United States. A Somali academic, Dr. Abdi Samatar, has drawn Mohamed’s ire for his contrary views on the war. Samatar, a professor at the University of Minnesota, is a oft-quoted contributor of Somali analysis to American media.

Mohamed says Samatar speaks for his allegiance to the Islamic courts, not Somalia.

If this all sounds familiar, it should. Somalis within our midst are embroiled in controversy over a divisive war. Passions are inflamed, especially through opinions in the media. Many, like Fatima, long-weary of war, simply yearn for a return to peace.

The parallels are striking. The situation in Somali is a battle between secular and Islamic forces, is rooted in events from a generation ago, and has claimed too many lives. These commonalities with the Iraq war should bring our region’s Somali and native populations closer, in the spirit of support.

Fatima hopes to return to Kismayo by summer. “Everybody [in Somalia] is happy,” she states. “The people who support the terrorists are not happy. But we don’t care.”

Mohamed desires, more than anything, stability in Somalia, and speaks enthusiastically about the American and Ethiopian actions. He wants L-A to know many Somalis support the U.S., and not to believe what “experts” on television and in newspapers say. “We have to thank America,” he says.

Understanding the Somalian conflict is integral for L-A. Instead of casually asking what’s happening – as a local Somali liaison, Mohamed Abdi, answers today – our community should become knowledgeable about the historical, political, and tribal fractions that have brought the Horn of Africa, again, into war.

Doing so should help tear down the remaining, and prevalent, cultural barriers in L-A, and erase any lingering ethnic stereotypes to unite this community under one banner: American.

Our Somali neighbors are gravely concerned with a bloody, and seemingly endless, war being waged thousands of miles away. Today, there’s nothing more American than that.

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