The new (and continued) controversy with Ilhan Omar forces a new conversation on Somali refugees. After the latest round of rapid-fire tweets pushing historically vile myths about the Jewish people, it might be time for America to take closer look at its refugee communities. That begins with looking at Ilhan Omar and the Somali community she comes from.
Ten years after Ilhan Omar was born in Mogadishu, the 1991 Somali civil war forced her family to head for a refugee camp in Kenya where they spent four years. Along with her family, Omar arrived to the United States with refugee status in 1995. Omar was already a teenager.
Despite having predominantly lived in the United States, Omar still carries the broken value systems of all third-world Muslim countries when it comes to how Jews are viewed.
In most Muslim countries — and in un-evolved Muslim communities — Jews are seen as notorious conspirators not worth trusting, even not worth treating with human dignity. This holds despite the fact that Ilhan Omar’s family background is portrayed as being educated white collar workers. Her father is reported to have worked as a teacher trainer, while her grandfather is said to have been the director of marine transport in Somalia. Her aunts and uncles are reported to have worked as civil servants and educators. In the U.S., that work ethic branched into democratic citizenship.
And yet, less than two months into office as a Congresswoman of one of the highest caliber nations in the world, Omar cannot refrain from blasting anti-Semitic slurs with disturbing glee. Each slur is followed by hollow and forced apologies, before doing it again.
It is with deep disappointment that I confess: Ilhan Omar’s repeat performance is eerily reminiscent of the Somali pirate in the film Captain Phillips — a power-hungry uncultured individual who has to keep proving how “strong” he is.
If Minnesota’s Somali community elected Ilhan Omar as their representative, we need to to ask: What are the values of the largest Somali community in the Somali diaspora? Did they ever leave Somalia or did they bring Somalia with them?
As of 2015, 150,000 Somalis lived in the U.S., with Minnesota hosting the largest population because of the resources provided through a refugee-friendly infrastructure in the liberal state. Yet, we know that:
As a daughter of refugees, and as a Muslim American who experienced waves of immigration across three different continents, I find it personally concerning that we’re failing our refugee communities by allowing them to remain in the same states of minds, unchallenged and unacculturated as if they never left war torn regions or refugee camps.
Building a new life and discovering hope for the future isn’t simply about primal needs of food, shelter and security. It needs to be about something more; it needs to be about challenging the broken mindsets and broken patterns of behavior that in many cases gave birth to the Third World and their offspring.
If refugee resettlement infrastructures and policies don’t help develop healthier lifestyle patterns and neural networks that challenge primitive thinking (such as intolerance toward minority religions such as Judaism), then we’re failing refugees. We’re not helping anyone by bringing more people over here if the worst of who they’ve been indoctrinated into becoming has not — and will not ever — be formally challenged.
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