What's behind those Somali conversations in the coffee shop?by Ibrahim Hirsi
Walk into any number of coffee shops in Cedar-Riverside, and you'll find Somali men talking politics. But it's not Democrats vs. Republicans, or the aftermath of the gubernatorial recount. It's the complex politics that forced them to flee Somalia.
If you could listen in on one of these coffee-shop conversations, you'd hear about the fight between the terrorist group Al-Shabaab and the transitional Somali government. You'd hear about the territorial dispute between Puntland and Somaliland. And you'd also hear insults and name-calling -- one clan is praised, another disparaged. It's a debate that has its roots in the tribal divisions that tore Somalia apart two decades ago.
These political arguments have a name in the Somali language. We call them fadhi ku dirir. It means "fighting while sitting down."
For some young Somalis like me, there's an irony in these coffee-shop conversations. Most Somalis living in Minnesota are refugees. We fled the civil war to put those arguments behind us. Despite the headlines about those few young people who have gone back to fight or have gotten mixed up in terrorism, most of us came to Minnesota seeking a peaceful existence. By definition, our individual lives are no longer directly influenced by what happens in Mogadishu.
Today our lives are shaped more by decisions made in Washington, St. Paul, and even the Minneapolis school board. And many young Somalis have adapted to American culture. Some have even gone into politics. But our elders remain marginalized by the American lifestyle. Because of the language barrier, they don't read American newspapers, so they don't follow American politics. They have friends and family still living in Somalia. And so they continue to focus on politics back home.
As Minnesota's Somali community becomes more established, that focus is likely to change. The coffee-shop conversations will continue. But those taking part will eventually begin to forget the politics of their old home, and concentrate instead on the politics of their new home. Given the state of Minnesota politics, they should find plenty of material to keep them fighting while sitting down.
Ibrahim Hirsi is a student at the University of Minnesota.
- Morning Edition, 12/16/2010, 7:25 a.m.