Mogadishu, Minnesota?


Riverside towers on West Bank, home to many of Somali Minnesotans, and the planned setting of K’Naan’s HBO television series. 

A planned television series set in Minnesota’s Somali community sparked protests at Saturday’s West Bank block party on September 10. Angry and tired of being characterized as jihadi recruits or recruiters, Minnesota Somali youth protested Somali Canadian rapper K’naan’s television plans when he came to perform. I wasn’t there, so I can’t say who threw what first – but police sprayed some of the crowd with chemical irritants, and arrested a couple of people, including a Muslim woman who is a leader of the Black Liberation Project.

The HBO television series started out as “The Recruiters,” focusing on the Somali community in Minnesota, with the promise that it “will draw open an iron curtain behind which viewers will see the highly impenetrable world of Jihadi recruitment.” That sure plays into stereotypes about Somali youth in Minnesota. Now, the series has been renamed “Mogadishu, Minnesota,” and K’Naan claims that it will “present the true and beautiful side” of Somali immigrants. The protesters weren’t buying the new description.

Araweelo, a blog by Somali women, gave context for the protest:

“Many are extremely concerned with the series potential portrayal of Somali folk, especially during the rise of hate crimes and surveillance. News of K’naan’s project comes on the eve of a historically unsuccessful initiative called Combating Violent Extremism(CVE). This program profiles Somali youth as “potential extremists” and uses institutions to surveil and monitor young kids. Nearly 50 Muslim organizations in the Twin-Cities issued the following statement in response: “It is our recommendation that the government stop investing in programs that will only stigmatize, divide, and marginalize our communities further.” The Somali community is largely against this program.” …

“K’naan previously held a meeting with concerned community members and assured them the show that was once titled “The Recruiters” was really about intimate family struggles and relationships. Further concerns were nonchalantly dismissed by K’naan and brushed community members off as “excitable”. What K’naan and his supporters fail to understand is that the concern for the community’s well being is not unsubstantiated. Reports of FBI agents harassing tenants at Cedar have been occurring for some time. During the summer, Somali youth were shot at by a white supremacist was angry to see them in khamis. Reports of hate crimes and assaults continue to rise with the political climate our country.”

Jim Crow North, a blog co-written by Jason Sole and Rachel Wannarka, described the protest:

“One of the founders of the Black Liberation Project was thrown off a stage and injured, then arrested trying to protect a youth who had been maced by Minneapolis police. The BLP member is on a 36 hour hold that will keep her in jail until Tuesday, including through the important Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha which is celebrated today, Monday September 12. The law enforcement and judicial branches have a special responsibility to protect the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, but here they are specifically targeting Somali youth and unnecessarily and punitively holding a practicing Muslim over a major holy day.”

The post focused on the use of the 36-hour hold as an escalation of police crackdowns on protests. According to Jim Crow North, “we are now seeing specific activists explicitly targeted by police and detained for discretionary 36-hour holds. This is a troubling trend in the way law enforcement interacts with people exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech and public protest.”

Minnesota has the largest Somali population in the United States, with about 40,000 Minnesota residents “claiming Somali ancestry,” according to MinnPost. The Wilder Foundation’s Minnesota Compass research arm shows about the same number, but breaks it down to about 23,000 who were born abroad and about 17,000 U.S.-born children.

Minnesota has been a leader in refugee resettlement for years. While hostility to refugees, stoked by nastiness from the Trump campaign and xenophobic supporters, many Minnesotans continue to support refugees. A Star Tribune article reported that the Minnesota Council of Churches sometimes runs out of space to store items donated to new arrivals and has “more than enough volunteers to help drive them to English classes or job interviews.” Minnesota churches and non-governmental organizations have strong refugee resettlement programs.

The entire nation receives around 70,000 refugees each year, though that number will increase this year. Refugees are admitted only after intensive screening that usually takes two to three years for each applicant. Minnesota received about 2,340 refugees last year.

While many Minnesotans are welcoming and supportive of refugees, others voice hatred that echoes the terror that drove refugees from their homes. Voices from Silence, a report by the Advocates for Human Rights, chronicles the increased prejudice and hostility felt by refugees and other immigrants in Minnesota since 9/11, and how hostility affects their everyday lives and creates a climate of fear for immigrant communities. The HBO series, as originally announced, could make that climate of fear much worse.

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Filed under immigration, race, religion

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