U.S. deporting Somalis back to the nation we helped destroy

The east African nation of Somalia is the textbook example of a failed state. Since the 1991 collapse of their government in the midst of famine and civil war, tens of thousands of Somalis have fled their homeland to take refuge in the United States and other nations. Last week, however, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (Minnesota is home to America’s largest Somali refugee community) reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has reversed its long-standing policy regarding the deportation of Somali nationals who have broken the law. Since 2012, 33 Somalis have been legally shipped back to a place where being from America can be a terminal offense. Some suggest these Somalis are criminals who deserve no better, but if we’re going to cast judgment, we should consider America’s role in making Somalia the nightmare it is today.

By 1992, horrifying images of a nation tearing itself apart had compelled the U.S. to intervene in Somalia; but in 1993, the American presence was rapidly withdrawn after the infamous Battle of Mogadishu (the conflict that inspired the events of Black Hawk Down). No established order arose to replace the former government and the country descended into bloody warlord-ism. It was eight years and one massive terrorist attack before Somalia was back on the US foreign policy radar. After 9/11, the George W. Bush administration became concerned al-Qaeda operatives fleeing Afghanistan in the wake of a US invasion might make their way to Somalia and seek refuge with the few Islamic militants hiding in that country.

“Ultimately, the Bush administration decided not to go into Somalia right away; and instead, what it did was to begin waging a proxy war using a network of ruthless warlords,” said independent journalist Jeremy Scahill, who has spent significant time in Somalia, in a 2011 interview. “This network of warlords that were supported by the CIA and U.S. special operations forces after 9/11 had a name that just reeked of CIA involvement. It was called the Alliance for Counter-Terrorism and the Restoration of Peace.”

The result was a bloodbath. The warlords became CIA-funded assassination squads who murdered innocent people and committed mass atrocities, justifying their actions in the name of the dozen or so terrorists they were supposed to be neutralizing.

The situation changed around 2006, when a number of Islamic courts, operating in various regions around Somalia, began to work against the rampant disorder by enforcing their Shari’a brand of brutal-but-effective law.

“People were fed up with . . . the CIA-backed warlords,” Scahill said. “So, these little autonomous courts formed an Islamic Courts Union [ICU] and very swiftly, with the support of the vast majority of Somalis across the country, overthrew the CIA warlords and expelled them from Mogadishu and brought stability . . . to the Somali capital for the first time since the government of Siad Barre fell in 1991. It was a tremendous achievement.”

Unfortunately, the U.S. wasn’t interested in relinquishing power to any ruling body with the word “Islamic” in its name. When the ICU took over, the U.S. immediately gave Ethiopia, Somalia’s neighbor and long-standing enemy, permission to invade.  The American military assisted in the invasion and subsequent destruction of the ICU, including the assassination of its leaders. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was established as the new ruling body of Somalia, but it quickly found itself in conflict with the radical Islamist organization known as al-Shabaab.

Radical Islamism was not well represented in the ICU; most of its leaders cared passionately about Islam as a social and legal system for Somalia, but not about attacking the U.S. As such, al-Shabaab was originally a fringe group with very little influence in Somalia. After the destruction of the ICU by the US-backed Ethiopian army, however, it was al-Shabaab that proclaimed itself the defender of the Somali people and enemy of America’s puppet, the TFG. Mixing Islamist rhetoric with appeals to Somali nationalism, al-Shabaab gained in size, power and popular support over the next several years. At its height, it controlled more of Somalia than the official government, and it is still a major power in a country that, since 2006, has regressed back into a condition of violence and fear.

It’s unclear why Immigration and Customs Enforcement is now willing to send Somalis back to Somalia after so many years of refusing to do so, but whatever their reason is, it’s not good enough. One theory is that the recent actions of al-Shabaab (including the attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi that killed at least 67 people on Sept. 21-24) have our government concerned these in-house Somalis might commit acts of domestic terrorism. Deporting people because we’re terrified they might become terrorists someday is a cowardly display of Islamic paranoia, but seeing as cowardly displays of Islamic paranoia have pretty much become the definition of American foreign policy since 9/11; it seems like something we would do. It is also completely unconscionable, and whoever made this decision should also be made to answer for it.

Originally published in The Lumberjack (http://jackcentral.com/opinion/2013/10/opinion-us-deporting-somalis-back-to-the-nation-we-helped-destroy/)

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