When U.S. Attorney in Minnesota Andrew Luger announced the names of Somali participants in the White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism, questions started to swirl around the absence of names like Imam Hassan Jaamici Mohamud, Shafi Hashi, Abdirizak Bihi and Omar Jamal. These are ubiquitous names in the press speaking on behalf of Minnesota’s Somali community, hence were the obvious choices to be selected in the minds of some in Minnesota's Somali community.
The announcement also triggered a buzz because the roster defied the ignominious 4.5 political formula used in Somalia to distribute apparent political power. Somalia's population is divided into 4 large clans and everyone else is grouped into 0.5 clan. The sum of the figures has come to be known as 4.5 formula and it devalues some Somalis while superficially elevating others.
However, the selection of seven Somalis was not devoid of politics despite the strong desire to ensure representation from various community sectors. Conversation with people close to the deliberation confirmed there was plenty of relationship leveraging and alliances. There were intense lobbying and some last minute maneuvering, hallmarks of American politics.
U.S. Attorney in Minnesota Andrew Lugar had strong preferences for two individuals. The remaining five were selected out of respect for colleagues and allies.
Hodan Hassan has worked with Andrew Lugar prior to the White House trip. She helped facilitate an interview of two Somali-Canadian young women who were injured in the Westgate Mall in Nairobi terror attack carried out by Al-Shabaab, the same group which recently threatened Mall of America. The young women are related to Hodan.The fact she works in mental health was a contributing factor.
Abdisalam Adam worked with Andrew Lugar on the federal lawsuit that led to the city of St. Anthony to reverse a decision after rejecting a conditional permit for a mosque. Abdisalam has taken the lead when group of Imams delivered a compliant of discrimination of Somalis at Minneapolis-St.Paul Airport to the U.S. Attorney Office. With near perfect English, Abdisalam was selected on multiple occasions to speak on behalf of Somali Imams. So there was more to the selection than just being an Imam.
The remaining five individuals were pushed forward by allies and colleagues of Andrew Lugar. Appointments based on difference to allies are one of the cornerstones of American politics.
For example, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek insisted the always traditionally dressed and elegant Sheikh Sa’ad Musse Roble (middle in the above photo) was included. Sheikh Roble has done considerable outreach work with the Sheriff's office. The projection of tradition and authority made Sheikh Roble difficulty not to be included.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Rick Thornton made sure members of the youth advocate group Ka Joog were included. In 2012, Ka Joog received the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award (DCLA). The organization had leveraged on the recognition in its public relations campaign. Executive Director Mohamed Farah and his brother spoken word artist Abdi Farah(Abdi Phenomenal) represented Ka Joog at the summit.
Minneapolis City Council member Abdi Warsame was added late to the roster after intense lobbying by attorney and Minneapolis DFL politico Brian Rice and State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, both longtime friends of Andrew Lugar.
That spot was supposed to have gone to Executive Director of Confederation of Somali Community at Brian Cole Community Center Mohamud Noor. But the prospect enraged Warsame's allies. State Rep. Phyllis Kahn who narrowly defeated Noor in last summer's DFL primary forcefully lobbied Lugar to make the swap.
Jama Mohamed, a youth leader in Cedar Riverside, might seem an ideal candidate for topics involving youth but he was selected in part as coattail of Warsame's inclusion. Jama was the Somali liaison of Phyllis Kahn campaign and made critical contribution to Warsame’s mobilization of Somali voters during Minneapolis’ 2013 City elections. Cedar Riverside is part of Ward 6.
It's perfectly legitimate to ask why is this important. First, the selection of seven Somalis had political dimension. It intentionally or unintentionally trampled on the ignominious 4.5 political formula Somalis use, a positive indeed. Second, this was taxbook example of American political maneuvering. Finally and perhaps most fundamental, understanding community political dynamic will have major effect on the success or failure of the federal pilot program to dissuade Somali-American youth wanting to travel overseas and join terror groups including the Islamic State. Understanding the crux of community politics will increase program transparency and effectiveness.