Ilhan Omar Doesn’t Hate America, But Does America Hate Somalia?
At a rally that Donald Trump held yesterday, the crowd chanted “sent her back” in reference to Rep. Ilhan Omar. This was days after Trump himself told Omar to return to the “crime infested” country that she came from. This is typical of hatred which Omar has had to endured since being elected to the House. Omar has been subjected to death threats. More recently, Fox News host Tucker Carlson accused Omar of being ungrateful and hating America.
The issue is not so much that Omar hates America. The issue is does America hate Somalia? Over the decades America’s foreign policy in Somalia has been a disastrous one and many Americans remain completely unaware of this. For example, in the video above Carlson does not mention that the “Marxist dictator” that he refers to was a dictator that America supported.
Omar and the people of Somalia have never been a threat to America, but America’s policies in Somalia have been a threat to the people of Somalia. The people who chant for Omar to be sent back to Somalia and pundits like Tucker Carlson are very comfortably disconnected from the suffering of the people of Somalia, so it is very easy for them to speak about Omar in the manner that they do. Rep. Omar fired back at Carlson by accusing him of being a racist and she is right because Carlson has demonstrated nothing but disregard to the black people of Somalia, much as he expresses the same disregard for the suffering of black people in America. Moreover, why is it that African people are always been told what we should and should not be grateful for by people who have not experienced the struggles that we experienced. We are capable of speaking for ourselves and we do not need someone like Carlson to tell us what to be grateful for.
The relationship between the United States and Somalia has been a very complicated one over the years. During the Cold War, Somalia was in a location of great interests for both the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1969, Mohammed Siad Barre came to power in Somalia through a coup. He was initially supported by the Soviet Union, but this changed in 1975 when the government of Ethiopia was overthrown and replaced by a pro-Soviet regime. Barre was a proponent of socialism, but he was also a Somali Nationalist who wanted to unify all of the Somalis in the region. The problem with this is that due to colonialism Somalis found themselves scattered across national boundaries, with many Somalis living in Ethiopia. For this reason, Barre continued to maintain a hostile relationship with Ethiopia, even after the regime there changed.
The United States took advantage of the differences between Somalia and Ethiopia by switching alliances. America now supported Barre against the pro-Soviet government of Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia. Throughout the 1980s, Barre received millions in economic and military assistance from America. This support continued despite the brutal human rights abuses that Barre was committing.
As the Cold War was nearing its end, Barre was no longer useful to the United States and in 1989 Congress voted to cut off military assistance to Barre. Without foreign military support from either the Soviet Union or the United States, Barre was unable to sustain himself in power against the numerous rebel forces throughout the country that had been fighting to overthrow him and end his regime. Barre was finally toppled in 1991 and Somalia was plunged into a civil war.
One of the reasons why Somalia became engulfed in this civil war is that historically the Somalis were organized in clans, but the Somalis were not governed by a single centralized government until the creation of Somalia. To this day Somalia is still struggling with the issue of unification, as Somaliland has declared itself to be a state and is seeking independence from Somalia. There are also many Somalis living in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. All three of those nations have experienced conflicts related to attempts by the Somali people there to unify with Somalia.
The civil war created a humanitarian crisis, which the United Nations intervened to help resolve, but the ongoing conflict in Somali made distributing humanitarian aid difficult. The United States became involved in helping to provide humanitarian aid to Somalia. Eventually the American forces in Somalia moved to capture Mohamed Farrah Aidid, a Somalian warlord who was conducting attacks against the UN. The problem was that in the process of trying to find Aidid, the American forces demonstrated little regard for the well-being of the Somalian citizens. In one instance, American forces conducted a strike on a building where Aidid was reported to have been holding a meeting. The strike killed seventy-three people, but Aidid was not one of them because he was not in the building at the time.
The efforts to capture Aidid finally culminated in the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993 in which 18 American soldiers were killed. The number of Somalis killed in this battle has caused a bit of a controversy, as Rep. Omar claimed that thousands were killed, whereas other sources put the number of Somalis killed as being in the hundreds. Regardless of what the number actually was, the fact is that America’s attempt to intervene in Somalia only made the situation much worse. The failure at the Battle of Mogadishu forced the United States to withdraw from Somalia, but Somalia became a point of interest again during the “War on Terror.”
In 2006, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) took control over parts of Somalia and managed to bring some semblance of law and order. The ICU concerned the United States, however. For this reason, America supported the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. Ethiopia was initially successful in defeating the ICU, but in the long-run the war was a failure. Not only was it a considerable drain for Ethiopia’s economy, but the war helped to give rise to al-Shabaab. The American backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia essentially defeated the more moderate elements of the ICU and allowed the extremists to gain more power. The reign of terror that al-Shabaab has inflicted on Somalia recently claimed the life of Somali journalist Hodan Nalayeh, who was killed in an explosion. The United States has been conducting drone strikes in Somalia in an attempt to combat these religious extremists, although the American government itself has admitted that these strikes have resulted in civilian deaths.
This is a very brief overview of how America’s policies in Somalia. So again I ask, does America hate Somalia? The historical record demonstrates America’s contempt for the people of Somalia, whom the American soldiers in Somalia referred to as “skinnies”. Jeff Gralnick, executive producer of NBC Nightly News, referred to Aidid as an “educated jungle bunny.” This is the type of racism and disrespect that Americans have expressed towards Somalians. A most recent example is the manner in which Hollywood films have presented Somali pirates as inhumane villains, rather than as people who are desperately trying to protect their livelihood and environment. Despite what Trump, Carlson, and others may think, Rep. Omar is not the problem.
Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.