Before Monday’s bloodshed, the Somali community was already on edge. Members of the community are double minorities — Black and Muslim — and their status as the “most visible Muslim community in America” has left them in a vulnerable state, despite denunciations of the OSU attacker from Somali-American community leaders.
“The timing is not good,” Omar Hassan, president of the Columbus-based Somali Community Association of Ohio, told USA Today. “We are black. We are Muslim. We are Somali. We are all the negative stigmas.”
There are concerns that the attacker’s heritage will impact the Somali community at whole. “We do know of his Somali heritage, and that will be enough for some people to falsely link this tragic incident to the faith of Islam and the Muslim communities,” Roula Allouch of CAIR International, told an Ohio ABC affiliate.
The attacker, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, was an 18-year-old OSU student and a legal resident in the U.S. He was born in either Somalia or a refugee camp in Kenya. In August, Artan spoke to the OSU school newspaper about his fear of praying in public.
“I wanted to pray in the open, but I was scared with everything going on in the media,” Artan told the Lantern. “I’m a Muslim, it’s not what the media portrays me to be. If people look at me, a Muslim praying, I don’t know what they’re going to think, what’s going to happen. But, I don’t blame them. It’s the media that put that picture in their heads so they’re just going to have it and it, it’s going to make them feel uncomfortable.”
Figures vary, but in 2010 there were 85,700 people of Somali ancestry in the United States. That number is likely significantly higher now; in fiscal year 2015, over 7,600 Somali refugees immigrated to the U.S. Minnesota, Ohio, and southern California in particular have large populations of people with Somali ancestry.
President Elect Donald Trump fanned the flames shortly before the election when he gave a speech from Minnesota — where one in three U.S. residents of Somali ancestry reside.
“You’ve seen first-hand the problems caused with faulty refugee vetting, with very large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state without your knowledge, without your support or approval,” Trump said two days before the general election.
While figures like Donald Trump believe the Somali-American community has largely failed to integrate, that is likely because they’ve overlooked the community’s many achievements. St. Paul hired their first female Somali police officer in 2014, a Somali-American teenager won Miss Minnesota USA last week, the community has encouraged initiatives to help its members vote, and last month Minnesota elected a former refugee as the country’s first Somali-American lawmaker.
The sense of “‘otherness” that people of Somali heritage often feel in the U.S. leaves the community constantly having to reaffirm their loyalty to their country.
“America is not my enemy. America is my friend,” Hassan, head of the Somali Community Association of Ohio, said. “Anybody who sees my different is wrong. My Somali community loves America. We appreciate our country and the opportunity America gives us. We came here for a better life. We came here for an education. We came here to work. We came here to practice our religion.”