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Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force harassing Somali community

report on a speech by Kayse Jama, a Somali activist in Portland
On Saturday, September 21, Kayse Jama spoke at the Palestinian Forum at the Campus Ministries Building at PSU. Kayse is a member of Portland's Muslim Somali community and he was there to talk about the problems currently being faced by Somali people in the United States, especially in Portland by the Joint Terrorism Task Force (PJTTF). Kayse was among the people who testified against the PJTTF at the recent City Council hearing where that ugly civil liberties-buster was renewed for another year by the fascists currently holding the mayor's and city commissioners' offices.

Kayse began on Saturday night by talking about Somalia, a country he described as being "in bad shape" and filled with confusion. The people in power there use many tactics to create public hysteria and stay in power, including hiring white South African pilots to bomb Mogadishu, the capital, from the airport there. This would be like planes taking off from Portland's airport and bombing Portland.

Somalia's problems go back decades. During the Cold War, the rulers were at first allied with the Soviet Union, and then with the United States. Many leaders of countries in this period made alliances with one superpower or the other in order to hold on to their own power.

The U.S. sent voluminous amounts of military hardware to Somalia until it had the strongest army in Africa except for South Africa's, even though it was a small country (population ~8 million) and very poor. The U.S. had no particular affinity for Somalians but wanted to have bases close to the Persian Gulf. When George Bush, Sr., was in charge of the CIA, he halped get $350 million worth of military hardware to Somalia. The government of Somalia was brutal and oppressed its own people during this entire period.

When the Cold War ended, so did U.S. involvement in Somalia. Civil war exploded and the government fell in 1991. A half million people died in the fighting and another million from starvation. Within two years the United States returned with its perversely named "Operation Restore Hope" which was started by George, Sr., and finished by Clinton. The operation was one of the first excursions executed by the U.S. as part of its policeman-to-the-world role. Though ostensibly undertaken for human rights reasons, its true purpose was to experiment with new methods of extending U.S. hegemony. More than a thousand men, woman and children were slaughtered viciously by U.S. forces. The story presented in the movie "Black Hawk Down" leaves this out, of course. The U.S. left again in 1993 and the war there continued.

Kayse said that the human rights abuses continuing to occur in Somalia are beyond comprehension, but that the rest of the world is ignoring the situation for the most part. Many Somalis have fled to refugee camps and other countries. Approximately 250,000 Somalis are here in the U.S. Many Somalis hoped that the U.S. would be a safe haven, but in some ways, it has been like going from the frying pan into the fire since September 11. Since that time, many Somalis have been taken from their homes, offices and schools to secret locations where their rights are suspended and they can't talk to family or lawyers. 30-80 have been deported but the exact number is difficult to confirm. One of the deported men had been in the U.S. since the age of two and had a wife and two children.

Unfortunately for the Somalis who fled here, their home country has since been blacklisted as harboring terrorists or people with terrorist connections, though no proof has yet been provided despite many demands and pleas for it. One of the worst blows to Somalis here and in Somalia came when the U.S. shut down Al-barakaat. The void made by the collapse of the Somali government left the country without a banking system health care, local police and telecommunications, and Al-barakaat was a private organization that provided a way to channel funds to families and schools. Somalis living in the U.S. could send money to their home country through local Som\li grocery stores using faxes and a network of trust among individuals who knew each other. The U.S. government claims that surcharges from these transactions were funneled to terrorists or terrorist organizations, but has shown no evidence to date. Al-barakaat management in Somalia has declared its innocence and offered its books to inspection, but to no avail. It seems the U.S. simply wants to target Somalis and destroy their grassroots efforts to rebuild their lives. This greed and barely concealed racism is typical of U.S. foreign policy.

Somali grocery stores in Seattle, Portland, Ohio, Minneapolis and other cities have been raided and shut down by the U.S. government because of the Al-barakaat connection. In Seattle, law enforcement dumped whole shelves of groceries into the garbage. "What does this have to do with fighting terrorism?" Kayse asked. The loss of these stores has hit at the heart of Somali population here as they offer not only specialty foods but also a sense of belonging and community. Here again, in full view, is the racism of the U.S. and the all-too-typical tendency to molest people based on nationality, especially in wartime.

The case of Sheik Mohamed Abdirahman Kariye is very important locally. "He is our spiritual leader," said Kayse. "By taking him down they have humiliated our whole community... He was no threat to anyone." He was taking his kids to the Middle East so they could grow up with their own culture. The timing of the arrest -- September 9, so shortly before the City Council hearing to renew the Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force -- reveals the true motive; to justify the PJTTF's existence. I will comment here that this is fascism we are seeing; Kroeker is a fascist for targetting Kariye in order to protect his pet project, and Vera Katz and the City Commissioners are fascists for renewing the PJTTF and not firing Kroeker.

Kayse put these local problems in the context of Corporate Globalization as it is being pursued through the so-called 'war on terror'. "As Americans we really ought to investigate and learn what the government is doing in our name. They are criminalizing the entire Muslim religion, the second biggest religion in the world... How can you claim you are fighting terror when you are violating basic human rights principles? ...Is there something else behind this war? ...We are in a very dangerous position with this war." Kayse mentioned the massacres in Jenin, Palestine, and bemoaned the fact that people watch it happen and do nothing. He railed against policies that set one standard of behavior for the world and another for the U.S. Just as in the Cold War, entire nations have been forced to collaborate with the war because they are afraid. As many of us have been saying, Kayse stated that he could not accept the idea that you are either with the pResident or with the terrorists. "I hate and detest violence," he said.

Kayse spoke on behalf of a different kind of globalization that could be "a very beautiful thing" and that would be based on cooperation, mutual respect, and peace. Millions of children dying, economic misery, sub-human conditions in Palestine -- all this is unneccessary. It can be different, but a lot of Western governments and indivuals will have to give up something. White Americans have a responsibility to fulfill to see that this war is about humanity and basic fairness, not race or religion. One person cannot be above another.

I was really inspired by hearing Kayse speak and and would like to help build solidarity between the Somali community and the activists here who understand the importance of these issues. An opportunity for that is coming up. Kariye is still being held by local authorities and members of the Somali community will probably be holding another rally soon to show their support for him. It is very important that as many non-Somali people as possible come out and stand with them. We need to send a messsage to the PJTTF and to the U.S. government that we will not stand for the harassment, surveillance, and destruction of our civil liberties. The powers-that-be need to know that when they take one of us on, they take all of us on, and that "us" has no one color or religion. Check back with portland indymedia for details as they are announced.

Solidarity 23.Sep.2002 08:14

Renee PalestineAction@msn.com

Palestine Action Group is standing in solidarity with Portland's Somali community. We are communicating with Kayse Jama about their needs (one of which is raising funds for the Imam's legal defense.) If you would like to get involved, please call or email the Palestine Action Group.


building bridges 23.Sep.2002 22:34


I too was moved listening to Kayse Jama speak. He spoke from his heart and his experiences, evoking a deep clarity and message about the plight of the Somalis within our borders.

Afterwards, I walked across the street to the Stanley Cohen presentation. When I entered the public forum, I noticed that mostly men were seated in the front section and the women were in the back.

I asked one of the Somali women if that type of seating was intentional and she replied yes. I decided to sit in the back. Then I looked around.
I sat behind a Somali woman and at the other end of my row were some more Somali women.

If I wanted to extend an open heart, why was I isolating myself. So, I got up and moved to the far right of my row and asked a woman if I could sit with her.

Her name was Myrna (spelling might be wrong) and we had the most wonderful conversation before the presentation began. I had to leave before it was over and she and I exchanged goodbyes. When we looked each other in the eyes and said we hoped to see the other again there was sincerity pouring out from us both.

I'm not accustomed to 'sitting in the back' or 'separate' from men simply because I am a woman. In this situation, I gave up no liberty, no rights, no equality. In extending courtesy to their customs, I made a new friend.