The FBI Came to Our Somali Peace Feast

by Martin Brooks 

The FBI agent was a sharply dressed young woman. I wondered why she was attending the Somali Peace Feast. Another friend who works with local internationals said this FBI agent had been a friend to the international community, helping both the agency and the local police department be more sympathetic with the immigrant populations.

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15,000 Somalis are in Louisville, or at least that was the number shared at one table. The police sergeant for this district of Louisville was standing at the door. He declined our invitation to share our goat, saying he might need to leave quickly. The Mayor’s office had also sent a representative who spoke of the importance of these types of grassroots efforts. Many have a cultural sympathy and want to be kind to internationals coming to our city, but many are also insecure about talking to people that are a little different than themselves. They are afraid they will say something wrong, so they keep to themselves. No doubt some encounters have played out badly as people navigate language and cultural barriers, but through Peace Feasts we attempt to provide a safe environment for people to become more sympathetic and culturally competent. We try to get beyond surface issues, but that really can’t be done in a couple of hours. The most we can do is start the conversation.

About fifty people had gathered at the Global Restaurant in the International Mall as guests of Peace Catalyst and the Young Somalis for Louisville. The Somali community wanted to pay for our dinner. It would not be culturally appropriate for them to invite us to their community and then ask us to pay for our dinner. For those not excited about goat, chicken was also prepared. The food was really good, but the conversations were the highlight of the evening, changing the perspectives of many in the room.

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“They are taking our children,” one woman said as we asked about Al Shaabab. You may remember Al Shaabab was the group who attacked the Westgate Mall in Kenya a few months ago. “Our young men disappear, and several months later we hear that they are back in Somalia. The recruiters for Al Shaabab prey on our children. They tell them they don’t belong in the US. They tell the young men that they will always be outsiders here and need to help their brothers in Somalia.”

One way to fight terrorism is to work through the discomfort of relating to people that have lived very different lives than we have. We need to help them integrate and feel welcomed. The only way we can do that is to interact, hear their stories, and support their efforts to start a new life.

Most Somalis in our city came as refugees. They did not choose to come here as some sort of opportunism. Many would like to return to their countries, but it is simply unsafe to do so. In some refugee camps they were given food sufficient for two days and told to make it last for two weeks. Some of these camps have 400,000 people trying to survive. They are displaced from their homes and all that they know. The are stuck in “no-man’s land,” unable to return home and unable to move forward.

When asked how they are treated in the US, one Somali man replied,

“Usually I am treated well as a man because they can’t tell I’m Somali or Muslim, but one time when my wife was with me they yelled at us, ‘Go back home!!!’”

Do you think the person who yelled that realized that he was supporting the Al Shabaab recruiting effort?

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I was surprised when I was introduced to the FBI agent. I was even more surprised when I learned the Young Somalis for Louisville had invited the agent. After hearing the Somalis’ stories, I understand more. I wish you could have been there. Somali mothers are fighting for their children! They want to stop these terrorist recruiters more than mos, and they welcome the FBI’s efforts to shut down these terrorist networks.

Sometimes Peace Feasts seem like such a small thing. Does it really make any difference to share a meal and talk for a few hours? Well, it is a start. It's grassroots. It's accessible. It's more than most people are doing! And apparently, it can have international implications and impact. Maybe you should be a part of this?

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