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A Somali Perspective: Brian Coyle Center Controversy


Friday, November 21, 2008
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As America celebrates President-Elect Barack Obama’s historic win, the Somali community in Minnesota is forced to deal with negative press brought about by one of their own. On Election Day, November 4th, stories about Somali volunteers allegedly influencing voters at the polling stations began to appear in the press.

Shortly after polls
opened at Brian Coyle Center, a precinct inhabited mostly by Somalis,
GOP challengers alleged that some voters were instructed to vote for Al
Franken by translators. However, two news stories, one by Mshale, and
another by the Minnesota Independent reported that witnesses
claimed that a translator at the center was instructing people to vote
for
Coleman. Following these reports, Omar Jamal, a
self-described community leader, accused the Somali Action Alliance, a
non-partisan grassroots organization, and its volunteers, for pointing
voters towards Al Franken.

These community
volunteers were trained to help elderly Somali  men and women vote by
translating the ballot. Many of them had taken time off from work to
serve the community. Unfortunately, rather than
rewarding or recognizing their sacrifice to support the community,
Jamal chose to accuse them of engaging in voting irregularities. The
motivations of Jamal are curious. Many in the Somali community suspect
tribal vengeance or other ulterior motives.

To add insult to injury, despite Jamal’s inability to establish
credible evidence or witnesses to corroborate his claims, WCCO,
a local TV station, chose to provide a platform for these stories. Worse, relying solemnly on the pure
speculations and personal interpretations of Jamal, WCCO aired a
doctored
and inaudible video
.

Unfortunately, no other media house asked
why two Republican challengers were present at the Brian Coyle Center
while Minnesota laws allows for the presence of only one challenger at
the polls. While it is illegal to record ballots in Minnesota, the
media has not bothered to find out the motive and the identity of the
person behind the camera. Also, it is important for people to realize
that Minnesota election laws permit citizens to be accompanied to the
voting booth. State
statute 204C, articles 5 through 7 clearly state that you are
lawfully permitted to obtain assistant should there be a need.

One wonders why local
media continually contacts Jamal on matters involving the Somali
community when Minnesota is home to high profile Somali
leaders, and activists: two former Somalia Prime Ministers, Abdirizak
Haji Hussein and Ali
Khalif Galeyr; the former Police Commander, General Mohamed Abshir
Muse; Professor Abdi I. Samatar and his older brother Prof. Ahmed I.
Samatar among others.

Jamal’s actions have
frustrated many of us Somalis who have taken Minnesota as our second
home. This negative publicity is not something we need. On the web,
many people have made disparaging remarks about the Somali community
where Somalis are referred as cheaters, ignorant,
lowlifes, etc. On the Minnesota Democrats Exposed website, one reader
writes
“A few Somali cheaters isn’t [aren’t] going to
change the result for angry Al.”

The degree to which
these accusations and claims have impacted the community is not
yet clear, However, Jamal’s destructive behavior needs to be checked.
Local media houses need to be held accountable by the American people
as they have given Jamal unchecked access on their airwaves. They need
to conduct a
thorough background investigation on Jamal and his questionable claims.

For the record,
Somali-Minnesotans are responsible and law-abiding citizens of this
great state and support a full investigation of this incident that is tarnishing the community’s
image.

As a silver lining this incident may signify a political maturity of the Somali
community and be a signal for the Republican Party to reach out to
them. Contrary to how Somalis have voted in the past, in this election
while voting overwhelmingly Democrat for the president they presumably
split on the senatorial race. Somali immigrants are a microcosm of the
larger US electorate and do not vote as a block. Whether the Republican
Party takes notice of this or not this unpleasant episode suggests that
both political parties have support within the Somali immigrant
community.

It is worth noting,
however, that Somalis here in Minnesota and elsewhere in the U.S.
collectively voted democrat in past elections, Al Gore in 2000 and
John Kerry in 2004.

Opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not represent those of Mshale.

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