How Angus King made the attack in Kenya worse

Angus King should be ashamed of himself.

Maine’s junior senator made a very junior mistake last weekend in the wake of the terrorist attack on a mall in Kenya. On the basis of a fleeting tweet of dubious origin that claimed someone from Maine was involved in the massacre, King unwittingly helped bring terror to his home state by casting suspicion on our Somali refugee community.

“In pursuing this matter, justice should be swift and sure for those involved in this crime, including anyone with connections to Maine,” King declared in a statement issued the day after the attack began. “At the same time, however, we must avoid assigning blame to members of our refugee community generally, the vast majority of whom came here specifically to avoid such violence and want nothing more than the chance to live peaceful and productive lives.”

The “vast majority,” senator? Really? He must surely understand that by saying this, he is also saying a small minority of Somali refugees in Maine came here for the chance to lead violent, destructive lives. That’s an incredibly reckless thing to imply without a shred of evidence. But the shame he deserves for stoking suspicion and fanning the flames of fear is not the only basis of his disgrace.

It’s true that some Somali immigrants in the United States have been inspired to return to Africa and take up arms in support of al Shabab (“the Youth”), a militant group that has claimed responsibility for the attack in Kenya. But none of those misguided young men were from Maine.

As detailed in a lengthy New York Times article published in 2009, “A Call to Jihad, Answered in America,” the Somali-American youth who joined the Youth were members of the much larger Somali refugee community in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. The geopolitical event that brought the Youth to prominence and helped it entice a handful of Americans to its cause was the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006 — an invasion endorsed and supported by the United States.

Religious radicalization was a common and crucial factor, but news reports of Ethiopian forces killing and raping Somalis provided much of the motivation necessary to convince these young men to leave the relative comfort of their lives in America and join a desperate, violent struggle in a hellish homeland they hardly knew. It’s also important to note that the militants from Minnesota were appalled by the idea of participating in an act of domestic terrorism. “Why would I do that?” one of them said to a friend quoted in The Times article. “My mom could be walking down the street.”

The barbaric government the Ethiopians overthrew was led by the Islamic Courts Union, an alliance of Sharia courts that itself attained and maintained power with the support of the United States. Al Shabab was a minor member of this confederation, but its strength and influence grew substantially after the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion.

These developments are just two of the latest in a series of violent power struggles that have destabilized Somalia for decades, making it one of the most destitute places on the planet. And the superpower whose mighty hand continues to push these bloody chess pieces around is the same superpower whose hand signs the checks Sen. King deposits into his big bank account.

Sen. King is surely aware of the history of U.S. involvement in Somalia, and, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he’s more informed about our ongoing efforts to arm and support warlords there than most people in government. But in the wake of last weekend’s attack, he has the audacity to point a finger at Maine’s Somali community, based on an anonymous tweet, while speaking not a word about his employer’s support of Somali extremists and cross-border invaders whose atrocities have been thoroughly documented.

The possibility that a wayward teen could leave Maine to fight a civil war half a world away does not concern me much. I’m considerably more troubled by politicians like King who endorse (either actively or tacitly, by their silence) American policies (covert and otherwise) that create the miserable conditions that give rise to groups like the Youth and make it easier for them to recruit refugees.

Sen. King can shed some of his shame by first apologizing to Maine’s Somali community and then explaining to all of us what he is prepared to do to bring stability and peace to their homeland.

Until he does that, he should keep his mustachioed mouth shut.

Chris Busby

About Chris Busby

Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard, a monthly magazine about Portland. He writes a weekly column for the BDN.