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In Ohio, Muslim-Americans fear bitter election will lead to civil unrest

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Somali-Americans in Columbus, Ohio watched election returns on Tuesday night with intense interest and real anxiety, as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s rhetoric has worsened anti-immigrant and Islamophobic sentiment.

(I am writing this now at 11 PM, Nov. 8, and several battleground states are too close to call. We may not have a president-elect in the morning, with one or more states still too close to call. More details here.)

Trump himself has referenced Somali Americans in his speeches, most recently in Minnesota, as the dangerous kinds of immigrants he wants to ban or deport. The FBI last week uncovered a plot by three Americans, white males, to kill Somali Americans, and arrested them. The front page of The Somali Link, a Somali community newspaper in Columbus, reads “FBI, Waad Mahasan,” or “FBI, Thank You.”

Beyond an alarming rise in Islamophobia threatening their physical safety, some Somali-Americans I spoke to worry that Trump’s campaign has undermined the institutions that make the United States the country where they sought refuge after fleeing civil war in Somalia. Now, these Somalis fear that the distrust and hatred between Trump and Clinton supporters could boil over into unrest here. Other Somali Americans I spoke to, however, said that the U.S. constitution and its institutions are strong enough to withstand the divisions caused by the psychedelically-bitter 2016 election. Their perspective comes from growing up in a country where might mattered far more than rights.

“Whoever wins tonight we have to work with them. If we don’t there’ll be chaos,” Liban Hussein, a Somali-American who lives in Columbus, Ohio, told me. 

As I write this, the networks have called Ohio for Trump, and markets opening overseas have seen a “plummet,” per a Washington Post alert. 

At the Global Mall in the heart of the Somali-American community in north Columbus, Somali Americans expressed faith in the Constitution to keep political disputes peaceful. But only the arcane recesses of the Constitution deal with a tie vote or succession crisis. And nothing in the Constitution anticipated a 24-hour news cycle and millions of voters so wedded to their smartphones that they’re closer to cyborgs than any voters in history. No, the drafters of the Constitution didn’t expect that.

The United States has been able to keep at bay the prospect of widespread civil bloodshed through elections, like many other countries. But there’s no law that says unrest is out of the  picture. Somali Americans have seen that type of disruption, having survived a civil war themselves. Which continues, in various episodes, in their homeland, where a fragile provisional government battles back insurgency.

Hussein stressed that the loser accepting the outcome of the election is crucial to avoiding a civil war.

“If Clinton wins or if Trump wins we have to stand behind them and work with them. Otherwise, then the country will be split and people will hate each other forever. Maybe they might…this country might go back to civil war. I was listening to NPR and they invited two people, cousins, and one was for Hillary and one was for Trump and the one supporting Trump said if you don’t vote for Trump I’m not going to talk to you. I was like, Wow, if Trump loses, you know what, this country might go back to civil war, just like in the 1860s. These people are very serious. It’s kind of scary. I hope it doesn’t happen.”

Trump worries Hussein because of his inability to accept defeat or deal with being told no. Trump, in the final debate, said he didn’t know if he would accept the outcome of the election.

“He talks like a warlord,” said Liban Hussein of Trump. “The warlords want to have their own way and if they don’t get their own way they go to war.”

But another Somali American, Mohamed, said he felt that Trump was actually more volatile than a war lord, due to his sense of entitlement. He said that his rhetoric had increased the risks not only for Somali Americans of Islamophobic violence, but also of the collapse of civil institutions.

“The way Donald Trump is talking it looks like he wants to make civil war in the United States. He hates everybody. He’s talking like he has his own America. We are all America. I’m an American and I voted against him. He hates my faith, which is Muslims, he hates my color, he hates my nationality… Every little thing– there is not one issue on which Trump and I agree,” he said. “America cannot allow him to make a civil war inside the United States. Civil war starts when ignorant people get power, because they do ‘I hate this, I hate you’ thing.”

But the Somali Americans to whom I spoke also expressed a consistent faith in the institutions of law and government in the United States. It was a faith that others I spoke to this year, like Alt Right guru Richard Spencer, ridiculed. But as a religious and ethnic minority, Somalis can better see the essential importance of the Constitution and civil society in the United States.

“There is a Constitution in this country. There is no way that he can cross the line. I don’t think  the American people will allow it,” Mohamed said. 

Fatumo, 23, a nursing student, added that she had faith in the ability of the government to enforce order, depending on a Clinton win. But she and her friends worry that Trump’s supporters will take matters into their own hands.

“I don’t think he represents America. He says bad things about everybody, all the immigrants, even the president, so he’s not even a good example for any new generation. My friends are  worried. They’re worried about what will happen if he becomes a president. They worry that a bad war will happen, because the people that support him will fight them,” she said. “It’s like his supporters. That’s what we worry about. The government and the cops, everybody knows the institution and policy that they follow. But his supporters don’t.”

There are others, however, who discount this possibility. Abdi, 41, said he felt that American social and political structures would resist Trump, or make his most nightmarish proposals impossible.

“I think it’s hysterical to think there will be a civil war because this country has institutions, it has checks and balances. It has very robust democratic process and this is not the first time that this country has had elections that were bitterly fought and people have always come together at the end of the day. I am not worried that there will be a civil war or any problems after the election,” he said.

“Do you think Trump will agree to concede if he loses?” I asked.

Abdi replied: “I think he’ll come around.”

Wilson Dizard

Wilson Dizard is a freelance reporter and photojournalist covering politics, civil rights, drug policy and everything else. He lives in Brooklyn with his bicycle, camera and drum set.

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20 Responses

  1. RoHa on November 9, 2016, 4:07 am

    “I’m an American and I voted against him. He hates my faith, which is Muslims, he hates my color, he hates my nationality ”

    But if his nationality is American, as he claims, that is exactly the nationality that Trump claims to support.

    • echinococcus on November 9, 2016, 1:10 pm

      Nationality and citizenship aren’t the same thing in several contexts; they are very different concepts in many places.

      • RoHa on November 9, 2016, 7:04 pm

        In silly places.

      • echinococcus on November 9, 2016, 11:20 pm

        One cannot but agree: they are mainly un-Anglophone.

  2. kalithea on November 9, 2016, 4:59 am

    Remember the headline after the 2004 U.S. election in the U.K. Mirror about the 59,000,000 dumb Americans? Somewhere in the world, or maybe in people’s minds around the world this headline is flashing:


    Democrats are a sorry lot this morning in more ways than one. The party’s over. Not even The Boss, Stevie, Beyonce, Bill, Warren, Obama, Michelle and every star in the universe could sell Hillary after the fatal mistake that Democrats made. It’s gotta be karma.

    Democrats threw Bernie under the bus. Bernie was leading a genuine movement for change when they threw him and his lofty, radical ideas away and Trump jumped on that emerging movement and rode it to the finish line. Trump is not about a movement; he’s the necessary evil that will finally jumpstart the revolution that Bernie tried to inspire. Democrats wanted Hillary to break the glass ceiling more than they wanted a necessary movement for change that is more than necessary. Real dumb. They had blinders for the moment in front on them and all they wanted was Hillary. And the worst part is that they weren’t even enthusiastic about her; it was the idea of a woman and to hell with genuine change!

    Trump won blue states that Bernie won in the primaries. There’s so much karma in those blue-state wins. Democrats handed this election to Trump when they threw Bernie and his genuine movement to the curb. Obama’s movement was never genuine.

    There is a bright spot in this however for the rest of the world. Americans aren’t ready for a visionary leader, and I won’t say Bernie rose all the way to that height but he was right for paving the way; he was on the right track. Now, Americans are stuck with Trump, and as Farrakhan put it: he’s going to take Americans on a rocket ship to hell. That’s the route they’ve chosen. Amen…it’s well-deserved and maybe when Americans get back from that trip, they’ll finally see how their choices have rained so much misery, pain and destruction on others for so many decades. Maybe once they’ve felt what it’s like to be sent to hell; they’ll finally make the responsible choices that will better this world. Americans are going to learn the hard way to stop lusting for power.

    It’s surreal to think that one of America’s President-elect famous quotes will be: You can do anything; grab them by the pussy…. Americans have really, truly proven that anyone can be President. LOL. It’s surreal. Do they really believe this will turn out okay? The media deserve Trump, Washington deserves Trump, Americans deserve Trump and the leaders of our world who’ve enabled American imperial hubris deserve Trump. Unfortunately, the rest of us who see where this world is headed, don’t. Hopefully, we’ll be spared.

    Democrats threw away all the domestic social gains achieved when they refused to recognize the movement for genuine change.

    Yes, I wanted this outcome, because once the easier route with Bernie was eliminated; this was the only route left. Hillary would only have perpetuated the agony. Ironically she got lucky. Soon she’ll no longer be responsible for the darkness coming.

    And then maybe, another outcome awaits: Trump might end up impeached…I have to admit there’s a fascinating unknown here. It’s just too surreal to fathom.

    • annie on November 9, 2016, 9:35 am

      Democrats threw Bernie under the bus.

      just to clarify, when you say democrats do you mean the dnc? because a lot of democrats supported sanders. the majority of them in many many states.

      • kalithea on November 9, 2016, 3:19 pm

        Go back and check out the states where Bernie won. Most of them were open primaries, which means that, yes a lot of democrats supported Bernie but he was also appealing to many Independents and Hillary was not bringing in Independents. This is why Bernie believed he was the better choice to beat Trump and he was, because if Democrats had chosen Bernie he would get the majority of Democrats on board AND he would bring those Independent supporters with him. But the DNC was myopic, and a lot of Democrats who couldn’t see the writing on the wall for the glass ceiling are to blame for this outcome.

        You have only to go to Huffpo and Kos to see how bitter Democrats are, blaming Bernie for this loss, alleging he was too hard on Hillary during the primaries. They still don’t get it and it’s up to the rest of us to make them see and prepare the way for someone more courageous than Bernie who aspires to bring genuine change. The Democrats lost because they failed to tap into the disgust with the Washington status quo and presented a candidate who was part of that status quo and who lacked the genuineness to appeal to the disenfranchised public. They have themselves to blame for their lack of vision and their inability to tap into the moment, because at this time revolt against the establishment was the general sentiment but Democrats failed to seize on that glaring reality and instead obsessed with making Hillary, the first woman to break the glass ceiling when she was so flawed, a Neocentrist insider and wrong for the moment. Democrats blew it despite all the star power and media support for their candidate. That speaks volumes.

        This is a teachable moment and yet some Democrats, too many imho, are pointing the finger at Bernie instead.

        One of the positive outcomes of the Trump victory is that the media was left with egg on its face. The media that are nothing but corporate gatekeepers for a Zionist/Neocon agenda have lost the trust and respect of the public at least for the moment. Hopefully, Americans will hang on to that skepticism.

        However, grave dangers lurk with Trump’s victory. Trump is already flanked by Necons Giuliani and Pence and even Christie, and others will flock to his side, and there’s a Republican monopoly now in government to continue the Neocon/Zionist agenda. Trump had a very hard line against Iran and has no problem bringing back torture and he’s not transparent. These and other disturbing aspects that Trump displays tell me that Americans are facing hard times and so is the rest of the world. But again, it looks like this is the necessary evil for this time. The responsibility is to fight and resist it every step of the way, but this won’t happen until Americans start to see where Trump is taking them. Hopefully, the honeymoon between Trump and the angry masses will be short-lived.

        Impeachment, hard times, and even pitchforks, whatever it takes to get the Zionist/Neocon agents out and bring about genuine change.

    • RoHa on November 9, 2016, 6:59 pm

      “Somewhere in the world, or maybe in people’s minds around the world this headline is flashing:


      No, Kalithea. Most of the world realised that long ago. It’s old news.

      ‘It’s surreal to think that one of America’s President-elect famous quotes will be: “You can do anything; grab them by the pussy….”‘

      It’s a more positive message than “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” and “I am not a crook.”

    • eljay on November 9, 2016, 7:22 pm

      || kalithea: … It’s surreal to think that one of America’s President-elect famous quotes will be: You can do anything; grab them by the pussy … ||

      Not a good quote. But neither is “We came, we saw, he died! Hahahaha.”

  3. kalithea on November 9, 2016, 6:50 am

    Gotta repeat this comment I made elsewhere, here:

    Why is it that no one sees the “pussy grabbing” president vs the 1st woman president irony as the karmic lesson this really is?

    Clue: you don’t always get what you want….you get what you neeeeed!

    Apparently, the Universe thinks this was a necessary evil. Trump is the spanking everyone not just Democrats need right now and there’s a very good reason why. The why is what’s getting lost in translation.

    (Dana Bash couldn’t figure out why Trump used this piece of music as his theme song. I think no one really gets it…yet.)

    Trump sprinkled fairy dust everywhere with his Victory Speech early this morning….and the lame ass media actually fell under his spell. First the libel threats and now the honeymoon—-lol- all this is just too priceless!

  4. Kay24 on November 9, 2016, 7:35 am

    We should all be afraid. This is one of the worst case scenarios becoming a reality. The majority of voters wanted a leader that lies, insults, threatens, is vindictive, think skinned, and has shown that people of color are of no consequence to this country. I feel bad that Muslims are now going to be the target of ignorance and bigotry, and attacks on them will increase, since the leader of this country has shown that bigotry is acceptable. Americans are once again showing poor judgement and having no values, and seem to have forgotten the terrible years of Bush/Cheney, that led to wars, recession, and depressed Americans. The idiots in this
    country have once again voted for the worst candidate, and we will all face the consequences of
    such a decision, even the rest of the world. America as we have known it will never be the same.
    This is very depressing.

    • Mooser on November 9, 2016, 12:19 pm

      .” The majority of voters wanted…”

      I don’t think the count is entirely done, but it might be that the majority of voters wanted Hilary, but Trump won the Electoral College count.
      And when the Trump U trial is done, he’ll be inaugurated.

      • MHughes976 on November 9, 2016, 4:25 pm

        The defeat of the winner of the popular vote caused ructions in 2000 but this time seems to be of no concern.

    • echinococcus on November 9, 2016, 1:18 pm


      I can sympathize with the depression, but is it such a good idea to continue your Dem party lamentations over here? You guys couldn’t put up a decent candidate and got what you deserved; besides, the the “terrible years of Bush/Cheney” have not stopped, in fact it’s been even worse since. The bad part is that you also brought the same calamity on people who did warn you. I’d suggest keeping it to yourselves from now on.

      • annie on November 9, 2016, 2:18 pm

        i’d suggest this is not the day to be suggesting who should keep what to themselves. maybe let people unload how they will.

      • Kay24 on November 9, 2016, 5:16 pm

        Thank you Annie for being reasonable.

        This in response to Echinococcus – what makes you think I voted for Hillary? Just a wild guess eh? Well, you are wrong. If I had that much control over the Dems, I would have waved my magic wand and got the perfect candidate you suggest. I don’t see why I cannot lament here about anything, as this affects everyone.

      • echinococcus on November 9, 2016, 6:33 pm

        Sorry for responding; am I the only one (?) to suggest that continuous partisan propaganda spilling over here (unconsciously in fact, regarding the Dems as if they naturally were a home “party” in the so-called duopoly) is as damaging to the appeal of the site as the partisan opinion pieces on Syria. As long as it refers to policy regarding Palestine, no problem of course, but just as a general US-only item?

        People who think like so-called liberals do not realize the huge numbers of people with friendly intentions toward the Palestinian resistance that their cultural exclusivities are alienating.

        And, Kay, it’s explicitly a plural, collective “you”.

  5. Ossinev on November 9, 2016, 12:29 pm

    Like a lot of people in the UK , I suspect , I was not surprised by the result. Having had a Brexit despite the polls indicating a “Remain” and not long prior to that a Scottish Referendum vote where again the polls got it wrong I think I have become a little bit sceptical about the whole polling forecast scenario. Having said that I think that as with Brexit the Trump vote looking at it from this side of the Atlantic very much mirrors the Brexit vote here ie it was very much a protest vote against a long running self serving establishment which in the eyes of of the working class and now a significant portion of the middle class had turned a blind eye to or actively dismissed their genuine concerns over the economy and definitely here in the UK over the impact of uncontrolled Immigration on social services , education capacities , housing and the National Health Service. Those London based politicians who effectively dismissed those raising concerns about the local impact immigration as bigoted “Little Englanders” effectively handed victory on a plate for the Brexiteers – people who are not in anyway bigoted were angered to be accused of bigotry and IMO showed their anger via a protest vote. Looking at the US election I see the same “protest vote ” theme though largely focused on the economy.

    As for the future well at least the Trump victory on the face of it has dealt a severe blow to the lobby system in the US electoral process which is so blatantly open to corruption and vested interest control including vested foreign interest control ( thus Saban / AIPAC etc etc etc ).

    I have yet to see an anticipated line up Trump team in the media – perhaps because the MSM media in America simply didn`t consider the possibility of a Trump victory. Obviously this team , including the somewhat low key Pence , will have an impact on Trumps policies and we can only hope that they are able to exert some checks and balances.

    Meanwhile over in Israel I think that the Yahoo must be in a bit of a quandery. He has got so used to belittling American Presidents with impunity. This new President is more than likely to point out and remind the wannabe Zionist Churchill that he is no more than a pipsqueak leader of a pipsqueak little country heavily reliant on US taxpayer handouts. Unlike Clinton who followed up his “Who the f..k does he think he is? Who’s the fucking superpower here?
    Israel Or the United States” after first meeting the Yahoo and then effectively doing SFA to hammer home the point I think that Donald will put him firmly in his place if he steps out of line.

    • MHughes976 on November 9, 2016, 4:35 pm

      I agree with much of that, Ossonev.. Many of my friends, a little wiser than me, we’re confidently predicting another and bigger Brexit. On the other hand I am sure that there is a big file of blackmail materials ready to be used if Trump gets out of line.
      I wonder what the pollsters will have to say for themselves. I was a bit too persuaded by their ‘couldn’t happen here’ rhetoric. They weren’t all that wrong in their nationwide efforts but how did they make such massive mistakes in Ohio and suchlike?

      • echinococcus on November 10, 2016, 9:11 am

        Forget the blackmail file, they are busy recruiting a whole battalion of Hinckleys (Rastignacs to you the English.)
        As for the pollsters, their job is like that of any business: keeping the client happy. Especially the local or statewide pollsters.
        All you had to do was to ask any American –except Democrats and otherwise-liberals; those don’t generally talk to people outside their own circles.

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