Somali-Canadian Youth Radicalization- A Sign of Failed Integration

Somali- Torontonians are worried sick about the five young Somali-Canadians, who disappeared this October without informing their families. What is more gripping is the indication that these young men may have fled the country to join hands with Al-Shabab, which is believed to be the leading Islamist and clan militia combating the transitional government in Somalia. It has been said that some of the families of the disappeared young men confirmed their fears that their sons might be radicalized. It is also important to note that, not long ago, Police Commissioner William Elliot has labelled Islamic radicalization of Canada’s Somali community as a national security threat.

The young men in question are mostly second generation Somali-Canadians, who have never been to Somalia before, like their counterparts from the US and the Europe, who joined Al-Shabab. It has been on the news recently that a similar pattern has occurred in US followed by the death of some Somali- American youth in suicide bombings related to al-Shabab. It has been reported that few of them contacted their family saying that they are in Kenya.

Even though the whereabouts of the disappearing Torontonian youth is still yet a mystery to decipher, these suspicion that they might be radicalized is worrying the Somali- Canadian community, who are concerned about not only the well being of the youth but also the consequence this might incur in how the Somali- Canadian community is perceived by the Nation, provided that generally Muslims are stereotypically categorized negatively as ‘terrorists’ and threats to national and global security.  Canada’s War on Terror strategy, which is not much different from that of the US especially after 9/11, has not aided the situation, but rather has exacerbated racial profiling which has gradually evolved from targeting blacks to Muslims and Arabs. For example, deporting immigrants and focusing on illegal immigrants as a counter terrorism strategy were highly discredited and eventually failed to tackle terrorism. In her analysis of racial profiling and Canada’s war against terror, Reem Bahdi argues that even though the war on terror strategy does not explicitly endorse racial profiling of Muslims and Arabs, it has been undeniably usedto frame suspects based on their race and religion without other viable evidence. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has launched community outreach programs to respond to these concerns and in the mean time prevent youth political violence and radicalization.

Somali- Canadians have been among the Muslim community regarded with suspicion in relation to terrorism and some innocent members of the community have paid heavy prices consequently. On the other hand, alienated young members of the community, who are tired of such treatments, could easily be targeted by radicals, who use different brainwashing techniques in recruiting their followers. As he told the National Post, the Imam, who is the leader of the Mosque where the missing youth were frequenters, doesn’t know who to trust when it comes to extremists since the young people he knew hasn’t showed any sign of such behaviours even though at times they were emotional and less likely to ‘sit in the class and learn.’

This occurrence also instigates us to probe the integration of the Somali-Canadian community in Canada. Why would these young men who are born and raised in Canada, who are successful enough to join universities, choose to join an endless war that is tearing apart a nation? What would really make them choose to go back to Somalia over their comfortable life and future in Toronto? The major question could as well be why they choose to belong with the Somali radicals rather than as Somali- Canadians.

Canada hosts the largest chunk of the Somali immigrant community scattered in North America, Europe and Australia. In spite of the existence of many settlement and integration services particularly focusing on Somali immigrants, integration is hardly said to be a success in many cases. Somali Canadian Today in 2008 reported that the Somali community in Toronto is segregated in the shabbiest part of the city, facing discrimination in employment, housing and education and experiencing poverty that is not well documented. Besides facing double faces of discrimination as blacks and as Muslims, most of them have arrived in Canada as refugees and have to deal with family departures, the aftermath of war and torture, lack of education and language barriers.

A sense of alienation and failed integration on the part of young Somali-Canadians, who are in search of belongingness, could make them more vulnerable to radicalized propaganda that is rampant over the internet. Al-Shabab leaders specifically are said to be very organized in tapping such opportunities that simplify their endeavour in radicalizing the Somali youth in the West. On the other hand, it is yet open to scrutiny if Canada’s policy on the war on terror or the media misrepresentation of Muslims have played some role in flaming the ‘radicalization’ of these young people.

Yohana Otite

Yohana Otite is the co-founder of BornBlack and writers on issues that revolve around the intersection of race, gender and class. Yohana also manages the Hamilton DiverseCity onBoard program at Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion.

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