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The Coffee Shop Warriors of Minnesota-Somalia
By Doug McGill
MINNEAPOLIS, MN -- Here's something fun to do on a Saturday morning.
Go to the Starbucks at Riverside Avenue and Highway 94 in Minneapolis and pull up a chair at one of the coffee tables packed with Somali immigrants who are sharing the day's news, telling jokes, arguing politics, and comparing the merits of Somalia's various clan leaders and warlords.
When the hubbub settles, as it eventually will so that the group can take stock of the newcomer, pull out a small notebook and tell the group you want to know the meaning of a new Somali phrase you have learned.
"Fadhi ku dirir" means "fighting while sitting down."
Nonchalantly throw the piece of paper to the middle of the table. Now, sit back and enjoy the gale of laughter that ensues. In particular, note how all the men at the table (Somali women avoid this Starbucks) look at each other self-consciously as they finish laughing and whisper to each other in Somali.
As the laughter dies down, then ask the group "Are you guys 'fadhi ku dirir?'" The laughter will peak again, and this time notice the vigorous shaking of heads as each man protests "no, no, no," while pointing to other tables around the coffee shop that are filled with debating Somalis.
Guns and Daggers
Americans might have a hard time believing that a phrase that describes a certain kind of political discussion could elicit such fun.
But that's precisely the case. Literally translated, "fadhi ku dirir" means "fighting while sitting down." More broadly, the phrase is now used so often and in so many ways, arousing so many emotions, that it's become a key to understanding modern Somali society. It plays an especially important role in the boisterous exile politics of a country up to a third of whose population lives as refugees outside of the homeland.
"'Fadhi ku dirir' means hanging around, talking and debating, especially if you are on opposite sides," says Ali Galaydh, a Somali professor of international relations at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs in Minneapolis. "It's a supposedly more peaceful way of engaging each other than by using a gun or dagger."
Without a government, Somalia is run by warlords, each of whom claims a territory, a platform for national governance, and a fight-to-the death constituency.
It would be impractical, of course, for these constituencies to actually fight to the death every time they met each other on a Somali street. Not to mention when they meet in coffee shops in Stockholm, Ottawa, and Minneapolis.
Which explains the self-conscious looks and the embarrassed laughter at Starbucks. It also explains why, in the vast number of Somali Internet chat rooms, the phrase is used an all-purpose insult . Recently spotted outbursts in Somali chatrooms include: "You are nothing but fadhi ku dirir...;" and "You guys are all fadhi ku dirir…;" and "I am not a fadhi ku dirir who would have anyone who is not related to them fry in hell."
A PhD studying how political discourse forms community and identity would find fadhi ku dirir a rich lode for research.
Abdirahman Aynte suggests that the activity is a form of "ritualistic presentation" that "confirms and reaffirms tribal stories and identities" - but which in doing so works against the broader aim of unifying clans into a single peaceful nation.
Abdullahi Daud, a graduate student at Metropolitan State University, wrote an essay for Hiiraan.com that made a case for stopping "fadhi ku dirir"-style discourse as a matter of utmost priority for establishing peace in Somali.
He then tells the story of a Somali journalist who once asked the mayor of Minneapolis, "Why don't you help Somalis in your city?" Upon which the mayor answered: "How can I help people when each group I meet discredits the other group that just left my office?"
Not that Somali exiles have a monopoly on shoutfest political discourse.
Anyone wishing to understand the gist of fadhi ku dirir need only switch on Fox TV, the blogosphere, or any of the other hyper-partisan "debate" forums that pass for political dialogue in our country.
Whenever two people or parties get together to "discuss" issues like abortion, gun control, or gay marriage and simply lob talking points at each other instead of seeking open dialogue and common ground - that's fighting while sitting down, in the truest Somali coffee-shop-warrior style.
"Deny our clan front-runners the free ride they have so far enjoyed," Daud writes in his essay. "Grill them. Question their logic. Once we are no longer confused, we could then ask our elected federal, state, and local officials for assistance with our issues. We owe this to the next generation."
You bet we do.
Source: The McGill Report, Mar 13, 2006