Broken Dreams Explores Vanishing Somali Youth of Minneapolis

In her debut documentary, a Somali American journalist looks at the young American males recruited by Al-Shabab to join the extremist fight in their African homeland.

Posted: 09/26/2013 12:45 PM EDT
Broken Dreams

(Photo: Fathia Absie/Tusmo Films)

In light of past extremist recruitment activities, a wary gaze has been cast on the large Somali community in Minneapolis-St. Paul following the recent deadly mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya.

Journalist and filmmaker Fathia Absie took notice of the effect that Al-Shabab’s recruitment efforts were having in her hometown and felt compelled to document the trend in her debut documentary Broken Dreams. A passion project filmed in 2010, the film explores the Somali diaspora in the Twin Cities, nicknamed Little Mogadishu for having one of the largest Somali populations outside of the East African nation’s capital.

Absie not only speaks with some of the young Somali men who uprooted their fresh American lives to return to Somalia to face the violence from which they originally fled, but she also interviews their distraught family members as well.

“To be quite honest, I feel that the mainstream media doesn’t care about responsible journalism, because they never look for the people who can tell the real story and not the hype,” Absie told BET.com in a recent interview. “It’s a global world and it’s easy to have people tell their own stories.”

Currently used as a training tool in the U.S. State Department, as well as several U.S. embassies abroad, Broken Dreams will soon be made available to the general public online.

Ahead of the documentary’s digital release, Absie revealed some of the challenges she faced while creating Broken Dreams and explained how negative perceptions of the Somali American community could possibly reinforce Al-Shabab’s agenda.

BET.com: What motivated you to make Broken Dreams?

Fathia Absie: I was working for Voice of America’s Somali Service as a broadcaster/reporter when the Somali American youth started disappearing from Minnesota. We started hearing about it, but the editor didn’t see it as a big deal at the time and didn’t want us to pay attention to it. However, it was very intriguing to me and it didn’t make sense why young men who had so much going on would want to give up everything and fight in war that was senseless. It was personal to me because I came to America as a runaway teen and loved America because it gave me voice, hope and a home. I needed to find out who these young people were and why they felt compelled to leave. Also, the Somali community in Minnesota was divided on this matter. Some were saying there were no missing youth, while others were complaining about their children being recruited. In fact, this was the biggest factor of why I finally decided to capture this on record. So that there wouldn’t be any disputes about it. It was mainly for US Somalis, but to also show our fellow Americans our prospective.

What were some of the professional and personal challenges you faced while making this film?

The hardest thing was finding young people to interview. Many were afraid and didn’t know what to say about Al-Shabab because the group was new at the time. Some people saw them as nationalists who were fighting Ethiopian invasion of their country. I had to wait a whole year after interviewing the parents to find young people who wanted to go on record. By this time, it was clear that Al-Shabab was a terror group who had their own twisted agenda.

What are your thoughts on the media focusing its attention on the Somali American community in Minneapolis—St. Paul and extremist recruitment in the wake of the attack in Kenya?

I can understand why. It only takes one person or a few to commit an egregious crime such us terrorism. Even though the majority of people are peaceful law abiding citizens, it’s all about getting to that one bad apple before it takes that action. But we also must remember that these terrorists kill more Muslims than any other and don’t care about anyone. We must not forget that turning Muslims and people of other faiths against one another is what they want. They thrive in mayhem and we must not let them get their wish and should fight them together.  

Will this attention bring negative repercussions, positive repercussions or both?

It definitely brings negative repercussions, which is very sad. We Somalis are dying everywhere in our country and abroad. The bodies of our people are scattered both in the high seas and the Sahara. We are seen as people of destruction and distrust everywhere we go and we are not taken seriously anywhere. But the way I see it, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Kenya has been a safe haven for millions of Somalis and has been there for us for over 23 years. They do not deserve to be rewarded with death and devastation. It breaks my heart.

What would you like the BET.com readers to know?

I would like them to know that we are like anyone else and that those who commit atrocities are responsible for their own actions. Criminals are criminals no matter what they call themselves or what their agenda might be. We should rise above generalizing an entire faith and remember every day more Muslims are killed by these barbaric cults than anyone else. 

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