eyes on the U.S.

Jihad Recruitment In Minnesota, A Case Study After San Bernardino

The Somali community has solid roots in and around Minneapolis. But young people have increasingly been lured by jihadists.

A group of Somali women wait outside Minneapolis' Federal Courthouse
A group of Somali women wait outside Minneapolis' Federal Courthouse
Gilles Paris

MINNEAPOLIS â€" Inside, the mix of spices and colorful clothing evoke a taste of Africa. Outside, the snow and cold quickly bring you back to the reality that is the northern United States in December. The Karmell Mall in Minneapolis is one of the first malls founded by Somali residents, who have since found refuge and economic security in successive waves of immigration to the northern U.S. state of Minnesota.

But just a few blocks away, Fartun Weli, a Somali-American who runs a local women's support association, is looking down at the latest news updates on her smartphone from another, more immediate reality: the shock brought on by the deadly shooting this month in San Bernardino, California, carried out by radicalized Muslims.

Weli says the reverberations for her community have their own unique mix. “We, Somali are simultaneously immigrants, Black and Muslim," she says, readjusting her veil. "In Fox News’ world, that’s a lot.” The stakes have been raised further still since Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed a total ban on Muslims entering the U.S..

In Minneapolis, the Somali community had already been struggling to recover from another recent jolt: the FBI arrest in April of six young Somali-Americans about to set off for Syria. A decade earlier, dozens of youth had already joined the jihadist al-Shabaab militia in a Somalia consumed by civil war.

Following the arrests, in a column published in the daily Minneapolis Star Tribune, former Senator Norm Coleman used the state's nickname, the "Land of 10,000 Lakes," to refer to Minnesota the “Land of 10,000 terrorists,” calling for a harsher crackdown.

The current drawing power of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s ISIS caliphate, far from the African homeland, stunned the Somali community in Minnesota. The April arrests brought the number of these new “draftees” up to 20, while one, Abdirahmaan Muhumed, was among the first Americans killed in battle on Syrian soil. Abdi Nur, who left Minneapolis in June 2014, posted a picture of himself on social media smiling, brandishing an AK-47 assault rifle.

Abdi Nur â€" Photo : ask.fm social media page

Out of nowhere

The profile of these new jihadists is coming into focus: well-educated, with professional ambitions and a sudden radicalization that relatives did not foresee.

Jaylani Hussein, head of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said those arrested for ISIS ties differ than past radicals who had joined the conflict in East Africa. "Those who signed up with al-Shabaab were mostly estranged from the community or in trouble with the law,” Hussein said. “These youths, on the other hand, come from well-integrated families.”

Faced with this new reality, U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Andrew Luger drew up a plan to fight extremism that went beyond simply countering violence and criminality, and was aimed at “reinforcing the solidity of the Somali community” with a variety of support and social programs for the youth.

Jaylani Hussein was among the most vocal critics of the project. “It’s not healthy to see the Justice Department, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security getting involved in social activities," he says. "It clouds the issue and creates both confusion and suspicion.”

Luger's office declined to comment about the controversy, as did several key local Somali-American politicians. Fartun Weli has serious doubts about the efficiency of such measures. “When it was launched, I was part of the Task Force that supervised it, then, I distanced myself. I saw a lot of ego and not enough resources,” she said. “It’s odd to set up something exclusively designed for the Somali, because it ends up sending just one message: "You are the problem." Then, this also led to tensions with other minorities, who wondered why we were given special treatment.”

Jamal Abdulahi, a Star Tribune columnist, who knows the Somali community well, says the polemics were counterproductive: “Whatever can help to improve our situation is good to try,” he says.

Jaylani Hussein agrees that no one has come out looking good. “Everyone got their fingers burnt,” he said. "And the religious leaders are keeping a low profile to avoid trouble, even when their voices could be useful.”

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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