Stopping Somali aid will not stop terrorists

The United Nations warned this week 300,000 Somalis are at risk of immediate starvation. The problem stems in part from “a reduction in crucial financial remittances from Somalis overseas that traditionally help Somalis at home to overcome difficult times.” Justice Department agencies compounded the problem by raiding 62 Somali-affiliated organizations ñ including five in Minneapolis ñ on Wednesday, according to another U.N. report released Thursday. President George W. Bush accused the organizations of having ties to terrorist organizations.

Minneapolis is home to the largest population of Somali refugees in the United States. Often working two or three jobs, Minneapolis Somalis send an average of $2 million each month to their families and villages for necessities such as food and water, the Star Tribune reported.

Somalis use neighborhood money-wiring services that are part of the hawalad transfer system. The hawalad is an informal banking network and the only way to transfer funds into Somalia since their banking system collapsed following the 1991 civil war, the U.N. reported.

“This is the lifeline we have,” said Osman Sahardeed, assistant executive director of the Somali Community of Minnesota. “It is the only way we can help, otherwise they would starve to death.”

Still, the U.S. government began shutting these services down Wednesday.

“By shutting these networks down, we disrupt the murderers’ work,” said President Bush.

Unfortunately, the government doesn’t provide the efficacy of these actions in stopping terrorism. They also don’t say how these companies aid terrorists. That information is classified, according to Tassia Scolinos, a public affairs official for the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control. Although, she assures the government has “strong or clear” evidence.

Of course, all that is needed for “strong or clear” evidence to shut down a business is one person sending money to a group or person that indirectly aides terrorists, even if the business is unaware of the money’s purpose. If only one percent of the transfers goes to terrorists, with the other 99 percent going to stop famine, the government can legally close down a business indefinitely. So to stop a few thousand dollars from going to the Taliban, the government can and will stop millions of dollars from going to starving Somalis.

Scolinos couldn’t provide alternatives to the hawalad, but did provide three Web sites she said could. Unfortunately, two of the three sites didn’t exist, and the third didn’t appear to provide money transfers.

There are still money wiring services in Minneapolis that use the hawalad to provide Somalis a way to transfer money. However, the government could be closing in, and there is currently no legal recourse to stop them. The government’s power must be put in check.

If these services shut down, we don’t disrupt the murderers; we worsen starvation.