The Columbus Dispatch reports on a court case today in Ohio that has larger implications for parent-daughter relations in Muslim families living in the West. The facts of the case are thus: When Mohamed Shide, 38, a Somali immigrant who arrived to the United States in 1998, went to pick up his sixth-grade daughter, Rahma Rage, outside Eastmoor Middle School, he saw her standing with a boy. On getting home, Shide slapped Rage and put a pocketknife to her throat, then threatened to kill her with a butcher knife from the kitchen - or so Rage told an assistant principal the next day, leading to the arrest of her father and her being removed from her home, then placed with a non-Muslim American foster mother.
What makes this incident of such interest is the response of Rage's family and the Somali community, which insisted that Rage made up the above story as a way to leave her parents' house and jump feet-first into U.S. culture. Shide testified at the trial that Rage was watching some "bad sex movies" and listening to "bad rap music" on the sly, as well as adopting such reprehensible American habits as talking back to her parents and not cleaning up after herself. The defense also insisted that Rage took advantage of living with a non-Muslim family to act like a U.S. teen-ager. "She was wearing a dress that I have never seen, and it was very short," Rahma's mother testified. "Her stomach was naked."
Jurors reached a split decision after six hours of deliberation on August 1. They found Shide not guilty of aggravated menacing, could not decide on an assault charge and a domestic violence charge, and found him guilty of threatening his daughter so she thought she was in danger. Shide was fined $100, given a 30-day suspended jail sentence, and put on probation for 13 months. Further, he is prohibited form meeting with Rahma except with her consent.
The Somali community in Columbus responded with alarm to the verdict and rallied around Shide. It worried, first, how the verdict would undermine parental authority: "Many families are hesitant to discipline their children because they could call 911," noted Hassan Omar, president of the Somali Community Association of Ohio.
Second, it feared other children would follow Rage's method of fleeing the restrictions of her parents' home. "There is a strong belief that this will start to happen-and start to happen fast," fretted a family friend.
Third, the community is upset over the shift in power underway. Maryan Warsame, director of the Somali Women's Association, noted that because they speak English and understand American culture, children "think they are better than their parents."
A family friend summed up the extent of the distress: "It's going to destroy the Somali community."
Comments: Somali parents are hardly the first immigrants to find their child-rearing mores in conflict with American customs but it could be that no parents will experience so profound a disconnect as do they.
Rahma Rage was only threatened with murder; other daughters in the West have been killed for "honor"-related issues (note the infamous cases of Palestina Isa in St. Louis and Fadime Sahindal in Sweden.
Finally, this incident points to just how unpredictable the future mores of the American Muslim community are, for they depend on the Rahma Rages, now so much in flux. (August 3, 2003)