FREE SPEECH ZONE | Omar Jamal at the UN: A Slap in the Face or Pure Naiveté?


Earlier this week, Omar Jamal became the newest attraction at the Somali Mission in New York, representing Somalia at the United Nations. He joined two dysfunctional diplomats: Dr. Elmi Du’ale, the reclusive, frail and soft-spoken ambassador, and Idd Beddel, a flamboyant diplomat who is famous for pouring a hot coffee at a fellow coffee shop warrior (fadhi ku dirir) at a Starbucks in suburban Washington.


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Mr. Jamal, who in 2005 was convicted for immigration fraud and is pending deportation, is a media magnet known for his Islamophobic outbursts at major US cable networks. Since the early 2000s, Mr. Jamal was a lightning rod among the Somali community in the United States, particularly in Minnesota, where he chaired himself at a one-person nonprofit organization dubbed “The Somali Justice Advocacy Center.”

Lest you’re fooled by the name, there’s nothing judicious about Mr. Jamal: a college dropout from Toronto with unbeknown past in Europe, Jamal had once described Minneapolis as “a slaughterhouse for Somalis” after the city’s police shot a machete-wielding, mentally ill Somali man. The statement was characteristic of Jamal’s knack for grandiosity.

Still, his nomination as the “First Officer” at the most important Somali mission abroad confounds every Somali-American, not least because Mr. Jamal has consistently defaced President Sheikh Sharif and the erstwhile Union of Islamic Courts as an “al-Qaeda outfit,” but because he’s notoriously incompetent.

Jamal’s unfitness for the post is highlighted by the fact that even Abdullahi Yusuf, the warlord he so dearly embraced, has rejected a request by Mr. Jamal to appoint him to the same position. Reportedly, Mr. Yusuf cited Jamal’s status as a loose cannon within the Somali community in Minnesota, particularly the sub, sub-clan that both men hail from.

The one-man, nonprofit mascara aside, Mr. Jamal has been habitually jobless. He frequented at the Starbucks in Minneapolis, where he engaged in daily pugilistic shouting matches about the nasty Somali politics. That is as much as he has ever been exposed to the mighty and deliberative art of diplomacy, which is he’s now tasked to perform.

Buyer’s remorse

President Sharif’s government, which is remarkably weak, has fatally shot itself right on the head by nominating Mr. Jamal to this crucial post. His knack to usurp others, particularly with respect to media relations, is likely to enrage the TFG countless times. His superiors, Dr. Du’ale and Mr. Beddel, must be on edge by now. This cantankerous, forty-something man of brash will undoubtedly make some crazy remarks that will force the already besieged government of Sheikh Sharif to apologize, restate or deny. And that will only go so far.

Reportedly, the Villa Somalia is already engulfed in buyer’s remorse in response to Jamal’s first statement from the pulpit: “I will help eradicate Al-Qaeda from my country.” Knowing Mr. Jamal as much as I observed him over the years, by that statement  he could well mean Sheikh Sharif and all the Kofi-wearing, beard-boasting, regularly-praying, sober clerics who now dominate the TFG.

Known in some circles by his initials “O.J.,” Mr. Jamal is unapologetically agnostic, bordering Ayan Hersi type. In Minnesota, he led a brazen charade against imams of mosques and other men of God. He molested the Somali community in his incessant press conferences, name-calling community elders as “terrorists.” During the 2008 presidential elections, OJ and a narrow cabal openly campaigned for John McCain, the Republican candidate, largely to irate the Somali community, which overwhelmingly voted for President Barack Obama.

Pirate lawyer?

In one of his now infamous media stints, Mr. Jamal summoned the unsuspecting Somali media in early May, and declared that the teenage Somali pirate who was captured after terrorizing the ship Mearsk Alabama for nearly a week is, in his words, “a distant cousin” (a code word frequently used by Jamal to denote clan affiliation), and that the teenager’s family in Puntland had retained him as a “local lawyer.”

A local lawyer? Sure, Jamal asserted more than once that he’s a “local lawyer”—whatever that means. Regardless, this madness was too much for Rep. Marty Seifert, a Republican state lawmaker, who introduced a bill banning state money to fund Jamal’s grandeur.

Sensing that the winds are truly blowing against him this time, Mr. Jamal instantly withdraw the my-cousin-is-a-pirate-worth-defending card. But he never ceased to be a radioactive member of the Somali community in Minnesota.

On another piracy-related stint, Mr. Jamal, a media savvy man, summoned the state press to reveal that he’s working hard to release a Nigerian captain whose brother happens to live in Minnesota. Jamal claimed that the pirates, being the nice distant cousins they are, have agreed in principle to release this captain. The Nigerian brother, desperate for the release of his beloved brother by these marauding criminals, flanked Mr. Jamal emotionless, presumably in despair.

A slap in the face

When all said and done, it’s NOT Mr. Jamal’s fault that he was given this privilege. It’s the pressure-prone government of Sheikh Sharif that nominated him, notwithstanding his rancorous past. The nomination is a huge slap on the face on those hard-working Somali-Americans who have shown up in droves at President Sharif’s rallies in Virginia, Minneapolis, Chicago and Columbus. In picking Mr. Jamal, the president sent the message that only agitators get what they want, and that honest, decent people are sidelined because they have not unnerved many people to be noticed.