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Canada:Religious differences set aside

By Mindelle Jacobs ,Edmonton Sun
Sunday, June 12, 2011

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Given the unease between the Jewish and Muslim communities, the stories of collaboration and friendship often get overlooked.

Well, have you heard the one about the Jewish guy who’s legal counsel for the Canadian Somali Congress?

That’d be James Morton.

And I’ll bet you didn’t know that the Jewish communities in Toronto, Ottawa and Windsor, Ont., are helping mentor young Somali professionals who, in turn, hope to be positive role models for other Somalis.

“There’s a lot of friction between the Jewish community and the Muslim community,” acknowledges Morton. “But this is a way that we can work together in very concrete, practical way, person-to-person, and build bridges which one hopes will last a lifetime.”

Dozens of Somalis in Ontario have been mentored by the Jewish community over the last three years. Now Morton and Ahmed Hussen, president of the Canadian Somali Congress, hope community groups in Alberta will step up to the plate.

“The Jewish community was a good fit (in Toronto) but it doesn’t matter what your background is. What matters here is to have someone who can give you an entree into the profession,” says Morton.

“You give people alternatives. If they’re positive alternatives, they may well go for them. So I think (an Alberta mentoring program) would be helpful. It’s not the entire answer but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.”

Hussen, who plans to be in Edmonton June 26 for a town hall meeting to address the spate of killings in the Somali community — more than 30 in the province since 2006 — says mentoring is crucial to opening career doors for Somalis.

“It’s much needed in Alberta,” he says. “There are so many young people in need of mentorship who would make productive and upstanding citizens.”

In the 1930s and 1940s, people helped Jews integrate and now the Jews are giving back, says Morton.

“Muslims are in some sense the new religious minority and it’s very important that the broader culture as a whole works towards integrating them in a productive way,” he explains.

Morton adds that he faced virtually no anti-Semitism growing up but there is still considerable anti-Muslim sentiment in Canada.

“Both communities (Muslim and Jewish) reached out to each other,” he explains. “In every community, you’re going to have good people and bad people. It’s the sort of broad middle that you really want to affect.”

The latest killing of a Somali-Canadian, Abdi Ali Mohamud, who was shot in downtown Edmonton June 3, has further rattled a community already reeling from so many shootings, most of them unsolved.

Adding to the grim news was the revelation by police that Mohamud, 43, who had no criminal record and wasn’t known to the cops, wasn’t the killer’s intended target.

Hussen says part of the reason so many of the killings remain unsolved is that many in the Somali community aren’t aware that you can call Crime Stoppers anonymously. “A lot of these people aren’t integrated into the mainstream so they don’t know,” he says.

“When crimes don’t get reported or when suspects don’t get reported, then a culture of impunity grows. So, in a weird way, that impunity is one of the contributing factors (to the violence).”

At the town hall meeting, he plans to stress that people can contact Crime Stoppers anonymously.

He also wants to help better organize local volunteer efforts to stem the violence.

“My goal is to tap into that energy but channel it in a more systematic and comprehensive manner.”

People don’t realize that most Somali-Canadians have been here for decades, Hussen adds. “We don’t need settlement programs for refugees. We need integration programs for Canadians.”

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