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Why Do They Do It?

Fartuun Adan, a Somalian human-rights activist: widow of Elman Ali Ahmed, murdered on March 9, 1996, and mother of Almaas Elman, murdered on November 20, 2019 (Oslo Freedom Forum)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t really get jolted when I read the newspaper (or whatever the modern equivalent of a newspaper is). You’ve been reading the newspaper long enough, you know that there’s a lot of lousy stuff in it: murder, rape, famine, genocide. You nod, yawn, and move on.

How’d the Pistons do last night?

But I must say, I was jolted by this story in the New York Times, with its picture on the top. See that beautiful, marvelous young woman? I met her earlier this year, with a sister of hers and their mother. They are a Somalian family, and the children — four girls, I believe — were raised in Canada.

Their father, Elman Ali Ahmed, was murdered in 1996. Along with their mother, Fartuun Adan, he worked for peace and human rights in that horribly afflicted country, Somalia. In the early ’90s, threats against Elman and Fartuun grew intense. So it was decided that Fartuun would flee to Canada with the girls. Elman stayed behind to continue the work.

They got him — warlords did — on March 9, 1996.

About ten years later, Fartuun did something rather amazing: She returned to Somalia, to run a foundation named after her husband. This foundation helps people in various ways. There are a great many rape victims in Somalia, because this society, like Congo, has a “rape culture.” Fartuun was determined to help them.

“I’m a mom,” she explained at the Oslo Freedom Forum last May. (This is where I met the family, or some of them.) “I have girls.”

In 2013, the U.S. State Department named Fartuun Adan an “International Woman of Courage.”

Two days ago, the headline in the Times read, “Almaas Elman, Somali-Canadian Activist, Is Shot Dead in Mogadishu.” The article said that this murder dealt “a new blow to efforts by the Somali diaspora to return home and help rebuild the country after decades of war.”

To say it again, I was jolted. I remember this family — mother and two daughters, including Almaas — at dinner in Oslo, so happy to be with one another. The sheer delight they took in one another’s company left an impression.

I begin my Impromptus column today with this subject — here.

Why do they do it? Why do people such as this family stick their necks out, instead of keeping their heads down and living out normal lives, or as normal as possible, given the circumstances? Almaas Elman could have stayed in Canada, as free, peaceful, and lovely a place as you can imagine. Yet she went back to her native country, where her father had been murdered, to do the same work as he, and now she, too, is in the grave — early.

They can’t help themselves. At least that is my observation, and I have talked with a great many of them, from all over the world. They can do no other. Some are just born — driven — to combat evil and help others, no matter what. So they do.

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