Ilhan Dahir and Abdul Razak Ali Artan were both of Somali extraction. Both attended Ohio State University.
But ISIS claimed 18-year-old Artan as a soldier after he attempted to run down fellow students and leapt from his wrecked car with a kitchen knife, slashing at them until he was shot by a campus cop.
All of humanity can claim 23-year-old Dahir after she became a 2016 Rhodes Scholar and a Fulbright Fellow and was named a White House Champion of Change and was sent by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to represent us at an international meeting on violent extremism.
Her senior thesis at Ohio State was on the threat posed by foreign fighters in ISIS. She taught English in Turkey while on her Fulbright. She also spent a summer teaching English at the Iman School for Girls in Mogadishu, Somalia.
As a Rhodes Scholar, she is said to be studying toward two master’s degrees, one in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, the other in Global Governance and Diplomacy. She then figures on returning stateside for law school. Her ultimate plan is reportedly to become an international human-rights lawyer.
“I’m eager to use any sort of knowledge I gain to affect people’s lives in a positive way,” she has said.
Since high school, she has worked to bridge the differences between religions and cultures. She rose to a leadership position in Face to Face—Faith to Faith, an international organization that strives to bring Muslim, Jewish, and Christian teens together. She formed her own Interfaith Youth Corps. She also mentored Somali junior-high and high -chool students.
At Ohio State, she was editor of The Alger, the student magazine. She wrote with particular power on the 12th anniversary of 9/11. Her article read in part, “In the years since the attacks on the Twin Towers, distrust still lingers like a putrid odor. It permeates interactions until we are heavy with the knowledge of it, until we learn to ignore it, until we stop noticing it altogether. Indeed, our rational minds tell us that American was never built to be an exclusionary word. We know that it is a banner under which the sons and daughters of pioneering immigrants stand for such radical notions as equality, justice, freedom, unity.”
She went on, “But fear, incited by extremists and sketched into our psyches by revenge, keeps us from internalizing the message. In this weakness, we find comfort in separation, in finding those that look, pray, or act like us, only to view all others with heightened levels of skepticism. In these moments of distrust, we should remember that it is these fault lines of discrimination and cynicism, and not another terrorist attack, that threatens to strip us of our identity.”
She was writing as the daughter of Somali refugees, who had fled the civil war in their homeland and sought refuge in America, settling in Hilliard, Ohio. Her sister, Nima Dahir, also graduated from Ohio State and is equally accomplished. She was named a Beinecke Scholar and offered a position as a research analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. She had spoken of securing a doctorate in experimental economics.
Ilhan Dahir kept writing during her travels. She posted on Facebook a piece she wrote a year ago that she called “islamophobia is a feminist issue in 3 parts”:
“1) a close friend of mine’s hijab got snatched off her head moments before she was thrown to the ground, a young woman was pushed towards the tracks in a Toronto subway, my friend’s mother was spit on and harassed, a school girl was kicked in the stomach, thrown to the ground and beat up in her middle school, public space is even more hostile for us now.
“2) i tie my scarf around my head until it resembles a hairpiece instead of a hijab. the older woman from Michigan on my flight can’t understand ‘how those Muslims can be so goddamned awful all the time’. she asks if I know any Muslims, I say I do. the conversation goes on for the better part of 5 hours, she’s never met a Muslim before, she didn’t know Muslims could be Black or funny or from Ohio. we laugh together, she tells me about her son, he’s only 8 and is already so good at chess. her daughter wants to be a translator one day, she tells me I should meet her, ‘maybe she can be inspired by a young woman who travels by herself so much’. she asks how Muslims feel about [ISIS], I say worse than she can know—the enemies of humanity claim our name. I tell her about all the women who are bearing the responsibility for an act they so thoroughly condemn. I tell her about my sisters. I tell her about how cold the world is right now, she feels the chill too, but in each other’s presence we’re each a bit warmer.
“3) dearest Muslim woman—i’ve been a witness to your strength my whole life. i’ve seen you shoulder more hurt than any human should bear. i’ve heard your cries and mama, they split my heart in two. how could the world stand to hear such a gruesome sound? i’ve seen you love with the patience and the power of an orbiting moon, you are celestial power. they taught me in Saturday school that the holy texts say heaven lies beneath the feet of your mother and that’s when I fell in love with this faith. I’ve seen you wrap your hair, I’ve seen you let it loose, i’ve seen you in the gorgeous silk of salwar kameez, in vibrant diraac, in abayas and peacock gele. i’ve heard you sing. my sister, my mother, my aunt, my grandmother, my daughter, my family. don’t lose heart. I love you.
Ilhan will be in England for the next two years. She posted on Facebook the morning after the election.
“November 9 at 7:23 am—Oxford, United Kingdom
The President-elect said he would make America great again. I woke up this morning shivering with an understanding that this government might wield that “greatness” against my family (all the sidelined, disenfranchised, hurting and mourning peoples of America), that this country sees no room for me in whatever definition of greatness this president was elected on.
I woke up with resolve too—just as this terrifying chapter begins I am as clear-eyed as I’ve ever been and this fire in my gut is raging with a determination I’ve never known. we’ve seen the enemy, we’ve looked it in the eyes—a fear dramatic enough to give this man the presidency. This is the time to organize, family. We don’t have to prove our Americanness, just bust open the word ‘American’ until its bursting with our humanity. This is an opening, one that has the potential to shake the ground until the earth makes way for our freedom. America is on the verge of something else—a new day is bourgeoning and we have to believe that.”
Ilhan remained in touch with Ohio State via Twitter and was among the thousands who received an emergency alert shortly before 10 a.m. Monday. She immediately retweeted it:
“Buckeye Alert: Active Shooter on campus. Run Hide Fight. Watts Hall. 19th and College.”
Abdul Razak Ali Artan had apparently become so lost that he answered a recent online call by ISIS to conduct jihad against innocents with a vehicle and a knife. He wounded several, but had yet to strike a fatal blow when a quick responding and quicker thinking cop stopped him with a fatal bullet.
The goal of ISIS is to make the non-Muslims among us see Abdul Razak Ali Artan whenever we encounter a young Muslim, to so fill us with fear that we become less than ourselves.
What ISIS fears is that we will see Ilhan Dahir and that we will be inspired and strengthened and reminded of all we can be, of our true greatness.
She could not be reached by The Daily Beast in time for this article, but her essence was to be found in her writings and in her many achievements.
She is the very opposite of a terrorist.
And she is just getting started.