Before President Donald Trump suggested on Twitter Sunday that Rep. Ilhan Omar “go back” and “help fix” her native Somalia, Hodan Nalayeh was already in the country doing just that.
According to a Washington Post report published Saturday, the Somali-Canadian journalist had returned to the country of her birth to tell “uplifting” stories of how people lived there. However, her homecoming ended in tragedy.
By the time Trump unleashed his nativistic tirade against Omar, Nalayeh had been dead for two days.
She was killed Friday when al-Shabab militants stormed the Asasey Hotel in Kismayo, killing at least 26 people. It took around 14 hours for Somali security forces to regain control of the hotel, where another journalist and at least one American were among the dead.
Nalayeh’s death came as a particular shock to members of the Somali diaspora, who followed her relentlessly positive social media dispatches by the tens of thousands.
“It was an incredible day to witness #Somalia’s beauty,” Nalayeh said last Wednesday in a Twitter thread filled with colorful photos of local fishermen and their catch.
— Hodan Nalayeh (@HodanTV) July 11, 2019
On July 3, Nalayeh retweeted a message from a Twitter user that praised her for her work “countering the doom narrative propagated by many about Somalia.”
Your are doing amazing work in countering the doom narrative propagated by many about Somalia, one tweet at a time
— Ahmed kafia (@ahmedinajadosam) July 3, 2019
One Somali writer praised Nalayeh to the Post for offering an alternative to depictions of Somalis as “victims trapped in a vicious circle of conflicts.”
“She understood, as every good storyteller does, that the little moments in life matter just as much as the big ones,” Asad Hussein said. “Hodan noticed the people bathing in the ocean, the orchards in the courtyards, and the radiance of the setting sun, and she knew those were stories, too.”
Last year, Nalayeh took viewers of her Somali diaspora-targeted YouTube channel, Integration TV, on a video tour of Kismayo, the town in which she would later be killed.
“I’m always hopeful that our great industries can be revived and rebuilt across the nation, and more importantly, in Kismayo,” she says in the video. “Because this place is beautiful!”
Hodan Nalayeh and the latest Trump tweet controversy
Like Nalayeh, Omar was born in Somalia and moved to North America as a young girl. The United States granted asylum to her and her family.
However, the Minnesota Democrat’s life recently took a very different path. Omar this year became one of the two first Muslim women to serve in Congress, where she – along with three other female freshmen Democrats – annoyed the president enough to make them the targets of a multi-day presidential Twitter attack.
In his opening salvo, Trump scolded the progressive lawmakers for “telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.” Rather than complaining, he suggested, they ought “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
….and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 14, 2019
Of the four women Trump was referring to – Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachussetts – only Omar was born abroad. But they are all non-white, and they and their supporters accused Trump of invoking racist tropes, which he has vehemently denied.
While Nalayeh’s death would seem to underline the harshness of Trump’s remarks, it was also a visceral argument for what many understood to be his central point: that perhaps immigrants should be especially grateful to live in the United States.