Recently 30 Somali workers at Dell Computer's Nashville plant were fired because they were inadequately socialized to imitate machines. Or, as Abdi H. Nuur put it, " They told us that we cannot pray at sunset. They told us that we would have to wait for our break.'' He said he explained that while some of Islam's five daily prayer times are somewhat flexible, the sunset prayer is not. Nor does the sun set at the same time every day. The changing schedule created by heavenly bodies was more than Dell could handle, so the workers had to go.
The system of management that the Muslim Somalis ran afoul of is called "Taylorism" in this country. (Interestingly, elsewhere it is often called "Fordism" after the automaker.) In 1911 Frederick W. Taylor laid out The Principles of Scientific Management:
• Develop a "science" for every job, including rules of motion, standardized work implements, and proper working conditions.
• Carefully select workers with the right abilities for the job.
• Carefully train these workers to do the job, and give them proper incentives to cooperate with the job "science."
• Support these workers by planning their work and by smoothing the way as they go about their jobs.
Or in others words, carefully script every possible movement for the worker and try to make the worker believe this regimentation is for his/her own good, not the employer's profit.
This didn't work so well with the Somalis. They hung on to a culture and set of values incompatible with Mr. Taylor's "science."
Yahya Sadowski, a political economist who is an Associate Professor of Political Studies at the American University of Beirut has written an excellent article, Six Ideas for Improving Western Coverage of Islam. One of his suggestions might have helped Dell understand its employees priorities:
We too often focus on the fact that Muslims follow Islam, and forget the fact that they live in Third World countries whose problems and opportunities are very different from our own. One of the easiest ways to correct for this is to learn about the wider context of life among people who live in societies that are neither industrial, nor democratic, nor modern. A peasant in the West Bank has much more in common with a campesino in Guatemala than he does with an American farmer or even an urban Jerusalemite.
Yes, those Somalis insist on noticing the sun rises and the sun sets, even in the UsofA.
UPDATE:Dell has figured out that the company looks bad in this. They are claiming it was all a misunderstand and they aim to resolve the matter 'beneficially' for the workers. Good. Of great interest in the same story, and perhaps a causative factor, is the information that Nashville has received 5000 Somali immigrants in the past decade.