Somalis aim to own their own stories
Nawal Ali, an Australian Somali, travelled to the UK to meet with Somali community advocates from around the world who are determined to reclaim ownership of their narrative. Here, she reports on the globally connected individuals who are challenging the script.
The death of a young Australian Somali model Sharky Jama while fighting for ISIS in Syria, and recent reports of two young Somali women from Sydney leaving to join the terrorist organisation have opened old wounds in a community that is still healing from a history of civil conflict and the effects of harmful social discourses.
Stopping such tragedies was a high priority for Somali communities who came together at the London Somali Youth Forum summit.
Somalis are fed up with the sad stories that have been playing out in communities across the diaspora - from London to Stockholm to Minneapolis. For communities already reeling from the damage inflicted by Al-Shabaab in their homeland and the unwanted media attention it brings, the added risk of young Somalis being drawn to the violence of ISIS is a problem they didn’t invite, but are determined to fight.
Community leaders also expressed a need to close both the intergenerational gap within their community and open up their communication to governments.
“What is driving young people going abroad to fight? They have their whole lives ahead of them. The parents are the victims. I see the pain in their eyes.”
– Mohamed Ibrahim, director of the London Somali Youth Forum
Mohamed Ibrahim, director of the London Somali Youth Forum, told The Point Magazine there is a pressing need to address violent extremism among Somali British youth.
“Our community is not in denial. We do have a problem. What is driving young people going abroad to fight? They have their whole lives ahead of them. The parents are the victims. I see the pain in their eyes”, he said.
Ibrahim argues that policies intended to fix this issue have missed the mark.
“There are different policies and measures being implemented but whether they are coordinated or not, there is a question mark on that. Organisations are trying to close the distance gap between community and government”, he said.
In October 2014 the London Somali Youth Forum ran a series of workshops addressing the problem of young Somalis leaving the UK to fight in foreign conflicts.
One participant in the “Untangling Foreign Policy” workshop, Mohammad Abdi Salam, suggested that providing pathways for young people to vocalise their feelings will help.
“A lot of them seem to feel powerless here and feel if they go abroad they can make a difference”, he said.
Young people need “legitimate ways to voice their opinions” and to feel empowered to “use the British political process to express grievances”, he said.
Taking ownership of the Somali narrative
The London Somali Youth Forum was preceded by a gathering of Somali media producers from around the globe for the Somali Storytellers conference in Cardiff – the result of a partnership between the UN Alliance of Civilisations and the UK-based Muslim organisation Radical Middle Way.
Somali writers, journalists, photographers, film-makers, radio broadcasters, visual artists and community advocates came together to explore the role that media can play in facilitating social change and restoring control to marginalised communities over their own narratives.
Abdi Latif Dahir, a freelance Somali journalist based in Kenya, shared a profound story about elderly Somali artists who are reviving their lost art forms after twenty years of war.
The Cardiff conference gathered together members of the Somali diaspora - from the UK, USA, East Africa and Australia - to restore their ownership of their own narrative.
“For me it is about telling the stories for people who do not have the space to tell their own stories, and who will experience positive change once their story is told.”, he says.
Fatuma Khaireh, a London-based playwright, spoke about her latest play ‘Baadiya’ and the importance of self-representation and her work in supporting women in the arts.
“To have autonomy and create content and talk to people in a way that you’re comfortable is absolutely essential,” she told The Point Magazine.
"I understand that there are particular narratives of Muslim women, Somali women that exist in the world. As someone who doesn’t want to respond to that work, I think about what do I want write about, and not necessarily think about the world’s gaze,” she said.
*Nawal Ali received a fellowship from the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations to represent Somali Podcast at the “Somali Storytellers” conference in Cardiff, Wales, in October 2014. Somali Podcast is an initative of Multicultural NSW, publisher of The Point Magazine.
Somali communities from around the world have come together to discuss how the diaspora can retake ownership of their own stories