Culture wars come to Mogadishu

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Culture wars come to Mogadishu

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Mogadishu rising. Courtesy of Radio Mogadishu

Last week, the Somali community, buried their souls in sorrow and disappointment as we witnessed the National Theatre bombing shatter our hopes of reconstruction and reconciliation. Today, Radio Mogadishu restored that hope with these images. Here are some recent pictures of Mogadishu’s reconstruction efforts taken by Radio Mogadishu. I’ll enclose the link (http://radiomuqdisho.net/daawo-sawirrada-dib-u-dhis-ballaaran-oo-caasimadda-xowli-uga-socda-iyo-bilicdii-oo-soo-laabatay/)for further images, and encourage everyone to check out RadioMogadishu.net. In the meantime, relish in this beauty. Mogadishu is rising.

Part I: A Conversation in Which We Discuss the Desecration of Somali Women.

Dear esteemed Somali men of letters,

We need to talk. I’ve spent the last few hours debating, dissecting, questioning how I could tackle a  discussion about Somalia and women’s rights in an authentic and humane manner that will ensure you read this piece, and not dismiss it as the rantings of a western agent force feeding you an unsavoury dish of modernity with a side of ‘feminazism’. I know many of you will hate me for this. But no one likes a public spanking, so I suppose your wrath is rightfully deserved. It’s difficult. But I only do it because I love you. Now if you’re remotely concerned about the plight, fate, and lived experiences of your sisters, will you humor me for a few moments, and listen to concerns of your sister?  If you can grant me this favour, I’ll in turn, behave and proceed with this conversation in a manner that is outrageously generous in dealing with this emotionally charged topic; The systematic and continuing rape, plundering, and desecration of Somali women. I’ll resist any urge to psycho-analyse your unwillingness to address your privilege and power, and the consequences it yields.  I’ll refrain from appropiating  gender studies jargon like ‘internalized-sexism’ ‘gender gap’ ‘male gaze’ ‘and ‘intersectionality’ in this discussion. Wait, I’ll even throw away the use of ‘patriarchy’ for good measure… I’m a feminist. A raging liberal feminist at that, so my promising to  put away my rhetorical tools is no small feat. Now that I’ve extended a hand in the spirit of  rhetoric fairness, will you engage and proceed with an open mind, and attempt to remove your privileged laced prisms for a wee second? let us continue. Before we proceed with this discussion, i will preface my article with a moral premise.

I begin with the assumption that women ought to have an equal access to political, civil, social, and economic rights. I will further develop this premise and argue that women have the right to be free from rape, physical harm, sexual violence in all its form, abuse, discrimination, sexual policing, as well autonomy over one’s body and space. If you disagree with these premises, then I ask you stop reading this and return to one of your two chosen favourite hobbies, 1)stealing and shaming the images and spaces of Somali women online  2) Facebook fatwas about the permissibility of wearing the colour red on Tuesdays. I know you gentlemen have some serious work that has to be tended to, so I won’t blame you if you excuse yourself. It’s my snarky way of telling Al-Kabab  (Al-Shabaab) sympathizers and their liberal cohorts that their deflection and derailment efforts at curbing this overdue discussion will fall on deaf ears. Scat. Go ban knickers, or some Phallic shaped vegetables. Better yet, why not go and complain about how Ethiopia through their union with alien zionists are the sole source of your inadequacy and failure as Somali men. I repeat, serious intellectual inquiry and honest debate will do damage to your irrational truth claims, and it’s best you scram before you’re forced to work that cerebrum. You’ve been warned.

Now if you accept my assumptions about the rights of women, and in this particular discussion, ‘the rights of Somali women’, then you, my brother belong to one of two groups. Group numero uno, a rare breed of Somali kings who acknowledged our struggle, pain and triumphs, and continue to serve as allies in our social movement for peace and equality as a nation. You’ve dedicated your life and lended your voice to speaking in defense of your sisters with an unwavering commitment to decreasing the gap between our brothers and sisters. We haven’t forgotten the many Somali men that were the first to say ‘NO’ to FGM, to utter ‘hell no,not my daughter’ to the prospect of a life without an education. Many activists are inspired by your courage and resiliency, and it is your spirit and solidarity that allows us to address our concern as Women without hate or bitterness towards our Somali kings. This article is not addressed to you. Nor is it an not an attack on you, Somali men as a whole, and your efforts in rebuilding our nation (I say this as I anticipate this will be the first straw man argument from the experts in deflecting and derailing).  Then there is Group B, who consist of externally liberal men who believe themselves to be champions of justice and liberty, and do fuck all little to address the disturbing social realities of Somali women. My article is addressed to you, and I will start by asking, “what have you done to address the following narratives, motifs, plights experienced by many as simply the consequence of being born a  women in Somalia?”

Do you play a pivotal role in legitimizing these paradigms about Somali Women, and their bodies and physical spaces? I want you to stop for a minute and really internalize what i’m asking here. Do not give me some general statement about your desire/need for collective peace in Somalia, and then hit me with some disingenuous/deflective line about how the plight of Somali women must take a backseat  to deeper geo-peolitical and regional contextual questions, and that I shouldn’t connect the systematic raping, and sexual policing of Somali women to any discussion about gender inequality. I know these tactics (we all read the same development books and own the same degrees), and we, Somali women, have frankly had enough and want a real dialogue. For decades now, the bodies and minds of Somali women have become a political battleground. From the use of rape as an  cheaper alternative to the Kalashnikov, to the banning of Bras, we Somalis (and many Africans to larger extent) have managed to perfect  the art of commodifying women as the political/sexual property of a man (or men, I hear gang-rapes is now the new pass time of Al-Kabab).

We’ve politicized vaginas (yes i said that word, and no kittens were killed), undergarments, hijabs, sex, love, and gendered politics, education, occupation. We have reduced the worth of our Sisters to the personification of irrational and inhumane notions of purity and property. You don’t have to be a toothless warlord or a religious fanatic to do this. Simply holding the notion that Somali women have a morally enforceable social code to live by, makes you as guilty as them. Incase you’re confused about where you stand in the ‘anti-women spectrum’, I have a simple question that can clear things up. Are rapists more likely to rape  modestly covered women, or hijab-less women? If you have an answer to this question that points to either group as more deserving of rape,then, I weep for myself, my future daughters, my sisters, and our Nation. Newflash ladies and gents, an article of clothing is not what deters nor inspires a rapist, but rather sadistic notions about the value of women (and men. yes men are/can be raped too. pay attention folks. take notes), and is a tool used to legitimize power, fear, and oppression. If you think that the choice of  Somali women in the domain of her speech, career, mate, and clothing ought to be cited as evidence of her inferiority and increase her candidacy for corporal punishment, then you sir, are an enemy of humanity, and women.

Now this isn’t some battle cry against religious fundamentalism, nor a rant against patriarchy (although this piece would serve as an excellent insight into these two realms), but rather a plea to our brothers to stop avoiding a discussion about the lived realities of your mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, friends, and co-nationals. We understand your pain and have suffered side by side with you under a collective national post-traumatic stress dis-order. We’re sympathetic. We get it, we really do. But we will not allow you to deny and derail the legitimate challenges regarding the concerns and needs of Somali women. The New York Times recently penned an article about the alarming rise in rape and sexual violence in Mogadishu. According to this report, “In the past two months, from Mogadishu alone, the United Nations says it has received more than 2,500 reports of gender-based violence.” Notice the word ‘reports’, which connotes that these recorded case only involve those women tenacious enough to withstand the dangers of narrating their experience.

I can list all the facts, figures, and academic studies that list the many horrid ways in which Somali women’s lives play out, but i’m not here for that, as I suspect most of you know exactly what’s going on. Instead, I’m fascinating by the context, and culture in which these horrible conditions can thrive in. What is about our society that can allow a blood thirsty group like Al-Shabaab to own,dictate, and claim the bodies of your mothers, sisters, daughters and wives? What is it about our way of life that makes it okay for any armed gun-men to rape and plunder our sisters? Let’s face it, we gotta own up to our role (that includes us women) in facilitating the horror show that is the lives of Somali women(and women everywhere).

Many Somali women have started organizations, petitions, political marches, letter writing campaigns, appeals to religious authorities to bring an attention to their plight, but all that will fall on deaf ears, if our brothers are not willing to wake up from their collective comas, stand by our side,and reject this premise that our men are our enemies. We are not the property of Somali men, nor Somalia, but autonomous beings that have the right to live our lives free from physical, social, economic, political and cultural harm. Now here’s my question to you walaalo, what next? are your critics right in proclaiming that the Somali male is an enemy of the Somali women, and incapable of justice? We as Somali women have rejected that narrative, and continue to love you unconditionally despite your deliberate efforts to curb our freedom. We acknowledge your pain and wounds as a consequence of a broken nation. We understand you’ve been through some evil shit political and social hard times, but sexual violence can no longer be an appropriate coping mechanism. We defend you in the halls of academia and in all intellectual spheres when they attack you and throw labels of ‘misogyny’ ‘rapist’ ‘inhumane’ ‘anti-woman’ at your chest like a dagger. We stand up and declare, ‘that is not the Somali man, but a mental and puritanical disease in the physical form of a somali man.’ Now its your turn to speak. How long will this continue? What can we do as a nation to heal our sisters? and more importantly, Do you think there is a problem?

I really desire a constructive and honest discussion regarding this topic, and invite everyone to email us at afrolens@gmail.com. Speak your mind, curse, congratulate, dissect my points here, but engage, and do not dismiss. Please engage and wake up. Your sisters have had enough. And don’t worry fellas, I will not let the sisters (myself included) let off that easy. We are also responsible (some can argue more responsible) for legitimatizing this rape culture in our community. Part 2 will address our sisters. In the meantime Walaalo, a penny for your thoughts?