Judy Mandelbaum

Judy Mandelbaum
Brooklyn, New York, United States
June 01
Freelance writer, editor, and first citizen of Judy's World.

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APRIL 28, 2010 9:05AM

Somalia: Taking the fun out of fundamentalism

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It’s hard to imagine a more tragic country than Somalia, a failed state that has come to symbolize civil unrest, corrupt warlords, human trafficking, and high seas piracy. The causes for this ancient nation's descent into chaos are complex and often highly abstract, largely revolving around the messy aftermath of the Cold War, sinister outside meddling, tribalism, and the birth pains of a modern society on the Horn of Africa. But the human impact is painful and immediate. Religious militiamen are forcing Somali women under burqas and religious judges regularly pass down cruel and unusual punishments based on Sharia law. Female circumcision is endemic, affecting up to 98 percent of Somalia's women. Of course, we all know that even in the worst of times, people at least find ways of enduring the unendurable through culture and entertainment. But starting this month, the country’s fundamentalist rulers are taking even this option away from their long-suffering population. 

(Source: Global Security)

On April 3 Hisbul Islam, a Taliban-like fundamentalist group at war with Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government that operates in the country’s central and southern regions, including portions of the capital Mogadishu, issued a ten-day ultimatum against such “un-Islamic” activities as listening to music, playing soccer or even viewing it on TV, and also watching movies of any kind. Fourteen out of sixteen radio stations obediently stopped playing music on April 13, replacing their usual jingles and pop tunes with the chirping of crickets and the crowing of roosters. From now on, TV is only for watching news. Enforcement squads have been patrolling Mogadishu neighborhoods for the past two weeks on the lookout for violators, punishing them with up to thirty lashes each. Yesterday, IRIN News cited a local journalist as saying: “Movies and football used to be the only avenue of fun available to [young people]. Now that is closed. Having fun in this town is illegal.” However, the new measures are extremely unpopular. “I don’t think many of the youth will be lining up to join them.”  

The ban on entertainment is just the latest in a series of measures that Hisbul Islam and other extremist groups have imposed on the country, which has been muddling through without a functioning centralized government since 1991. Last week, the radical Somali Islamist group Al-Shabab banned telephone ring tones and even hand bells to mark the beginning and end of school class since they supposedly sound too much like church bells. “A teacher told the BBC's correspondent in Somalia that handclaps were now being used instead of bells to bring classes to an end. The end of classes is also marked by teachers beating on tables and doors.” 

Last summer, Islamic authorities in Kismayo in southern Somalia announcedthere will be no music or dancing by men and women in weddings that are held in the town since it involves men and women who are not allowed to mingle and is against the teachings of Islam… The Administration will not also be allowed any filming of the wedding.” The fundamentalist groups have also declared a war on bras. “Residents in north Mogadishu said gunmen had rounded up any young woman seen with a firm bust and had them publicly whipped by masked men if they were found to be wearing bras,” The Scotsman reported last October. “A resident, Halima, said her daughters had been whipped on Thursday. ‘They first introduced a hard fabric which stands stiffly on women's chests. They now say breasts should be firm naturally, or just flat.’ … Men were not spared the ‘moral cleansing’. Any man caught without a beard was also publicly whipped.” Dental work is equally suspect. Al-Shabab “started in Marka town in southern Somalia operations of removing silver and gold teeth from the people in the town,” the Somali press reported last month.

Sharia law is increasingly being employed against “sex crimes” of all kinds. “The new administration of southern strategic seaport town of Kismayo some 500km south of the Somali capital Mogadishu has on Friday evening publicly punished three boys they said that they have committed crimes which are taboo in the Somali customary,” the Somali press reported last September. “‘Each one of the boys has received lashes of whips on his back in front of the hundred of the inhabitants of Kismayo,at the national park venue which situated in the heart of the town and will serve under sentence for some months,’ said the judge who passed out the chastisement of the boys speaking to Somaliweyn radio.  The officer added that the boys have been jointly watching pornography films on their cell phones.”  

Ordinary Somalis appear to be disappointed and outraged at the latest ban on popular sports and their rich musical heritage. But what is really behind these restrictions? Ole Reitov, the program manager of Freemuse, a Danish-based “world forum on music and censorship,” suspects thatthe music ban in Mogadishu primarily is a symbolic case which gives Hisbul Islam and their leaders attention and '15 minutes of fame' in the international media. [Reitov] expects that there may be public reprisals against those who violate the ban, but he does not believe Islamists necessarily will resort to killing anyone. It's not likely they will murder anyone, but it may very well be that they need symbolic action. For instance, this could be to take radio journalists out in a public place and whip them. Part of the power of language is to create fear."

If you haven't heard about any of this before, chances are you won't be hearing about it again any time soon. You see, April 13 was not just “the day the music died” in Somalia, it also marked the end of a free and independent press in this information-starved country. As Ali Sheikh Yassin, the deputy chairman of the Somali Elman Human Rights Organization (EHRO), told IRIN News, journalists are in even "more danger now than at any time in the past. … In the past they used to be warned but now they are just killed. … Unfortunately, many of the radio stations will not be able to operate. The current environment is very dangerous. There is a real possibility that private, independent media will cease to exist … There will be no one to report the daily atrocities and the humanitarian crisis their [insurgents’] activities create,” and  “without the independent media and the brave journalists, no one would know about the suffering of the Somali people and what is really happening to them."



Under the rule of Hisbul Islam, performing and listening to Somali songs like this is punishable by thirty lashes: 


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Comprehensive, so well-written, and important. I got an education when my son had me watch BLACK HAWK DOWN but this is different (of course). Everyone should read this.
This is ismply mind boggling. How can human beings be so supressed and expect to have any dignity left as a human being? The more supressed a group of people, the more subversive they are likely to become. The powers that commit these 'attrocities' have nothing to do with Islam, they are using it as a cover for their acts of injustice. R
The Somali music video is quite compelling. A good beat, a story song - What they are denying themselves there! Shame.
Yes, the music and the people are beautiful. This is a major tragedy that is unfolding before us.
Once again fun is crushed in the name of seriousness about something that was meant to be fun. (Religion) Talk about fundamental screw ups!
Wonderful song. Horrible facts.

This is why there must be no sanctified persons or ideas. All is up for debate in the free marketplace of ideas.
This is really sad. But it reminds me of a European friend of mine, several years back, when the former Yugoslavia was flying apart in a million pieces while the world sat back and did nothing. My friend said "You why we're not involved in Yugoslavia?" Of course, no one knew the intricacies of why it had all exploded so forcefully or what to do about it. His answer: "There's no oil there."

There's no oil in Somalia. So we will all stand back and wring our hands and say "oh dear." And it's a damn shame.
I think that about sums it up - although I doubt that our "help" (presumably in the form of bombs and "boots on the ground") would do these people much good overall.
Everybody wants to rule the world...this is an excellent piece, Judy...xox
Thanks for sharing this, Judy. How sad, a life without music. The music clip was great, too.
Actually, all the attention on Somalia is precisely because of its strategic importance. The Horn of Africa is a highly strategic piece of property, the approaches from which can (a) control Israel's red-sea port/Gulf of Aqaba, from which they get most seaborne trade from Asia and South Africa and (b) general global shipping from the Gulf states, consisting of oil.

Problem is massive western fishing off coast of Somalia has ruined its natural resources, leaving lots of unemployed fisherman communities, who turn to piracy.
The fishing situation is just the latest thing to destabilize the nation. There was also the general anarchy and famine back in the Clinton days. Ethiopia (West and Israel's strongest ally in Sub-Saharan Africa, due to its strong Judeo-Christian background) invaded Somalia a few years back, with massive Western aid, to stabilize country. They occupied it for a while, but had to pull back due to poor funding and mismanagement.

Focusing on the problems of Somalia are important, yes. But we have to make sure the current media attention isn't because Washington or some corporate think tank are trying to justify intervention again. Yes, it may be justified, but just know that intervention is supported in high circles mostly because of the money at risk from piracy and threats to shipping.
Thanks for mentioning these points, which I might go into in more depth in a later post. And no, I certainly do not support Western intervention, it would only make a terrible situation worse.
Rwoo5g - good comments. I would also add the dumping of toxic waste along parts of the Somali coast by western corporations. This has caused fish to die, the waters to be polluted, and an increase in disease amongst the population. This is a major cause of the piracy.

K'Naan is a Somali born rapper/hip hop artist who has several great albums. His song 'Waving Flag' is being used for the 2010 World Cup. Unfortunately the lyrics have been changed to make it more commercial so I recommend listening to the original version which is much better. His lyrics talk about some of the harsh realities of growing up in Somalia, but also some of the beauty of the country and its people.
When are we going to learn from the wisdom of our first President, George Washington: don't meddle in the internal affairs of foreign nations!

When are we going to learn from our own experience: stop trusting our current Presidents as acting in our (ordinary Americans') interests. They act to pay off their campaign supporters: the military-industrial complex of corporations seeking others' resources and imperial power. The beginning of empire abroad is the end of democratic government at home.
Henry Kissinger said in his seminal work, "Diplomacy," that the most opportune moments for American military intervention come when their is a coincidence of (a) Realpolitik and (b) idealism/humanism. He said America must always seek to frame its geopolitical interests in the rhetoric of idealism and humanitarianism, because (a) the hawks will always support war and intervention, regardless of whether the cause is noble or ignoble, and (b) if you can rally liberals and progressives around the flag, in the pursuit of noble humanitarian ends, then you have a solid pro-war, pro-interventionist coalition.

He said that all American Presidents and Senators should follow his advice and focus on the humanitarian as a prelude to intervention. For those of you who don't want to read the whole book, rejoice, for he lays it all out for you in the introduction.