Somalia historically has a long tradition of storytelling, Canadian based Somali rapper K’naan says that Somalia has historically been known as the “Nation of Poets” and the capital of the Somali Republic, Mogadishu, used to host the annual International African Film Festival. With their poetic tradition and with 108,000 Somalis living in the UK, we should see a huge Somali influence on the arts in Britain. But there is a striking lack of Somali characters among British soaps, dramas, reality television, the music charts and there is currently only one well known TV presenter of Somali heritage: Rageh Omaar.
Instead of a culture reflecting the diverse makeup of the country, including the Somali community, we see an extremely aggressive media campaign waged against the Somali community. One minute its the murder of a teenager by Somali youth gangs in London. Then its female genital mutilation or ‘FGM’. Then of course we constantly hear reports on terrorism, including UK based Somalis planning to attack the London underground and the Somalis in Kenya who attacked a shopping centre. Then its more pictures of war within the Somali Republic and videos on the news showing Al Shabab (‘The Youth’ in Arabic), a militia who are present particularly in the south of the country and ALLEGEDLY linked to Al Qaeda. Then it’s claims of benefit fraud, with which the media focused on smearing the Somali community. This was the case until the new government took office and targeted the all the poor unemployed as part of its war on benefits and then its piracy which dominated the news for a while a few years ago. Has anyone been targeted more than the Somali community who are demonised for being black, for being Muslim and for being Somali?
Its not just the newspapers and news broadcasts who are guilty of stigmatizing the Somali community, but Hollywood as well. The 2001 film “Black Hawk Down” was released at a time when the US had just started its “War on Terror” with a list of seven Muslim countries, including the Somali Republic, to target after Afghanistan. The film depicted a US interpretation of their 1993 invasion of the country, which showed a war of American Rambo like heroes fighting a just crusade against the savage “Skinnys”, as they call them in the movie.
We can also look at the release of ‘Captain Phillips’, which is based upon a true story. The film depicts an American aid boat boarded by pirates, who are finally and heroically defeated by “half the US Navy” and the cunning of the kind and brave Captain Richard Phillips, ending with no one getting seriously hurt (well except for the three of the four pirates shot dead of course.)
When asked about piracy, Somali poet, K’naan said in an interview that when the government fell in the early 90’s Somali waters were left unprotected. When Western nuclear energy companies started to dump their waste illegally in Somali waters, the fishermen eventually decided to recruit militia from the cities onto their boats to go out and hijack the ships in order to protect their waters. In fact, the company who owned the boat Captain Phillips commanded was caught dumping radioactive waste in Nigerian waters a year after the events of the movie took place. The company in question ‘Maersk‘ describes itself as a “Shipping and oil and gas company”, but as it steals these resources from puppet states of the American Capitalist Empire, Maersk are in reality the biggest pirates in this story.
The film also keeps in line with Maersk spokesman, Kevin Speers’s, statement that Captain Phillips was driving an aid ship whose mission was to get aid to starving Africans. This is a half truth or to be more precise a less than a third truth as aid only accounted for 5,000 tonnes of the 17,000 tonnes being transported.
However, despite all the media blackout when it comes to positve Somalis, there are some positive Somalis globally who have broke through into the spotlight worth mentioning, including poet, singer and rapper K’naan, who has worked with many well known artists including: Mos Def, Nelly Furtado, Will I Am, David Guetta and regularly with Damian Marley and Nas. He has also recorded the theme song for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the first time that the most watched individual sport event in the world was hosted by an African nation. He proudly waved the Somali flag in front of the world whilst performing the track in the World Cup opening ceremony (Below is a video of the event).
British Somali Rageh Omaar is a presenter who has featured regularly on both the BBC and Al Jazeera, as well as being an author. He is one of the most, if not the most, known presenter used for British programmes on Islam and the Middle East. (Below is a clip of Rageh presenting a program on the Ottomans)
Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid, known better as just “Iman”, was spotted as a model in Nairobi, Kenya and brought to the United States where she has featured on the front of the top fashion magazines, like Vogue and in adverts for the top fashion designers. In 1992 she married Pop superstar David Bowie. (Below is a picture of Iman modelling for J’Adore)
Mohamed Farah is currently the best long distance runner in the world and a double gold medallist at the London 2012 Olympic Games. He is known better in the media as “Mo”, probably due to the fact that Britain’s best athlete at the Olympics being called Mohamed wasn’t good at a time when national pride is constantly being whipped up to support an aggressive media war against Islam. (Below is an interview with Mohamed Farah after winning his second gold medal at London 2012)
Another story which is less known in Britain, is that of the Somali Republic National Bandy Team, Bandy being a type of Ice Hockey, popular in both the Scandinavia and Russia. All based in Sweden, they learned in less than a year how to ice skate and entered into the 2014 Bandy World Championships in Russia. A remarkable feat similar to that of the fictional Jamaican Bob-sleigh Team in the movie ‘Cool Runnings’. (Below is a video explaining how the Somali Bandy Team came about)
An actor from Captain Phillips ‘Barkhad Abdi’ was nominated for an Oscar, yet has struggled to support himself financially. As for future jobs, I haven’t heard of any movies demonizing Somalis scheduled for the near future and the idea of a Somali character in a rom com or a drama is not a realistic expectation from Hollywood. I suspect we’ll have to wait a lot longer for Somali lawyers, architects, superheroes or kids film characters in Hollywood movies.