Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Somali Cartoons and Egyptian rappers

Mayam Mahmoud is a female rapper from Egypt. She's in the news because she's got into the semi-finals of Arabs Got Talent in Egypt. She raps about being judged on her appearance and sexual harrassment, things that are difficult to talk about.

This  below is from an article in the Guardian.

'Mahmoud's fans find her inspiring not just because she is a woman but because her work centres on sexual harassment, a local taboo. Harassment is an endemic problem in Egypt: 99.3% of Egyptian women reported being sexually harassed, with 91% saying they felt insecure in the street as a result, according to a UN survey published in April.

For her part, Mahmoud carries a sharp nail to protect herself in a worst-case scenario. But many women feel afraid to discuss the issue publicly because they fear they will be stigmatised. Women who speak out are often assumed to have somehow provoked the attention. "It's happening to everyone," says Mahmoud. "But everyone is scared to talk about it."'

I looked at this and then thought about this series of cartoons that appeared on the Open Society website. The cartoons tell the stories of Somali migrants to a series of European countries; the financial problems they face, the trauma of war, the racism they face.

But it feels that though some things are touched upon, there are too many things that are not mentioned, that 'everyone is scared to talk about.' And that means much, much more than the Somali staples of FGM and radical Islam.

Until earlier in the year, I worked with young Somalis who had recently migrated to the UK. I loved them for their energy, their humour, their resilience, their dynamism and their vivacity. But the vast majority of them didn't have easy lives and had problems that in any other community would have been classified from severe to life-threatening But I don't recognise the major problems they had in these cartoons, problems that as often as not came from within their community.

In this earlier blog post, I wrote about how the great Somali writer, Nuruddin Farah described the way that trauma was passed down from the parents to the children. This is from the article

 He once challenged fellow Somalis to "study the structure of the Somali family and you will find mini-dictators imposing their will … We become replicas of the tyrant whom we hate. When you rid yourself of a monster, you become a monster."

I think this is touched upon in places in the Open Society cartoons, but the cartoons also give the feeling that elements have been cut out - the Somali communities have been sanitised into passive victims. Or maybe they have self-censored their stories. Some things shouldn't be talked about.

So the Somalis have been Disnified when they should have been Studio Ghibblied. And the pity is there is the sense that, underneath the layers, you can see the more complex version struggling to get out. But it can't because, as the Egyptian rapper, Mayam Mahmoud put it, "Everyone is scared to talk about it" and it's easier to present a two-dimensional point of view than something a bit more nuanced. And in any case, that two-dimensional view might be a dimension ahead of most representations of the Somali community and actually add to understanding.

Have I just come full circle there? I think I have. Oh well, time to read more Nuruddin Farah. 

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