Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Nurruddin Farah's Ethical Anecdote

As I read Somali writer Nurruddin Farah's Links, I have come across an example that goes a long way to portraying the conflicting influences that embody the conflict in the country.

Farah's protagonist, Jeebleh, a Somali ex-patriot living in the U.S. but returned to uncover the events of his mother's death, witnesses "a boy in a fancy cowboy hat and jeans, ruthlessly hitting an Alsatian with a stick ... The pregnant dog was writhing in agony, and actively giving birth ... a pure-bred Alsatian in today's Mogadiscio ... the dog had once belonged to an Englishman, formerly of the BBC African Service, who had been seconded to the city by UNOSOM" (129). Jeebleh intervenes, finds the dog shelter, even covering the puppies with his jacket.

To the American reader, the ethics here seem obvious; the dog is being physically harmed and one must come to its aid. Shit, there is even a TV show about animal cops where we enjoy watching these crusaders save desperate animals and lock away the offenders.

However, Jeebleh is vilified for his behavior. His acts amount to dirtying himself by actually touching a dog and offending the others present. Farah uses the example to establish the cultural divide between his English speaking readers and the locals. But it also posits the contradiction of a society enamored with American culture, envisaged in the "cowboy hat and jeans," saddled with the legacy of colonialism, the BBC man's dog, and at odds with the helping hand of NGO's, "UNOSOM." It is a conflict that plays out between the western world's ideology of individualism that infiltrates Somali culture yet conflicts with the traditional clan-based rule. The essence of the political problem of the country lies somewhere in the conflicting ideals of clan vs. individual.

The example embodies the political misunderstandings that outsiders bring to bare on Somalia and other African nations. The question is thus, how do we approach the situation? With an eye for the individuals who are suffering, which seems to be the only thing that draws our attention? How do we give due consideration to the local customs?


Anonymous said...

I'm not too educated on the current situation in Somalia, but I think that if an NGO or some other Western institution has resolved itself to help ease some of the suffering, it probably should be willing to cross some of the local cultural customs, including clan dominated leadership, to reach individuals in need. I remember that one of the problems in '93 that originally caused the American military intervention that resulted in the Black Hawk Down fiasco in Mogadishu was that a clan-leader warlord had gained enough control to intercept and withhold UN food shipments, and was starving the local population into submission. In such a case, surely it is worth interfering for the sake of the lives that are being needlessly lost?

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to post this here, but this is Rob from the Terrorism class (forgot my password). I know it's been a few weeks, but I was hoping to get my artwork project back after I submitted it for that last grade. I went by the office a few times that week but the door was locked. Dave, or anyone else who happens to read this: if there is any chance that my charcoal sketch is still around somewhere, would you let me know? It's titled "The Wallet" and is of the last scene in "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," and I signed it. Thanks!

Indy said...

D-pretty impressive blog you have here. I may need to start reading more. I'll catch up with you more on Facebook. Just being nosy and found this and had to comment. Impressive!