"The Somali Neurosis"

Just watched this 14-minute clip from a recent TV profile by Norwegian television of a visit by Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah to the country of his birth. I never imagined book TV could look this good and informative.  Tradition, immigration, colonialism, exile, etcetera, gets an airing. We especially love how Farah steers the Norwegian interviewer’s questions about war, corruption and sadness towards the personal or familial.

The clip also includes an interview with Brit-Somali novelist Nadifa Mohamed.

 Here’s a link to a second part on Youtube (there’s some repetition though).



Sean Jacobs

Also goes by Hasan Wazan. Life President.

  1. Some how, I am very disappointed with Nuruddin Farah in this interview, and it is extra disappointment, that this interview being my first encounter with the writer. I have heard a lot about Nuruddin Farah (mostly on this blog), but never among Somali communities or intelligentsia, and I have wondered for long, maybe he is a creation by white-liberal media, who are eager to find a “civilized Somali” (If you noted on the clip, the journalist asks herself why she has no problems speaking to him, but not her neighbour with small children), and then sadly he gives “sell out” reply we usually hear from right-wing politicians in Europe.

    Usually, I am very patriotic about my fellow countrymen, and never write critical comments on non-Somali sites, but I do not believe in blind-patriotism.

  2. I am a somali as well and I second Tayat. Nuruddin Farah does not exist among somali community, literati or otherwise, at all. He is not like Achebe or Soyinka or Head,or Adoo or Salih. Somalia is his subject but he seems otherwise averse to Somalis. He always talks about how he was threatened with death, but his lot is among the best. This refrain, the threat, might mean something to others perhaps romantic to westerners but rings hollow for Somalis. What does it mean to be threatened with death when Somalis have been sitting in the same room with death for twenty years. As student of literature, and particularly African literature, I was left disappointed at Farah’s patronizing relations with Somalis. I accept the writer’s right to be whimsical and to refuse to be drafted into national a cause whatever that may be, but there is something amiss when a writer is seen the passionate representative of a people and that writer is at best cold and distant from them. Here I am not talking about his relentless rebuke of Somalis in his novels (Reading him always reminds me of V S Naipaul, though I find Farah much more justified).It is as if Farah has at once decided there was not much benefit engaging his people. It is as if he writes about Somalia for the benefit of all those that don’t know (and thus prone to lap up everything with utmost sincerity)

  3. I’m Somali as well, and I enjoyed this interview. I don’t completely agree with the previous comments in saying that Nuruddin Farah “does not exist” in the Somali community, or that he is averse to Somalis, but he is certainly detached in many ways. But I think that’s a general issue for (I hate to use the term ‘Westernized’, so perhaps Western-oriented) secular Somalis — they have a particular way of seeing Somalia and the Somali people, at odds with how the vast majority of Somalis imagine themselves. I think the latter part of the interview where he spoke of how Somalis need to accept premarital sex is a good example of this, and I found it quite interesting because it’s certainly not something you’ll ever hear from Somalis, who (even if they are not practicing) are generally Islamic in their outlook. His discussion of female circumcision was similarly reflective of Western discourse on African women’s sexuality, rather than what I’d expect to hear from someone with presumably more insight into the institution in its cultural and historical context. He has made comments against the hijab. His characters drink. I think he represents a certain stratum of Somali society – an educated, secular elite – that has become increasingly out of touch with developments in Somalia and in the Somali diaspora.

  4. Safia and Jacobs, I enjoyed the interview as well and have suggested it to some friends. I am happy that AIAC celebrates him. As a somali and an African it is good news (you saw the photo on AIAC today) But at the same time, these misgivings must be registered. Here I shall add that I am not particularly opposed to the educated secular elite (if not the educated part, I could arguably be counted among the secular elites). Similarly I don’t necessarily hold tradition with the utmost regard though not hostile as Farah. It is his patronizing of the Somalis and his insistence on a conversation about Somalia with non Somalia that troubles me. And yes just as Naipaul he is singularly adamant about his kernel of truth.

  5. Sean, I have tried first to write a private comment, but I could not find your email or a contact list on this site. I don’t believe Mr. Nuruddin Farah (NF)deserves to be criticized in few lines by someone who has not read any of his works, but I do not regret what I wrote earlier, and I stand by it, and since my criticisms is solely based on this TV-interview . Before I continue, let me say, that I do speak Norwegian. Somewhere in the interview, the journalist brings up the topic, integration (I do believe this program has less to do with books, but Somalis living in Norway and integration, and finding a role model for the ethnic Norwegians can identify with, and to educate the Norwegian population, that there exist “civilized – western Somalis”. And all the three writers chosen for the program are “westernized” Somalis and different from the image we have on Somalis in media. See the second part of the interview, and practically the second female writer, where she is described as a successful story, and picture perfect for someone who is integrated) , and this is where I think Mr. NF “sells out” when he tries to teach the Somalis about taking responsibility, and which reminds me Bill Cosby and Obama in his last campaign.
    And as I said, I have not read any of his works, but based on the interview and the linked article, Mr. NF engages great deal on women’s rights, and particularly in one issue. But I am afraid this issue has been debated too long, without bearing fruits or even helping the women, but on the contrary, we have seen in Africa, how it helped neoliberalism gain a hold on the continent. I do agree NF on awareness of women’s rights, but let’s not overemphasizes on culture/tradition, which is my critic of him, and it makes me suspicious, to be honest with you, why he is liked among liberal media, and I have not seen him on this interview criticizing the neo-liberal policy, which is far more harmful on women (women in every part of the world, form the backbone of low-paid workforce, see latest LRB). And speaking on neurosis, let me quote David Harvey’s book, the enigma of capitalism (he deals a lot on women’s rights): “This is a world in which the neoliberal ethic of intense possessive individualism and financial opportunism has become the template for human personality socialisation. This is a world that has become increasingly characterised by a hedonistic culture of consumerist excess. … The impact is increasing individualistic isolation, anxiety, short-termism and neurosis in the midst of one of the greatest material urban achievements ever constructed in human history.” If you have watched the second part of the video, the journalist tries to reach out to her Somali neighbor for first time (and try to notice the housing complex), and it gives you a hint of what can society Norway is. And there is also a time, where individualism is mentioned in the interview. All in all, I do not believe Mr. NF has not challenged enough the journalist, but mainly helped her to overcome her fear to meet her Somali neighbor.
    And let us not forget, NF’s exile in so many years should be reflection in his writings. The society he left in 60’s is quite different today.
    There are so many things I would like to say, and every time I read something about him, I become more critical, but for now, I will stop here.

  6. PS, I do not have problems, that he drinks, womanises or writes about sex, but I do not like, how he patronizes Somalis.

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