Saturday, July 07, 2007

BOOKS: Rageh Omaar and Somali Muslim asylum ...

I've almost finished reading Rageh Omaar's excellent semi-autobiographical work Only Half Of Me: Being A Muslim In Britain. The book was published only in 2006 and provides a window to the experiences of a community many Muslims choose to ignore.

Rageh Omaar was born in Mogadishu in 1967. He worked for many years for BBC World, and was the BBC's main correspondent during the Iraq war. Unlike other journalists, content to remain safely "embedded" in Western armies, Omaar chose to travel to different parts of Iraq and report independently on the impact of the war on ordinary Iraqis.

Omaar frequently risked life and limb to bring the true story of the human cost of this war. Choosing to embed himself with ordinary Iraqis, Omaar's reports earned him an Emma award for best TV journalist in 2002 and 2003, as well as the prestigious award of broadcast journalist of the year by the London Press Club in 2004.

I've already reviewed his amazing 2004 work Revolution Day - The Human Story of the Battle for Iraq here. That book is a must-read for anyone trying to get a true taste of the high price ordinary Iraqis have had to pay for the imposition of "freedom and democracy". Don't expect this book to be on Alexander Downer's reading list.

Omaar's latest book talks about the experiences of his middle-class Somali family, forced to flee by political instability. What makes the book particularly interesting is Omaar's personal reflections on how Somali instability and asylum have affected the visions of two Somalis settled in the West - Yassin Hassan Omar and Ayaan Hirsi Magaan.

Yassin was identified by British police as one of those responsible for organising a failed suicide bombing attack in London exactly 14 days after devastating 7/7 attacks that killed over 50 people. Yassin was one of a group described by Omaar as

... child immigrants who had arrived in Britain ten years earlier, fleeing wars in the Horn of Africa. Their terrifying journey from conflict in their home country to life in Britain was shared by hundreds of Somali families and children.
Omaar speaks of Yassin growing up in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, in the frontier town of Harar (from where Abdullah al-Harari, founder of the Lebanese al-Ahbash movement, emerged). He provides an interesting history of Harar and its place as a trading town and a place for Arab settlers. Eventually, it became a centre of Islamic culture and religion on the Horn of Africa.

Yassin arrived in the UK in 1992 with his sister and her husband. This was hardly a desirable family situation for the young boy, and he found the transition difficult to make.

They had witnessed a civil war, passed through vast refugee camps and suddenly arrived in the United Kingdom, having up until then known little about the world outside Ethiopia and Somalia. Yassin was one of those who could not adapt. The following year, at the age of twelve, he was taken into care. He was not placed with another Somali family or with Africans or Muslims but with a Christian Afro-Caribbean family. This move marked the beginning of a relentless cycle of different foster families and care homes. He would live like this for six years.
This isn't the sort of detail you'd read in a tabloid newspaper. Instead, all you'd read is "Muslim terrorist". Yet the reality was that Yassin had by now lost all links to his family and his cultural ancestry. Instead, he lived on his own in a one bedroom flat. During this period, he met Ibrahim Mukhtar Said, a refugee from the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrean independence fighters. Said had a similarly troubled history, an addiction to cannabis and had been jailed for five years in 1996 for a violent armed robbery. Said's sole family was a host of youth gangs, having run away from home many years before.

Omaar provides this crucial background, but not as an excuse.

These stories are not intended to argue that social deprivation or alienation are somehow solely to blame for terrorist acts by young British citizens and residents ... Failing to adapt, isolation from family and home, exposure to older and intimidating people from a similar background are only some of the factors that lead a young man to commit horrific crimes. There are hundreds of thousands of other child refugees ... who have endured the same experiences, but have not headed in the same direction, just as there are thousands of white teenagers from foster homes who do not end up in young offenders' institutions or become violent criminals.
In a future post, I will insh'Allah (God-willing) talk about Rageh Omaar's reflections on Ayaan Hirsi Magaan/Ali.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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1 comment:

AbdiNassir said...

irfan, your article on Raage Omaar is interesting; iinshallah I will follow your next talk about him. Thanks.