By Mohamed Haji (Ingiriis)
Monday, October 25, 2010
The great French playwright, Molière, once said, “Un sot savant est sot plus qu’un sot ignorant,” which literally means, “An educated fool is more foolish than an uneducated fool.” The Somali equivalent to this could be borrowed from Timacadde’s “Doqonnimo kugu baahday, baan cidi dabiibeyne; dariiq toosan Soomaaliyey waa lagaa dadaye; dugsi ma leh qabyaaladi waxay dumiso mooyaane.”
One such Madaale pseudo-intellectual is Feisal Abdi Roble, editor of Wardheer News webpage, who recites what he frames ‘Marxist School of Thought’. Perhaps, my father – to say the least – would not permit me to write this rebuttal to Faisal Roble (I should underline that my Dad was a senior student of Fulbright Scholarship at University of California at Davis in America when Faisal was a junior at University of California at Los Angeles. It was exactly when Dr Abdi Ismail Samatar was also a senior student there).
However, Faisal Roble, once branded ‘Devil Clannish’ by Somali blogger is, among other things, accustomed to discrediting certain individuals by means of clan sentiments. Over the years, I have observed him blemishing highly-reputed personalities, like President Ahmed Silanyo, President of Somaliland; Abdullahi Ahmed Addou, the longest serving Somali Ambassador to the United States; Ahmed Gure, founder of Hiiraan Online and Yusuf-Garaad Omar, Head of BBC Somali, for the sole reason of not hailing from his clan-family.
Needless to say (repeat) what he has written of them, because it is more on personal than on professional damage. In the words of Molière, “A wise man is superior to any insults which can be put upon him, and the best reply to unseemly behaviour is patience and moderation.” On the other hand, Faisal’s other routine work is praising Said Samatar, a Somali scholar; Hussein Abdilkadir Qasim, a former Minister, to mention just a few, for the type of Judge Hurshe’s verdict: “La jiifiyaanna bannaan, la joojiyaanna bannaan!” In his last radio interview, Faisal has narrated what he framed “the biggest clans” against “not-so-big clans.” Where did he obtain on this demographical census?
But by this time, Faisal has not only shaken minds, but body as well. On Saturday morning (October 23rd), inside a so-called Somali Intellectual Forum (transformed its name recently into Talo iyo Tusaale), Faisal Roble attempted to harm the reputation of Dr Ali Jimale Ahmed, Professor of Comparative Literature at the Graduate Centre of the City University of New York. He misled the audience that the title of the book ‘The Invention of Somalia’ by Dr Jimale was ‘plagiarising.’ He was applying with a concept by a Kenyan consultant who emailed me recently: “In Somalia, everyone enjoys to embarrass everyone.”
On the contrary, if truth be told here, there is no ‘plagiarising’ in the title of “The Invention of Somalia” whatsoever. From the perspective of intellectual property law, the word ‘plagiarising’ is a very serious accusation that must be backed up at least one peace of evidence when it comes to criticising, or discrediting one’s work. In this western world and Africa in particular, there are – merely to enliven Faisal’s mind – a lot of books by the title of ‘The Invention.’
For instance, the title of The Invention of Somalia, as Dr Ali Jimale Ahmed visibly alluded to the preface, was inspired by ‘The Invention of Ethiopia’ by Holcomb and Ibbsa. He even agreed with the respective authors when they wrote in their book, “No available treatment of the history of (Somalia) dealt adequately with the factors that shaped (Somalia), that is, factors that generated the political and economic relations still found there and which account for the conflict currently raging within (Somalia).”
There are, additionally, other books on African Studies entitled with below titles:
1. The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge by V. Y. Mudimbe.
2. The Invention of Africa and Intellectual Neo-colonialism by Jedi Shemsu Jewheti.
3. The Invention of Ethiopian Jewish: Three Models by Steven Kaplan.
Moreover, other numerous international books outside African sphere are:
1. The Invention of Barack Obama by David Remnick.
2. The Invention of the Jewish People by Shlomo Sand.
3. The Invention of Tradition by Terence Ranger and Eric Hobsbawm.
4. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.
5. The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy.
6. The Invention of Objectivity: Aaron Swatz’s Raw Thought by Robert McChesney.
7. The Invention of Net Neutrality by Nancy Scola.
8. The Invention of Lying: A comedy movie by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson.
Consequently, in Faisal’s eyes, are they all exercising a ‘plagiarising’? To be more precise, what about the other books – referenced frequently in African Studies – with the same titles and analogical contents? Below is an example:
I. The Black Man’s Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation State by David Basildon.
II. The Black Man’s Burden by Edward D. Morel.
III. Black Man’s Burden by John Oliver Killens?
Are they too ‘plagiarising’ each other? Indeed, there are a lot of books with the same titles, but just to mention a few must be suffice.
When President Obama added on one of his speeches to this passage, “I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it”, an American blogger wrote an op-ed piece entitled: “Obama and the Invention of the Automobile,” reminding the US President of the veracity that the nation who had invented automobile was Germany, not the United States of America.
If there is a book about Somalia, to my knowledge, that sounds like a work whose name had stolen from other title – whether it is chance or intent – is the book by David D. Laitin and Said S. Samatar entitled “Somalia: Nation in Search of a State,” which was written in 1987. To get the point across, in 1967, Dr Hussein M. Adam, popularly known as Hussein Tanzani, had named one of his two MA Thesis: Somalia: Nation in Search of Transcript at University of Makarere in Uganda (Dr Tanzani later earned his Ph.D. from Harvard – the first Somali who did Ph.D in Harvard).
Nonetheless, The Invention of Somalia, edited by Dr Jimale, is one of the best books that ever written on Somalia. It is a direct theoretical and empirical contribution to Somali Historiography, and that is noticeably what led the authors to write: “The denial of recognition to other Somali freedom fighters and their movements has to be seen as public denial that is directed against the clansmen of the spurned martyrs.”
The first real attempt of The Invention of Somalia, as Dr Jimale summarised, is to identify and analyse the basic assumptions which had informed the construction of the now debunked myth of homogeneity. The authors do not only suggest, as they write, alternative ways of seeing and interpreting existing data, but also initiate and propose new ways of reading Somali past and present.
In John Killens’ Black Man’s Burden, a father tells his bewildered son that stories about various life-and-death struggles between a man and lion will always end like the man beating the lion (or defeating, to add my view) until the lion learns how to write. This lion’s version of what had happened in (Somali) history, to quote from Dr Jimale, has in Somalia and beyond, for a long time, belonged to an underground narrative.
It is here that the two brothers – Dr Mohamed Enow and Dr Abdikadir Enow, both Bantu scholars, whom Faisal also attempted to no avail to discredit their work – deserve my gratitude for having mustered the bravery to re-examine what Dr Jimale portrays ‘the Dervishization’ of Somali Studies. In my viewpoint, this is to confront with the history of oppressed as written by their oppressors, and it shapes the consciousness and psychology of both oppressed and oppressor.
To manipulate History, Amos Wilson warns, is to manipulate consciousness, to manipulate consciousness is to manipulate possibilities, and to manipulate possibilities is to manipulate power. Herein lies how the autocracy had ruled Somalia for two decades. It is a call for the re-conquest of Somali minds and bodies. One Africanist scholar contends, “The most valuable resources (of human-being) are their knowledge of truth and reality of identity, minds, bodies and souls.”
What Enow brothers – with Dr Jimale – are digging for is new thought for Somalia, looking for an invented (or reinvented) Somalia. It appears that Enows dedicated their lives to their people who were never permitted before a place or space, let alone a chapter, for Somali Historiography when myths like a Pastoral Democracy was dominating Somali Studies. Thanks partly to academics like Catherine Besteman, Francesca Declich and Virginia Luling, among others, their history was invented, yet contemporary Somali thought (and theme) seems to be intrinsically a product of the pastoralist proponents. Until very recently, the history of some Somalis among us was persona non-grata in Somali Historiography.
Lee Cassanelli, in The Shaping of Somali Society, came to a comparable conclusion: “Somali Society ought to be regarded as the product of interactions among small groups of herdsmen, farmers, itinerant Sheikhs, and townsmen who came together under diverse circumstances in the past and whose modern sense of national identity derives less from primordial sentiments than from a set of shared historical experiences.”
Alas, there are some new Somali graduates who see Faisal Roble as an intellectual, but the term itself entails to be defined. As they say, “Not every educated is intellectual, but every intellectual is educated.” In Somali way of thinking, an intellectual is simply an ordinary person, not necessarily a tweedy-Kantian. William Finnegan contended in an article on New Yorker that “Somali intellectuals” are “just people with degrees.”
This is how Dr Jimale defines intellectual persona: “An intellectual (of any sort) is the person who, to quote from Gramsci, ‘assumes that the purpose of discussion is the pursuit of truth.’ Such an intellectual is one who attempts to identify problems, reflects on them, and does not shy away from asking hard and unpleasant questions and who suggests, not imposes, some type of solution the problem under scrutiny. An intellectual is also the one who understands the validity of Somali poet… Chinese adage, to know and not to act is not to know. The trouble with Somali intellectuals emanates from what Hisham Sharabi calls ‘a fetishized consciousness’ which manifests itself in both imitation and passivity.”
As for the question of Somali irredentism, which Faisal mentioned, one may enjoy reading BANDITS ON THE BORDER: The Last Frontier in the Search for Somali Unity by Nene Mburu which is a first insider’s analysis of Somalia’s peculiar pursuit of Greater Somalia. I presume many have enjoyed reading Saadia Touval’s Somali Nationalism, so is the one by Mburu. Charles Seymour said, ““We seek the truth, and will endure the consequences.”
My final amusement to ‘startle’ Faisal must be on those shocking lines: What about your favourite book Nomad Diaries by Yaasmiin Maxamuud, published in 2009? Wasn’t she plagiarised her title by the book with the same title: The Nomad Diaries by Chris Minh Doky, published in 2007, or, is the name emanated from Urban Diaries by Walter Hood and Leah Levy, published in 1997? Pardon me, we need elucidation, man!
By Mohamed Haji (Ingiriis)
Monday, October 25, 2010