Tuesday, 25 January 2011

What the Bad Lads Fear: Abdirashid Omar's Fatwo

The BBC has a story today about the Somali poet Abdirashid Omar, who is currently in hiding from the goons of the murderous jihadi movement al-Shabaab, after he excoriated them in Fatwo ('The Decree') for the bloody bombing of the Hotel Shamo at a medical commencement ceremony. As his poem began to circulate, the valiant martyrdom priapulids of that holy order demanded peremptorily that he recant in a new poem of praise for them, or die.

The bard explains:

A person who contradicts his own poem will never be taken [seriously] again in Somali society - something they knew because they are Somalis.

The police advised me to move out of Eastleigh for my safety because I refused to retract the poem.

As a poet I will talk about the social ills. If there are people who are pushing this society towards a dangerous zone - like al-Shabab are doing - I will be writing poems about them.

When you look at al-Shabab, they are people who are between the ages of 12 to 20.

What makes them tick is the silence of the society - we let them use fear to control the society.

Anger gives me the kind of drive I have, because this society, at the end of the day, has to solve its own problems.

The international community will not solve its problem.

We have to have voices among the people who will defy the kind of threats and dangers that are there, who will say: "No it's enough."

There is a partial translation on the BBC site, which serves somewhat to sample Fatwo's sentiments, and otherwise mainly to suggest the implausibility of any more substantial Englishing of the work. Via the Poetry Foundation, who have also linked to this story as well they might, I've come across an illuminating article by A Z Foreman on the difficulties of translating classical Arabic poetry in such a way as to yield an even readable result. I have a strong sense of similar barriers here, which is a shame because it means I shall probably never know whether the poem is as fair a song as it is a bright sword. Luckily, it is a song indeed, and the performance I've embedded above is well worth a listen.

In a world much marred by rampant pusillanimity - of both the cringingly fearful and the pettishly savage varieties, which after all are only the same mean-spirited vice travelling on different passports - it is always good to be reminded that there are those who can speak a word to cut through both those styles of frothing.

And Abdirashid Omar - brave maker, faithful witness, free speaker against the brute silence - has just joined my personal company of heroes.

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