OpEd: How constant violence shapes a nation

How Jazeera hotel looked before it was attacked on July 26, 2015. [Reuters / Feisal Omar]

How Jazeera hotel looked before it was attacked on July 26, 2015. [Reuters / Feisal Omar]

Al-Shabaab’s attack on Jazeera Palace Hotel in Mogadishu on Sunday killed at least 12 people, most of them pedestrians or motorists. It wounded many more. Before we rush to judge or ask why the Somali government is so ineffective, it’s imperative to understand the cultural psychology that shape people’s responses. When instability and conflict and mayhem has gone on for as long as it has in Somalia, not only is everyone suffering from some sort of mental illness, mostly chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, but there are certain habits that people develop as a result of the events.

When every glimpse of hope is quickly stolen by violence or corruption, people start to learn that they have no power over the events in their lives. They feel that whatever they do is sabotaged by some sort of curse. They become too afraid to feel happy, hopeful, or victorious, because the pain of disappointment is too great to bear. So they develop a defensive mechanism that makes them numb to it all, and seemingly apathetic to the events. It’s called learned helplessness and is a victim mentality. People become passive and let things happen as they feel that they have no control whatsoever. They are in denial.

This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When people expect a certain outcome, they create that outcome. When people expect instability to go on, it will go on because no one is doing anything to fight it, as they are already convinced that it’s inevitable.

That’s one factor that fuel these events.

Another factor is the socio-economic background of the youth. I believe that the perpetrators of these suicide attacks are in the age bracket of 16 to 35, but I could be wrong. These are disenfranchised young men with bleak outlook on life and these are the traits that make people susceptible to join cults; because that’s what al-Shabaab is, a cult. They don’t feel connected or a sense of belonging, and this cult promises them a purpose, belonging, and legacy.

A third factor that I can make out is the lack of organization of resources and priorities on the government’s part. And this is partly due to the fact that they rule in a vacuum because the people they are supposedly representing aren’t as involved as they ideally should be, and hence they don’t get their voices heard on what really matters on the ground. Government officials don’t live in the real Somalia. They live in a safe bubble.

Likewise, we in the diaspora don’t have to grapple with constant fear and terror like those on the ground have to. So it’s easy to sit on our high horses and judge these people for not preventing these things from happening. Habar fadhida legdin la fudud. It’s easier said than done. One thing we ought to know is that the Somali natives love safety for their families and their property more than someone in Ontario or Oslo does. They live their lives in constant escape from violence. When they send their kids to dugsi, when they go to suuqa, when they get visitors from abroad. They always have that fear in the back of their minds.

So, how about we discuss this issue by putting ourselves in their shoes? I’m sure there are a lot that diaspora Somalis can help those in Somalia in terms of expertise and knowledge. Civilians need a much-needed boost of confidence by understanding how these things are happening over and over again, and how they can fight it. They need to learn how to band together and form a unified front.

I hope we can sympathize with one another and cooperate.

Mulki Ali is Somali blogger of Midnight Blues and a contributor to Sahan Journal.

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