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Issue 531/ 31st Mar - 6th Apr 2012
Calling A Spade A Spade
By Ahmed I. Hassan – Part 5
The Club of Vandals
Somalis, unfortunately, seem to be prone to disasters, both manmade and natural. However, in their rather unenviable history, three catastrophes that befell on them glaringly stick out. The ill-effects of these three cataclysms are still bedeviling Somalis everywhere with no dependable end of the hardships in sight.
The First Catastrophe: It began at the start of the last century and it did not come into a merciful conclusion until twenty one years later in 1921.
A man who had claimed to be a Somali Muslim Scholar (a Mullah of sorts) started what he had presented as a struggle to get rid the land of the British colonialism, which—at the time, for a quarter of a century before and for half a century hence—was Somaliland’s disgrace and misfortunate to be the object.
His name was Mohamed Abdulle Hassan.
He might or might not have been a Mullah. But, without a doubt, his character, ethics and antics were decidedly un-Somali as well as un-Islamic.
On the face of it, the Mullah’s proposition to free Somaliland of foreign rule seemed to have had the hallmarks of all a divine duty, a noble imperative, and an honorable undertaking.
It was inconceivable that any Somalilander of the time would have been contented with bondage of any kind. Thus the Mullah’s proclaimed rebellion for independence gained almost instantaneous appeal, sympathy or support from almost every quarter of the society.
There is little doubt that if this insurgence were conducted in a principled manner and were directed exclusively against the British, it would have succeeded with flying colors. Somaliland could have thrown out the yoke of colonialism long before struggles for self-determination and freedom became fashionable with humanity’s colonized peoples.
It did not take long, however, before the Mullah showed his true colors and his real intentions were exposed. He could not even contain his tyrannical instincts and brutal dispositions long enough to establish a sizable foothold in the country and consolidate his authority over large stretches of territory.
Within a short time, it became abundantly clear the Mullah’s purported Jihad or war of independence was rather a means to a sinister end. His real purpose had been the establishment in Somaliland of an absolute sultanate or monarchy, which revolved around his tribe and, more ominously, around the cult of his personality. Moreover, his modi oparandi in realizing his objectives were distinctly unprecedented in the annals of Somali warfare.
Never before his advent were civilians targeted in Somali Warfare culture or rules of engagement as a matter of combat practice or policy. The Mullah had, on as yet mysterious grounds, harbored a predisposed mistrust and hatred against certain tribes. The subjugation of these tribes by means of unqualified slaughter and dispossession transpired to be the Mullah’s officially guiding principle and practice of retaliation. It made no difference whether the victims were armed or unarmed or whether they were combatants or civilians or whether they were British collaborators or simply neutral bystanders. No distinction was necessary with regards to the age, gender or culpability of the victims.
Typically, one of the first casualties of this absurdity was a man who, through a poetic utterance, had thought he knew a foolproof way to escape the Mullah’s wrath. After he had been informed of the Mullah’s brutality, he famously said:
Geel iyo ninkii adhi leh; Buu Darwiishku kala tegeeyaaye;
Haddii aan tiro riyo uun ah dhaqdo; Oon aan tuuladan agjoogo;
Ma tunkuu isoo qaban; Haddii aanan timirlahaaba dhaafin?
It is he who possesses camels and sheep; It is he who owns camels and sheep;
Whom the Darwish (The Mullah) dispossesses;
If I raise a hundred of goats only; If I raise a hundred of goats only;
And stay in this township whereabouts;
Will he [the Mullah] grab me by the neck; Will he [The Mullah] grab me by the neck; If I do not even venture beyond that Palm Tree?
The Palm Tree, which he had referred to, was easily visible a short distance away to the east of Berbera. Knowing that the Mullah and his dreaded mercenaries, known as Dervishes, were active several hundred miles away in the eastern Sanag Region, he had thought that staying put where he was offered him the safest and most sensible course to follow in order to avoid harm.
A short time later, the Dervishes made a hit-and-run raid on Berbera. Unfortunately, our friend of the Palm-Tree fame became one of many civilians who met their untimely and undeserved demise in that raid.
The great poet of the time, Ali Jama Habil was perhaps the first perceptive visionary who saw—and did much to articulate—the unmistakable contradictions and the obvious inconsistencies between the Mullah’s admittedly laudable proclamations and the realities of his detestably un-Somali, un-Islamic ethics and antics. In an especially fitting verse of one of his more memorable poems, the bard had this to say:
Muslinimo ninman kuu dhaqeen, Iyo mu Muslinimo niman kula daqmin; Minimo khaas ah;
Gaal maxasta kuu nabad gesha; Oo magansato baa dhaama
If a man treats you not in truly Islamic spirit; If a man treats you not in accordance with the Islamic spirit; And in genuinely God-believing manner;
An unbeliever who spares your vulnerable ones; An unbeliever who spares your vulnerable ones; And who offers you sanctuary is preferable
It is clear from this ode that the Mullah neither exempted the defenseless from harm nor extended refuge to a Muslim if he deemed or imagined either one to be in the way of—or if harsh treatment towards either one was useful to—his scheme of things.
Somaliland was not only the Somali territory where the Mullah’s lunacy cut short the lives of unsuspecting innocents. When he went to the lands of the Rahenweyn and some Hawiye clans, he was said to be in the habit of rounding up the locals and demand of them:
“Berito Af Muslin ama Af Gaallo miduun ii la kaalaya”
“Tomorrow, you must come up speaking to me either in a Language of Muslims or of Unbelievers.”
Though they were Somalis to the bones and notwithstanding that they were genuinely Muslim folks, these tribesmen’s unforgivable sin, in as far as the Mullah was concerned, amounted to no more than a harmless happenstance that had been no fault of theirs: The venerable Mullah could not readily understand the Somali Dialects these unfortunate people were speaking.
Incredible as it should have been at the time or in hindsight, “Tomorrow”, of course, brought death and destruction on the poor folks whose vocals had displeased the holy Mullah’s ears. This was because, lo and behold, the speakers could not rectify the sin in time.
One last shocking discovery demonstrated the Mullah’s unusually odious character and the exceptional repugnance of his wartime exploits: When eventually he was evicted from his fort in Taleh, human skeletons were found hanging from trees all over the place.
No doubt these human remains were victims who had been unfortunate to fall out of the Mullah’s favor for one reason or another or perhaps for no reason at all. If, at any rate, they were criminals to whom punishments had been deservedly administered, then what humanity was it to leave their remains hanging from trees until nature decomposed them to their bare bones?
What inevitably defeated the Mullah’s ungainly project was that it never had been a war of liberation in the first place. It was a tribally driven and religiously disguised hostility that had been designed to advance the Mullah’s sinister ambitions. More than anything, what reduced his venture into an exercise in futility were the unprecedentedly un-Somali and un-Islamic wartime strategies and tactics, with which the Mullah had chosen to conduct his infamous campaign.
After all, to paraphrase Abe Lincoln, one can only fool some of the people only some of the time. And in the end of the day right triumphed over wrong as always it does.
Waxuu na baday, waxuu na baray baa nagaga daran
Rather than what [the suffering] he caused to us, what [the misbehavior] he taught us is more harmful
The above is a Somali adage that is as old as the Language itself. Its essence is that once someone sets a bad precedent in a society, it could be replicated. The bad precedent could give ideas, aspirations and encouragement to naturally vicious individuals to engage in similar misconduct and worse still strive to do better at it than their predecessor.
How unerringly and eloquently graphic the maxim is of the spiteful precedent, which the Mullah had instituted into his country. Already the ugly legacy of that precedent has haunted Somalis twice since then. And there is no certainty that it will not do so yet again.
To be continued