Friday, June 15, 2007

Nuruddin Farah’s Links


Just Violence and Retaliation in Nuruddin Farah’s Links

by Azadeh Pourzand

This poem is a gun
This poem's an assassin
Images mob my mind …
This pen’s a spear, a knife
A branding-iron, an arrow
Tipped with righteous anger
It writes with blood and bile

(Maxamed Xaashi Dhamac ‘Gaarriye’)

Nuruddin Farah’s Links, a narrative about the brutal Somali Civil War , is inevitably filled with descriptions of shootings, traumatizing deaths and bloody corpses. [1]As Farah himself describes Somalia during the civil war in “A Country in Exile”, “(…) [H]ate had inevitably exploded in various localities of the land, and if I may allude to a Somali aphorism, knives were posed against knives, and unreason began to rule. And homes were looted in the name of democratic vengeance, women raped, pregnant mothers brutalized” (Farah 6). Upon arriving in Mogadiscio, Jeebleh—the protagonist of Links—finds himself in a country ravaged by the tragic violence of the civil war. Even though Jeebleh is well-read about the details of his country’s civil war, at first he seems clueless and traumatized by what he encounters in the Somalia to which he has returned after 20 years of having lived in the West.

Farah writes, “With every cell in his body responding to his restless caution, he wished he knew where the danger lurked, who was a friend and who was a foe” (Farah10). Fearing his life in a city that is no less than a battlefield, Jeebleh initially has little understanding of the severe armed violence that every second determines his life and death. His stay in the Somalia caught in a civil war, however, makes him enter the circle of the violent local politics and to take an active role in the realities of the civil war. In other words, it does not take Jeebleh too long to lose his initial naiveté and vigilance and to develop a local understanding of the civil war. In this essay, I am going to analyze a few instances of Jeebleh’s evolving thoughts on the brutal violence that he observes and experiences in Somalia. In my paper I intend to do a brief comparative analysis of Jeebleh’s initial reactions to the armed violence around him and his eventual—and perhaps inevitable—changes in relation to the hatred and violence that he himself experiences during his stay in Mogadiscio. I argue that Jeebleh’s eventual involvement in the circle of the civil war violence that he first criticizes as a newcomer becomes the representative of the civil war’s circle of continuous and contagious violence and murdering as a just way of self-defense and of taking revenge. By closely looking at Jeebleh’s evolving thoughts on violence and the morality of it throughout his journey in Somalia, I intend to analyze Farah’s literally representation of the inevitable circle of violence that functions as a form of an inevitable trap for Somalis in today’s Somalia.

I. Jeebleh’s Initial Introduction to the Violence of the Civil War

On Jeebleh’s first day of arrival in a city ruled by guns, the Major who is sitting with him in the car bitterly and rhetorically asks him, “ Has it ever occurred to you that some of us carry our guns, as the good everywhere must bear arms, to fight and to die for justice?’” (Farah 28). Although in response to the Major’s statement, Jeebleh who fears his life tries to say otherwise, in his mind he condemns the active participation of different clans members in the wide-spread armed violence and murderings in the city. Farah writes, “Jeebleh considered the acts of all these armed movements immoral” (Farah 28). Still in disbelief, he compares the “peaceable” and “orderly” Somalia that he left behind 20 years ago and he mourns the lost dignity of his city and his country. In describing Jeebleh’s thoughts, the narrative voice states, “It [Mogadiscio] may have been poor, but at least there was dignity to its poverty, and no one was in any hurry to plunder or destroy what they couldn’t have (Farah 35). As a person who has not yet personally gotten drawn into the violence that seems to have become the only ruler of the city and who is not yet too busy defending himself and hating enemies, Jeebleh condemns the immorality of what he sees and seeks for the calm city with dignity that he has left behind.

Soon after having seen a few snapshots of the violence of the civil war before his eyes and having felt the concept of death as a reality that might capture him or any other person at any moment, Jeebleh begins to experience difficulties in explaining his identity in relation to the violent and brutal politics of a civil war to which he is now truly a witness. Farah writes, “His agitation was due, in part, to a lack of clarity in his mind—how to define himself here. His difficulty lay elsewhere, in his ability to choose whom he would associate himself with” (Farah 35). Traumatized by the observations of his first day in Somalia, Jeebleh already begins to rethink his identity as a Somalian who in the comfort of his American life has read the news and watched the reports of the national self-murdering and the violence of the clans’ politics in his country.

Although the Somali civil war itself does not come to Jeebleh as a surprise, living the war for only one day seems enough to make him question his own presence in Somalia and to change his perception of himself. Farah writes, “(…) he felt alienated from himself, as though he had become another person, when he witnessed the brutal murder of the ten-year-old boy earlier”(Farah 42). In a way, only one day into his trip to Somalia and having faced the unbearable violence in his homeland, Jeebleh is already a changed man. Even though Jeebleh is introduced to the cruelty of the civil war, he is still able to look at things with a certain level of detachment.[2] He has not personally experienced the kind of anger that has become the epidemic disease of his city and or the most part is the source of the continuous violence that rules over the nation of Somalia.

II. Jeebleh’s Involvement in Intimate Violence

In Logic of Violence in Civil War, Kalyvas states, “Revenge is probably the most recurrent feature in descriptions of violence in civil war, often leading to the metaphor of blood feud or vendetta; it is a central theme of novels and memoirs, and more generally of the folklore of civil wars(…)”(Kalyvas 59). Farah’s Links, too, in many ways evolves around the notion of revenge which becomes one of the main sources of the continuous and contagious form of clans and kinship violence in a country caught in a brutal civil war. Even Jeebleh who has been away for 2 decades and has been out of touch with not only the politics of the civil war and has been long out of touch with his family and relatives in Somalia eventually gets involved in the politics of violence and of taking revenge through physical elimination. Through his developing feeling of hatred and anger with his cruel half-brother, Caloosha, he, too, gets drawn into the cycle of violence—from which at first he tries to stay away.

After feeling threatened and humiliated by Caloosha’s follower, Af-Laawe, in his search for his dead mother’s grave and the true story of his mother’s death, Jeebleh takes up a gun for the first time in his life and appreciates the “beauty” of the gun in his hand. Farah writes,

This was the first time in his life that Jeebleh had held a firearm. What worried him was his spellbound, facile adoration of the gun. The muscleman had injected him with a potion that had altered his nature and personality, and soon he might no longer challenge a statement like the one spoken by Af-Laawe on the day of his arrival: the guns lack the body of human truth!(Farah 256)

As cautious and nonviolence as he was in the beginning, Jeebleh, now a changed man, finds himself fascinated with the gun that he has in his hands. His “adoration” of the gun comes to him as a surprise. After having felt so close to death in the presence of Af-Lawwe and his musclemen, Jeebleh seems to understand and appreciate the purpose of holding a firearm: to defend and to avenge. Due to his altered “nature”, Jeebleh now actually agrees with what the statement with which Af-Laawe had welcomed him at the airport: “the guns lack the body of human truth!” While at the airport, this statement had terrified him and had reminded him of the violent immorality that he had entered, Jeebleh now takes comfort in thinking about Af-Laawe’s statement about guns. Yet another armed man in the city, Jeebleh, too, feels the desire of fighting in himself by taking the gun in his hands with which he could act beyond his human conscience and to relieve his growing fear and hatred.

Raasta’s return —his half brother, Bile’s very dear niece who is recognized as the symbol of peace from the time she was born—after having been abducted by Caloosha and hearing what she has gone through in the confinement of Caloosha, make Jeebleh even more hateful of Caloosha than before. Ready for retaliation, it is as though pulling the trigger of the gun he has come to appreciate becomes an easy task. Although the story does not get into the details of Caloosha’s death, we know that Jeebleh plays the key role in taking revenge from Caloosha and having him murdered. In thinking about the murdering of Caloosha, Jeebleh assesses his old and new philosophies on the enforcement of violence:

Now getting rid of Caloosha was no mean feat! Given the choice, Jeebleh would appose all forms of violence. But what is one to do when there no other way to rid society of vermin?(…)So which would he rather be, someone who kills for justice, or someone helplessly unable to do anything? He would rather he killed than twiddle his thumbs, waiting for others to do the job” (Farah 332).

At this point, Jeebleh enraged by Caloosha’s crimes, considers violence the only just way for retaliation and for preventing more violence to take place by this cruel man. Jeebleh considers the murdering of Caloosha an act of violence in the name of justice. Although he wishes that he could always remain opposing to “all forms of violence”, he does not think that the society could get a rid of a vermin as malicious as Caloosha without using absolute violence. In other words, Jeebles has grown so hateful of Caloosha that nothing else other than having him killed could satisfy his resentment. Thus, he chooses to kill than “waiting for others to do the job”.

Even though the nature of life in the civil war changes Jeebleh’s “personality” and his initial strict principles that rejected violence altogether, it does not take away his compassion and sensitivity as a human being. Farah writes, “Presumably his general personality would be unaltered. No doubt, something in him had given here and there, the way fabric stretches. But the basic remained, gathered at the seams, where the stitching might be faulty” (Farah 329). Despite his change of principles on the use of violence, Jeebleh never approves of the political violence that has taken over this beloved homeland, Somalia. He leaves Somalia to go back to the US hoping that his country soon rescues itself from the self-destruction and the continuous violence that rule over the people and the land of Somalia.

One day before his departure from Somalia and soon after Caloosha’s death, Jeebleh is described as mournful in the apartment all by himself. Farah writes, “And he was in a mourning mood (…) He reminded himself of the tradition that a mourned desist as long as possible from changing his clothes. And so he wore the same clothes he had worn the day before (…)” (Farah 331). It seems that Jeebleh is not only mourning his own retaliation from cruel half-brother, but he is also mourning what the civil war has done to Somalia and to the lives of his own friends and family. He perhaps even mourns his own use of absolute violence as the only remaining way of retaliation from his own half-brother.

Conclusion

Although Jeebleh, the protagonist of Link, eventually chooses violence as a form of justice, I argue that it is not Farah’s intention to justify violence in the Somali Civil War. Farah, however, uses his literature in order to portray the ruling of violence in Somalia and the cycle of civil war violence in which individuals, families and the nation as a whole get drawn. Farah attempts to demonstrate the epidemic nature of violence in a nation that is being ruled not solely by guns that are arbitrarily present everywhere, but by those who generate hostilities and the politics of violence. Farah writes,

Jeebleh thought of how the country had been buried under the rubble of political ruin, and how Somalis woke to being betrayed by the religious men and the clan elders who were in cahoots with a cabal of warlords to share the gain they could make out of ordinary people’s miseries (Farah 331).

Although Jeebleh remains extremely critical of the civil war in Somalia throughout his trip, his critique of the situation seems to evolve in the course of the story. Upon his arrival, Jeebleh tends to criticize armed men all over the city and those who continuously use armed violence. He considers their violence to be immoral and unacceptable. By the time he is ready to leave Somalia, however, although he remains very critical of the situation, he—who now has experienced the taste of both being the victim and perpetuator of violence—seems to think more deeply about the politics of violence and to criticize those who for their own benefit generate and lead the culture of guns and cyclical trap of armed violence behind the scene. This is why, I believe that Farah’s Link is a critique of the leading motives behind generating the cycle of armed violence in Somalia than the ordinary people who have been handed guns and have been given the power to repeatedly pull the trigger at one another and get drawn into the politics of violence and self-destruction. Links is a critique of those who feed the anarchy and the politics of violence and who leave ordinary people with very few options other than seeking justice through yet more violence.

Cited Sources

*Bavella, Rahma. "The Poetics of Displacement*." 09-01-2006 . Farah, Nuruddin. Links. New York: River Head Books, 2004.

Farah, Nuruddin. "A County in Exile." Transition 57(1992): 4-8.

Kalyvas, Stathis N. Kalyvas. The Logic of Violence in Civil War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

"Somalia Civil War." Global Security.Net .


[1] “The Somali Republic gained independence on July 1, 1960. Somalia was formed by the union of British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland, while French Somaliland became Djibouti. A socialist state was established following a coup led by Major General Muhammad Siad Barre. Rebel forces ousted the Barre regime in 1991, but turmoil, factional fighting, and anarchy ensued. The Somali National Movement (SNM) gained control of the north, while in the capital of Mogadishu and most of southern Somalia the United Somali Congress achieved control. Somalia has been without a stable central government since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre fled the country in 1991” (Global Security)

[2] Since simply by being in Somalia Jeebleh’s life like many other Somalis is at risk at any given moment, he cannot be fully detached from the situation. But he is still more detached than those who have personal reasons for their violence and anger.

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