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“We have that Somalinimo- The best of both Worlds’: In conversation with British Somali voters

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FAIZA ALI

There has been a Somali community in Britain since 1914, when men were recruited under the British empire to fight in WW1.

Between the 1940s and 1960s, “seamen” returned to work on British docks before a mass exodus of Somalis took place between the 80s and early 2000s due to the Somali Civil War.

Today, Britain boasts the second largest Somali diaspora community in the world: as of 2015, around 110,000 Somalis were living in the UK. The British-Somali community have traditionally given their votes to the Labour party, but political apathy is a huge problem. Prior to 2015, many community members voiced Labour sentiments but failed to turn up to polling stations to vote. As a result, two years ago during the general election, task-forces were set up in Bristol.

I interviewed Hanad Darwish of the Somali Conservatives, Abdul-Rahman Mohamed of the Somali Youth for Labour and Nimco Ali of the Women’s Equality Party to find out why they are campaigning for their respective parties during the upcoming general election.

Hanad Darwish – Somali Conservatives

“In the Somali community we have this innate sense of a collective everything. All Somalis vote the same way.”

I meet Hanad Darwish at Russell Square station and head over to the park for our interview. Darwish is a member of the Somali Conservatives, a group whose aim is to increase Somali representation in the Conservative party. I sit down with him not knowing what to expect.

Hanad tells me that he initially joined the Labour Party “as a joke” in his teens since it was “the only visible party” in his hometown of Birmingham. He knew that his uncle – a staunch Conservative – hated the Labour party, and just wanted to “piss him off”. Hanad later joined the Conservative party around 2011 – adopting his uncle’s disdain for those campaigning on the left.

“At home, you have your dad and uncles around and they only discuss politics. On my mum’s side of the family . . . that’s where I was more connected to politics back home.”

A Somali, and a Birmingham lad –with two generations of Conservatism present in his family – is almost unheard of with the British Somali community. A glimpse into Hanad’s childhood showcases a politically engaged household where discussions with his father “opened him up to a wider view of society and the world”.

Is Conservatism aligned with Somali culture? The answer, in some senses, is yes since many Somali families place considerable emphasis on working hard, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, and “making it”. Hanad deems Jeremy Corbyn’s policies incompatible with Somali interests, and unable to attract lucrative investment and business to the UK.

“You have a lot of Somalis who own small businesses and know a lot about these policies… Somalis are very enterprising, entrepreneurial… it’s like you go out there and get what you want.”

On the EU, Hanad (a Brexiteer) admonishes the EU as “one of the most disgusting bureaucratic systems in existence” and “the only economic block in the world that’s been in constant decline”.

There’s a case to be made however about the importance of political education in schools. We talk about Generation Y, or “millennials” – born between 1980-2000 – and why the majority of this group distrust politicians. Hanad is well-versed in politics and thanks his A-Level Politics teacher for encouraging his interest after his first trip to parliament; something he valued, and would like all students to have the opportunity to engage with.

Abdul-Rahman Mohamed – Somali Youth for Labour

I meet Abdul-Rahman, chairman of the Somali Youth for Labour in leafy Chiswick, West London. Hanad Darwish and Abdul-Rahman are not only the same age but both had a similar path into politics at a young age:

“My journey into politics really started in 2013 during my final year of A-Levels. My teacher was very proactive and she took us to debates and to the Houses of Parliament. It took 16 years of my life to learn a bit about British politics.”

Abdul comes from the other side: from a family who have always voted Labour and a local Somali community, around Acton and Ealing that also have voted the same way. He however, accepts elements of conservatism in his upbringing and the idea of “being dependent on yourself, the individual.” He maintains that his community will still overwhelmingly vote Labour because Labour politics impacts the community in a positive way.

I wanted to know what it means to be Labour, Black, British, Muslim and Somali. Abdul-Rahman told me:

“I think being British and Somali is really appreciating both identities at the same time. We’ve grown up here but at the same time we have that Somalinimo – the best of both worlds.”

He maintains that our community is here to stay and needs to “contribute to British society” and raise its voice.

Abdul was also a Remain voter in the EU referendum and proudly calls himself a European despite receiving negative comments from some and being called “brainwashed” or a “coconut”. Infrastructure is a big issue for him as he compares the progress of the U.K which still looks like the 1960s to him, to the development of other countries in Europe. Abdul spoke about the social housing in countries such as Scandinavia, where income doesn’t define whether you have a decent, liveable home. In contrast, Abdul felt that capital cities were witnessing a rise in great homes for high earners and declining quality for low income families.

Abdul is a fan of Blair’s Labour – as is Hanad – but not so sure about Corbyn. Both abhor the Iraq war; it’s the reason why Abdul says he could never call himself a Blairite. He is certain however, about the policies outlined in the current Labour manifesto, such as nationalising water companies and taxation of high earners. Again, these are policies he believes benefits both him, his wider community, and are policies that present a resistance to the seven years of austerity the UK has faced.

Nimco Ali – The Women’s Equality Party

“I’d never been a member of any political party until I joined the Women’s Equality Party. I was basically the first of 11 people around a kitchen table when this idea came about with Catherine Mayer, who is the co-founder.”

Nimco Ali is a household name in the U.K for her groundbreaking campaigning against female genital mutilation (FGM) and gender-based violence. She is now running as an MP for the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) in the North London constituency of Hornsey and Wood Green. The WEP formed out of an entrenched disillusionment with major parties to commit to issues such as equal pay, equal representation and child-care in party policy.

Nimco’s journey into politics had a powerful beginning: she tells me that was “politicised by seeing the war in Somaliland”. Nimco recalls how aged six her awoowo (grandfather) was arrested for standing against Siad Barre – a crime which could have resulted in death back then. This experience of injustice made Nimco “realise how powerful politics is”.

This feels like an incredibly compelling trajectory into politics,and I ask the obvious question: why not stand for women’s issues with a major political party? Nimco’s answer is scathing and frank. On the Conservatives, Nimco states that she despises policies that make women “fill in all these pages to prove that they’ve been raped”– referring to the child tax credit “rape clause”, a policy she says she could never support. On Labour, Corbyn is the epitome of “entitled lefty politics that comes with a very toxic misogyny” and the Lib-Dems “believe that prostitution is work; that women’s bodies are there to be sold”.

Nimco aligns herself neither with the left or right but admits that her party’s politics are more on the left-libertarian side of the spectrum. Nimco points out that the policies on gender outlined in the latest Conservative manifesto were, on the surface, very similar to those present in the WEP’s manifesto. Nimco says she welcomes this, as the WEP released their manifesto a week before the other political parties in a bid to have their policies adopted.

The U.K has seen a growing populist trend, against the establishment, which has allowed more parties to become a part of the political dialogue.
The same is true on a microscopic level for the Somali community, where generational shifts in voting are taking place and people are voting differently. Do I think the Somali community will start voting for the Conservatives or WEP in droves this election? No, but I am proud of how the Somali community is lending their political voice during these elections.

This could perhaps even be a marker of identities being developed outside of the 2D prism of being a “Somali Muslim” – but also being a woman, disabled, a student etc. Difference has encouraged more of us to get active, speak and debate policies that we care about – which I embrace as a positive step for our community.

Sports

Looking back on my Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace | Mo Farah

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I recently had the honour of being knighted by Her Majesty The Queen at Buckingham Palace. When I came to the UK from Somalia aged 8, not speaking any English, who would have thought that my running would eventually lead me here? This was another very special gold medal for me and I am so honoured to have received it. Here’s a little glimpse of how the day went for me.

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Crime

Police bid to trace stolen VW car used in shotgun killing in west London

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A man shot dead in a “cowardly” execution-style attack in west London was murdered by killers using a stolen VW car with cloned number plates, police revealed today.

Khalid Abdi Farah, 26, was blasted to death by a gunman armed with a shotgun as he sat in a car outside a convenience store in Southall.

Detectives say the killer was a passenger in a first generation Tiguan car which pulled up alongside Mr Farah’s Ford Focus in Lady Margaret Road in the early hours of last Saturday.

The gunman walked up to Mr Farah’s car and pushed the shotgun through the window, firing twice at close range.

The 26-year-old, who worked as a courier, suffered critical injuries to his chest and died later in hospital.

The charity Crimetoppers today announced a £10,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the killers and appealed to anyone who saw the Tiguan with the number plate ‘VK 61 EEG’ being driven in the Southall area around the time of the murder.

The plates were cloned form a legitimate Tiguan owner who recently purchased a car and the stolen vehicle was found burnt out in West Drayton after the murder.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Partridge, who is leading the murder inquiry, said : “We believe the VW Tiguan found burnt out in Knowles Close was the car used by the suspects who shot Khalid. This car had been stolen from the Uxbridge area on 15 October and was using cloned plates between then and Khalid’s murder.

“I am making a very specific request for assistance from the public who live in the Southall and West Drayton areas of west London for sightings of the Tiguan bearing the cloned plates ‘VK 61 EEG’.

“Our work indicates this car was being used and stored around these areas during that time.”

He also appealed to petrol station employees about anyone buying a green petrol container on November 11 to contact them.

DCI Partridge added: “It is early in the investigation and we are still keeping an open mind about what lies behind this attack. If anyone has any information which might give us a reason for this then please let us know.

“From what I understand the victim was sitting in his car minding his own business on a night out, he was targeted in a cowardly fashion.

A family has been left devastated by Khalid’s murder and I would urge anyone who has information that could assist this investigation, please call police or the charity Crimestoppers.”

Mr Farah’s family issued a statement saying : “Khalid was such an amazing son, brother and nephew. We can’t stress enough how distraught we are that our beautiful boy was taken away from us.

“He was a kind and lovable soul that made an impression with everyone he would meet. We as a family will never come to terms with this. If you know even the tiniest of details please come forward. Khalid will only rest in peace when this killer is brought to justice.”

There have been no arrests.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police through incident room on 020 8358 0300 or ring Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 11.

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UK

It makes me livid that the Labour Party assumes black people must support it

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Apart from the London mayoral elections, I have never voted Tory, but I know many black and brown people who have. My beautiful younger brother is one such person. Not only is Mohammed a proud Tory but he is also the chair and founder of the Somali Conservatives and will be standing for the party in 2018 local elections.

So when a 2010 blog by Kensington Labour MP Emma Dent Coad surfaced, referring to Shaun Bailey a “token ghetto boy”, I took offence. No, actually I was livid. Like my brother, Shaun is black and a Tory. My brother and many of those I love and respect, who are proud Conservative members, are not tokens. They are brave, bright people who have chosen to vote for and back a party they believe in. They also want to help it change.

As a child, Mohammed, like me, saw our grandfather dragged out of his bed in Hargeisa, now the capital of Somaliland, in the middle of the night for speaking out against a dictator. As a result of this and the civil war my family were forced to flee.

Something like that shapes your life. For my family it meant we became very political and some of us joined political parties.

None is perfect — I am a member of the Women’s Equality Party — but there is a prevalent idea that Labour owns black and minority ethnic (BAME) people, which I reject. That was the undertone of Dent Coad’s statement, and a toxic reminder of why Labour has lost me and many of my peers.

To me, the Labour Party is all talk and no action. I get trolled by its members and I have even been blocked on Twitter by members of the shadow cabinet — I think because I work with Tory MPs to end female genital mutilation.
Many on the Left still believe that FGM is a cultural issue and that we should be “talking” to abusers and prefer to “respect” differences rather than saving girls like me.

One senior Labour figure once told me they would have to see “how it plays out with the mosques” when I asked him to back me in my fight.

During my campaigning on FGM I have been open to working with anyone in power, but in my experience the Labour Party has shown little interest, while those in the Conservative Party have been quick to respond.

From David Cameron to the current Prime Minister, Conservative politicians have demonstrated that they care about ending FGM. For me and 200 million women across the world who have been cut this is crucial.

Today there is a real possibility that FGM can and will end within our lifetime and that is thanks to some very white and posh men who saw me and listened.

As Kemi Badenoch — a rising star and very black Tory MP — said, the attitude that black people cannot be Tories “traps many black children within imaginary boundaries they believe they aren’t allowed to cross. They end up living less than the very best lives they can.”

Seeing MPs such as Badenoch and James Cleverly in the House of Commons means that my niece and little cousins can see people like themselves in positions of power.

The BAME population of this great country is diverse, and as such, we have the constitutionally-given right to join and support whichever party we wish. Dent Coad and her party would do well to remember that.

I did not need Jeremy Corybn to unlock my talent in order to get three law degrees and I am not waiting for him and his band of Lefty loons to set me free.

Hijab Barbie is not for children to play with

I’ve never played with a Barbie doll and I don’t intend to buy one for any of the girls in my family. I totally get that the makers of Barbie want to sell more of them in the run-up to Christmas but I would not buy my six-year-old niece Sofia a make-up-wearing Barbie, and for the same reason I would not buy her a hijab-wearing one.

The hijab, like make-up and other things meant for adults, is not for children to play with. Instead I would love a world in which girls have strong female icons to admire in many industries — and not have dolls marketed to them by a company such as Mattel.

My homeland is leading the way in outlawing FGM

On Monday Somaliland held its fifth multi-party presidential election, though the results are not in yet. Despite the lack of international recognition, Somaliland is leading the way in the region on so many fronts. Last week, in the final days of the election campaign, I visited Hargeisa, the city of my birth, to lobby for legislation to ban FGM.

Somaliland has the world’s highest incidence of FGM. Like me, 98 per cent of women and girls in the country have undergone FGM — but there is hope. Not only did all three of the men seeking to be the next president agree with me on the subject, they and their party chairmen agreed to table legislation on FGM in their first 100 days.

I know politicians will say anything to get elected but sitting down with these men, I believed them.

I hope to travel back to Somaliland in February with Zac Goldsmith, who has played a significant role in supporting this work. Ending FGM within a generation is something I believe we will achieve. I am proud that Somaliland is leading the way.

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