The Somali Diaspora: Is it a disease?

The word Diaspora sounds like it should be a disease or virus and whilst it shares some of its components it is not.  This post on the subject of Diaspora is inspired by the following “Devil is in the detail” extract and the worldwide news coverage.

“The news that has been beaming around the world recently, and particularly over the last few weeks, seems to confirm Somalia has and duly earned, the sobriquet of “the world’s worst failed state” and with some justification.  The reasons are varied and many, however suffice it to say the evidence of the acts of piracy perpetrated by their citizens on the high seas, and the role they’re playing in terrorism around the world, will not do anything to arrest or tempore these accusations. 

Even if the potential of major oil discoveries is a driver behind this new concern which we could whimsically call “the fruit”, it certainly appears that the Somalia’s cultural roots are being teased up by a combination of the stress and jeopardy of civil war and destructive forces of radical Islam and the branch and its leaves – societies functionality and its apparatus – is withering because of the absence of control, direction.

It is understandable therefore that the spotlight focuses on the failed state, but should we also be looking deeper to see if this is driven by a failed culture? Many Somali’s have been given shelter by highly developed democratic nations acting out of altruism; in fact in such great numbers the Somali exodus has been called a “Diaspora” – a title formerly and rightly owned by the Jews. However it appears rather than leaving behind their world of dysfunction, desolation and tribal divisiveness they have brought it with them. Much of their custom and society is not designed for 21st Century European Society and much of European Society based on the values of free speech and democracy informed by ethics and a fully functioning moral compass is not designed to accommodate them: but many persevere under the shinning banner of a multiculturalism.  (read full post here)

Diaspora:

Meaning 1:  The movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland is the definition offered by the Merriam Webster Dictionary

•Meaning 2: Dictionary.com explains that it is a Noun (usually with initial capital letter) relating to the scattering of the Jews to countries outside of Palestine after the Babylonian captivity.

•Origin: Greek, from diaspeirein  ‘disperse’, from dia  ‘across’+ speirein  ‘scatter’. The term originated in the Septuagint (Deuteronomy 28:25.) in the phrase esē diaspora en pasais basileias tēs gēs  ‘thou shalt be a dispersion in all kingdoms of the earth’

The close association of the word with the Jewish nation stems from the simple truism that the word was coined about their situation and suffering when it was first used in 1876. The etymological derivation is from the Greek words for” disperse” and” scatter” – with a sense of seeds being sown. The modern reinforcement of the usage came with the exodus of the Jews from 20th Century Europe making it ever unlikely the word can be disassociated from them. However this very extension of usage was the catalyst for a broadening of meaning and some surprising new usages.   

Perhaps it is symptomatic of the dictionary definitions being produced within Judo-Christian perspective that even after broader applications the pre-eminent – and dominant definition – in most dictionaries remains the second one relating to the original Jewish Diaspora: commencing in the 8th century BC as the Jews were transported to Babylon and culminating in the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Romans. Like the word “egregious” the meaning of diaspora is clearly changing over time as in contemporary usage it is now broadly applied to the general mass displacement of people’s from their traditional homelands – because of natural disasters or more manmade ones – and is not just reserved for the Jews. 

Somewhat ironically the evolution of the “meaning creep” of Diaspora is seeded in the other great Jewish displacement. The second great Jewish Diaspora was during the time of the Third Reich in Germany (1936 – 1945) and caused by the Nazi policy of displacement and extermination as part of a strategy of ethnic cleansing. Many European Jews fled to the USA and other safer environments from Western and Central Europe. Those that remained were forcibly relocated, with the majority being sent to death camps masquerading as “work camps”.  

It must be disconcerting to the mostly Muslim Somali’s to be so directly connected to a term so directly connected to the Jew, however in historical terms through Diaspora that’s exactly what they are. The Somali Diaspora though troubling to modern politicians of all types and shades because of geo-political considerations and the acts of piracy is dwarfed in purely numerical terms by the Chinese displacement caused by war and famine and by the African Diaspora when African native tribes sold their human spoils of war firstly to each other and then to European visitors as slaves. The Somalis are worthy inheritors of this most unfortunate of titles, as they fit all the criteria as a troubled and conflicted people.

Like egregious, a term which went from being a generally positive term to a wholly negative one, the word diaspora appears to be taking a reverse journey becoming more positive or at least anodyne as it becomes more broadly used.

Doing an Englistics review of the usage of this word we find examples of correct use and a few expansions of the meaning.

Normative:

 “It became…misleading to see the American Jewish community as part of the diaspora at all. Jews in America felt themselves more American than Jews in Israel felt themselves Israeli.”

—Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (1998)  (As researched by Wikipedia)

Culture Context:

  • Diaspora Travel is a concept where people of a certain racial or territorial heritage return to visit their country of origin.
  • Diaspora Bonds are bonds bought by the displaced communities now living abroad in the financial systems of their country of origin.
  • Diaspora “Open” Social Network extends the definition to a widely dispersed group of people who have a behaviour or character trait in common: desire for privacy and choice when using a social network. Diaspora is differentiated by the fact it encourages the user to control their data and to determine the level of privacy they require. The progenitor of Diaspora Social Network  was Ilya Zhitomirskiy who sadly died in November 2011.

Radical Uses:

Whilst the use of diaspora to express an “ever-broadening set of cases: essentially to any and every nameable population category that is to some extent dispersed in space” (Ray Brubaker) can now be considered normative there are other notable uses of the word that stretches the meaning. Here are two:

In Consequences of globalization: for the emerging stay-at-home movement, globalization has become a pejorative term symbolizing the flawed excesses of American capitalism   James W. Thomson opens by observing:

FOR MANY SKEPTICS, globalization merely is a transparent euphemism for “Americanization,” the global diaspora of American-style capitalism and, with it, the spread of its materialistic values. At best, our culture can be exciting and, sometimes, perhaps liberating. Yet, what often is perceived is the worst that we have to offer–from the narcissism of the Shopping Channel to the macho posturing of steroid-fueled TV wrestlers.

 A Capitalist Diaspora: The Greeks in the Balkans by Antonis Kamaras

Antonis Kamaras writing under the auspices of the London School of Economics looks at the migration of capital from Greece to the Balkans. Diaspora is being used to express a concept or better termed a philosophy being displaced rather than to define a circumstance experienced by a community. Students of the Greek Debt Crisis could do worse than look at the nascent issues raised in this 2001 thesis.