Somaliland: Ideological Debate in Social Media

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By: Guleid Ahmed Jama

Somalilandsun – Debates among the Somalilanders in the social media are many times ideological: secularists vs Islamists; liberals vs socialists; clannists vs nationalists etc. But, in the mainstream media and public platforms, these topics are not in the agenda.

It is puzzling why the two do not resemble. Despite the huge freedom and sometimes anonymity the social media (specifically the faceboook) is offering, the explanation is not quit easy. I argue if such ideological discussions and point of views are embedded in our political, social, economic and cultural dialogues, we would have different and positive direction.

Although deep intolerance is evidently apparent in these debates at the social media, it shows the presence of people who hold ideas above clan politics, people bound together by what they believe, but not the clan they belong to. I have observed how people who belong to same clan have very distant (or even hostile) views. Almost endless debate involved by people who are scattered all over the world continue in our social media. It is wrong to claim that the debate in the social media is positive and may have fruitful results if mainstreamed, but it is a sign of different topics that interest the masses without taking into consideration the dominant narration.

The two leading debaters, in my assessment, are secularists and Islamists. There is a presence of atheists in insignificant number. However, the robust and leading sides are Islamists and secularists which are neither homogenous nor united. Many Islamists in the social media hold conflicting ideas whereas secularist are not united as well.

Most surprisingly, the centre of the arguments is not only the role of religion in public life. This does not mean there is no debate on this subject. There is big one on the matter. However, the questions that repeatedly ring the bell are those directed to the meaning of Islam, its interpretation, role of reason in religious understanding, the influence of Arab culture, the power of religious leaders and freedom of religion.

Therefore, in many occasions arguments is sparked by for instance someone questioning how traditionally certain things were attached to a religious meaning or the long held negative views on women. Others focus on the change of religious trends and feel outnumbered and influenced by new religious movements. This later group stand to defend Sufism which they see as the true religious path.

Another thing I have so far observed is the people who are involved in the debates. The secularist (if I group together all those oppose the Islamists) mostly comprises of two groups. One group is young and educated and based in Somaliland. The other group are predominantly educated in Muslim countries. This composition surprises me because I would have expected secularist to be educated or to live in the Western countries.

The Islamists (all those who campaign for religious laws to administer in the state and private lives) encompasses two group. One group is members of religious organizations/movements. The second group is young and educated in religious institutions based in the Arab countries or in Somaliland. They may not belong to particular religious organization/movement, but they are influenced and trained by religious movements. The Islamists are better organized and have other platforms outside of the social media.

The above categorization is not inclusive. The masses are in fluid positions; one time siding with secularists and another time siding with Islamists depending on the topic on hand.

The word secularist (in Somali the Arabic word of Cilmaani is adapted) is taboo because it is depicted as atheists, although two are totally different topics. Therefore, the word secularism/secularists is rarely used in these debates.

My point in this commentary is not to analyse the trends and who is winning. What I would like to suggest is giving the social media discussions a space at the mainstream platforms and forums so that the people are equally informed and clan politics is suppressed.

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This is a personal view of the author Guleid Ahmed Jamathus not representing any entity.

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