From The ‘Nation Of Poets’ To Trump’s America, One Somali-Born Writer Is Giving Refugees A Voice

 <em>A girl holds a Somali flag during a 2016 Somali Independence Day street fair in Minneapolis.</em> <a rel="nofollow" href
A girl holds a Somali flag during a 2016 Somali Independence Day street fair in Minneapolis. (Flickr / CC 2.0)

In this week’s episode of “Scheer Intelligence,” Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer interviews Boyah J. Farah, a nonfiction writer whose work has appeared in Salon and The Guardian.

Farah was born in Somalia and came to the U.S. in 1993 as a refugee.

Somalia is one of six countries facing restricted immigration into the U.S. under President Trump’s travel ban. But when Farah came to the U.S. as a teenager, life was much different. Leaving behind his war-torn country, Farah honed his nonfiction skills through a memoir program at Grubstreet, a creative writing school in Boston.

Now, unfortunately, immigration to the U.S. is much more difficult, and refugees face heightened racism and xenophobia in Trump’s America. Farah tells Scheer of President Trump’s dangerous “tribal rhetoric” and draws parallels between political language in war-torn Somalia and the language employed by Trump and other politicians today.

“Last Tuesday, I was sitting at Starbucks,” Farah remarks. “A random guy came in with a knife—just last Tuesday—and the guy that he hit was an Indian guy who has nothing to do with anything at all. And later on we found out that the guy was mentally unstable, but I am sure he heard that rhetoric from the television, from our leaders, and he acted on it.”

The two also discuss how Farah’s nonfiction work helps to dispel harmful misconceptions about refugees in America.

“You’re one of the Muslim refugees we are supposed to be apprehensive about, from a country [Trump] has actually mentioned,” Scheer says. “As a writer, you must be deeply offended by the character profiles of people as the simple ‘divide and conquer’ enemy.”

“There’s wisdom in the progression of time,” Farah responds, and goes on to explain how he has numerous identities as a Somalian refugee living in the U.S.

Noting that America was seen as “heaven” in the refugee camp, Farah continues:

“Those that I can help, I try to help them out. That was my way of restoring my broken past. But the more I stay in the belly, metaphorically, the belly of America, the more you get to see what black folks in this country go through. And there was a danger in not realizing that I’m African-American. ... I had different lenses through which I looked through the world. In Somalia, the nickname for Somalia is ‘nation of poets.’ They value words more than anything else. ... The more you live in the belly, the more you understand that, hey, what African-Americans have complained about for many years: it’s true. And not only is it true in literature, but I have experienced it, so I know for sure it’s true.”

Farah also uses writing to convey the intense violence he experienced in war-torn Somalia, in the hopes of deglamorizing war in America.

For many Americans, Farah explains war is seen as “entertainment, it’s a movie.”

“And I can understand that now, because my favorite movie before the war was ‘Rambo.’ I thought ‘Rambo’ was fantastic,” he says. “But now I know that ‘Rambo’ is not fantastic. It does more damage than anything else. ... Now, I’m using literature to understand the psychology of war.”

Listen to the full interview below:

Adapted from