For just three nights last month, The Curve hosted to a one-woman play that sought to critically interrogate the history of Somalis in Britain and Britain in Somalia. The beautifully performed monologue, The Crows Plucked Your Sinews, juxtaposed two time frames: the first urban London in 2011, and the second British Somaliland in 1913.
The play’s title was taken from a line in a poem written in August 1913 by the “legendary Somali leader, national poet and military genius Mohammed ‘Abdille Hassan, who fought a religiously inspired guerrilla war against the British colonial army for two decades at the start of the twentieth century.”
Grappling with questions of war, injustice and human frailty, the play, as the Director, Hassan Mahamdallie observed, is also a reflection on “what happens when a whole nation is expelled from within the borders of its own country and is then distributed across the world.”
Countries are “pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a great game for the domination of the world”, wrote Lord Curzon, the viceroy of India, in 1898. And as popular historian John Pilger has sadly pointed out: “Nothing has changed”; which leads him to argue that if “any country is an imperial metaphor, it is Somalia.” Pilger goes on to note how:
“Sharing a language and religion, Somalis have been divided between the British, French, Italians and Ethiopians. Tens of thousands of people have been handed from one power to another. ‘When they are made to hate each other,’ wrote a British colonial official, ‘good governance is assured.’”
Watching the forceful play at The Curve, I was struck by the related nature of the violence unleashed upon the indigenous population of British Somaliland and the vile attacks of the British ruling-class upon the people of Ireland that were occurring during exactly the same time period. In both instances, British ruling elites sought to suppress the collective and democratic aspirations of normal working-class people.
We should remember that the infamous 1913 Dublin Lockout, the repression of workers which was so brutally organised by arrogant bosses and imperial elites…
“…represented a key moment in the history of the Irish workers movement and marked its coming of age. The fact that thousands of impoverished working men and women withstood months of hunger and repression in order to defend the principle of the right to join a trade union is truly inspiring.”
One of the key leaders of the Irish movement of socialist resistance was Jim Larkin, whose rallying cry, “LET US RISE,” struck fear into the heart of British capitalists. This is because both the Lockout and other colonial wars took place against the backdrop of intense class struggle in Britain (between 1911 and 1914) that were dubbed the “Great Unrest.”
But such unrest is nowhere near dissipated and never will be, as demonstrated by the inspiring election results of the People Before Profit/Anti-Austerity Alliance in Ireland just the other week.
This letter was emailed to the Leicester Mercury mailbox on March 5.
As noted in the excellent book Let Us Rise! The Dublin Lockout – its impact and legacy (2013), the time of the “Great Unrest”…
“…was a period when bosses tried to drive down wages and conditions to preserve their profits and when British workers fought resolutely for a better future for themselves and their families.
“At the same time, with the opening up of Africa and Asia to imperialist exploitation, the old capitalist powers of Europe, France and Britain were increasingly in competition and conflict with the new emerging powers of Germany, Japan and the U.S. in their drive for profit and new markets.” (pp.65-6)
The foreword to this book was written Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins, and includes a contribution from fellow Socialist Party member Ruth Coppinger, who was one of the six members of the People Before Profit/Anti-Austerity Alliance who were elected to the Dáil at the 2016 general election.
Other useful resources
- Amina Mire, “The Struggle for Somali: Warlords, Islamists, US Global Militarism and Women,” Counterpunch, July 31, 2006.
- John Newsinger’s Rebel City: Larkin, Connolly and the Dublin Labour Movement (2003); and Jim Larkin and the Great Dublin Lockout (2013).
- Kieran Allen, 1916: Ireland’s Revolutionary Tradition (Pluto Press, 2016).
- James Plunkett’s historical novel Strumpet City (1969), which is based upon the 1913 Dublin Lockout, and was made into a TV series with the same title (see below).