Al-Shabab, I find them hilarious: Social Activist Leyla Hussein tells The Oslo Times
Leyla Hussein, is a Somali psychotherapist and social activist and the a co-founder of the ‘Daughters of Eve’ a non-profit organization. Over the past decade, Hussein has received a number of awards for her work. Among these are the 2008 PCT Breaking Down Barriers Award, the 2010 Cosmopolitan Ultimate Campaigner Women of the Year Award, the 2011 Emma Humphrey Award, to name a few.
During her visit to Norway for the World Women’s Conference, Hussein spoke to The Oslo Times International News Network about her work, experiences, the Women’s right situation across the world, and a whole lot more.
Can you tell us about yourself?
I am Leyla Hussein, originally from Somalia but I was raised in UK, London. I have lived there since I was a child. I am psychotherapist in practice, a lecturer at the University along with being an anti-Asian campaign in female genital mutilation (FGM). I have been campaigning for it the past twelve years and have set up the first of its kind psychotherapist counseling service for FGM survivors.
In my opinion there can be different types of extremist groups. In the UK we have a racist extremist group called English Defense League who burn down mosque and attack people on the streets. There are other types of extremists like the Islamic extremists, who are obviously, I am sure are on the paper for killing army personnel in the middle of the street.
Both of them are extremist groups and they are using religion as a way to kill people— they are both doing the same thing. I am a Muslim and I was brought up as a Muslim but I was never told to kill someone to be a good Muslim. So, this idea of extremism really extends from a group, especially–young angry people, who have lost their identity and use extremism as their way of projecting something to the world. Hacking and killing someone on the street is not about religion, it is really about them being extremely angry to do so.
Talking about Somalia, there is huge group practicing extremism, what do you think about the Al-Shabab ?
Al-Shabab, I find them hilarious. I recently saw one of their twitter pages called Shabab Report. I could not stop laughing when I went through some of the ideas they have. They cannot be serious with their idea that today and couple of days from now on women should not wear bras. To be honest, I am someone who does not entertain that kind of behavior. The only way I could react to it is laugh hysterically. I cry when I take things seriously. These particular groups are obsessed with power and control. Who get affected with their obsession for power and control are the most venerable group— women and children. In Somalia right now there is a big group, mainly some expats who actually don’t live there but are coming from Europe and America. These are the actual extremist groups, who as I said earlier, are the young angry men who have lost their identity as they live in the West, but don’t belong here.
On a different note, a lot of journalists, human rights activists and people who work for freedom of expression and democracy, are imprisoned by various totalitarian and dictatorial regimes across the world. What do you think about this and what is your message for those dictators?
Everybody has right to freedom of expression and speech. What I don’t like is when such rules hold true to only a particular group of people. It’s fine when a group says whatever it wants to say, but when another group says something against the first group, they are imprisoned – this is actually hypocritical behavior. Racism and discrimination comes in when one group arrests another group for not conceding to its thoughts. It is important to note that there are writers and activists who make millions and yet there are those who are imprisoned. They are chosen on the basis of their background. For example the Paris newspaper had every right to say what it wanted to say as part of its basic human rights. Two years before this incident another journalist was sacked from his job for saying something that they said he could not say. So are we saying freedom of expression for particular group or for everybody, every group? Freedom of expression should be across the board. During discussions, people will be offended but that is how we are going to have a dialogue. And also the rules have to be the same for everybody. We cannot say you can have freedom of speech but you cannot have or you can only have some— I personally cannot tolerate that kind of hypocrisy.
What do you think about political Islam?
Islam is a prayer, I don’t think it should be political.
Some people believe that Islam should be incorporated into an office environment. What is your opinion on this?
Obviously not! I am a Muslim and that is a private matter for me. I think faith should not come inside an office because that is someone’s choice, a private matter that cannot be brought into office or put in a room?
It is not a political movement. Faith is a personal choice that you make for your life. I am not going to impose my personal beliefs over you because you may have a different view than mine. So for me faith is a private matter, it should really be kept out of public spaces like offices.
What do you say about the World of Women Conference?
I have attended many conferences over the last 12 and 13 years. That is what I do but this definitely was the best one. Usually in conferences we talk about women’s issues, about African women and Asian women and women from migrant community and usually there were women in the panel who expresse their views on it. But this conference was different. Yesterday all the women in the panel were Muslims and they were talking about Jihadism and extremism. These were the women who live it everyday not someone who looked at it from outside and have formed an opinion about it. All these women were against extremism and though in some conferences people accuse Muslim women participants of being a part of Muslim, it did not happen here. The organizers had done great homework for this conference, they dealt every subject very carefully and picked up participants who are working on those issues on a daily basis. It was brilliant, for me it would have taken whole one or two years to organize this conference. It has been amazing and I am lost of words to describe the way they have handled it.
Okay, so now for a rapid fire round, I will be giving you words and statements and you need to tell me what those words or statements mean to you:
This is a question we ask to all our guests, because we feel its an easy question with a unique answer every single time-What do Human Rights mean to you?
Human rights to me is having a choice for myself and no one else. My safety, my authenticity and me being whom I am without being judged or crucified or vilified is my human right.
For me racism means being discriminated for my skin color or the color of my face.
What does love mean to you?
Love means respect in terms of sharing your life with someone else whether friends or children or significant other. In terms of love for humanity, I would not be here, if I had no love for humanity.
Your view on the Burka?
It is not my personal choice. My mother wore burka, but my dad was against wearing it. Personally I don’t judge people from wearing burka, it’s her choice. I don’t care.
I don’t like that. I don’t think we should impose laws on the way people dress. People should have freedom of expression, they should be free to do what they want. If people want to wear a bean bag, they should have the freedom to wear it with out any disrespect to who they are.
For instance my mother never wore a hijab or burka, but during the late 90’s she decided to wear one. It caused a lot of trouble between her and father as he was against it. But she fought for it, that’s who she is. It is her right to wear what she wants to wear. You cannot dictate people for wearing or not wearing shoes and jeans. I don’t agree with France on that note. I think that the whole point about feminine is women having choices and I am against it when a woman is forced to wear a burka or when a woman is being forced to wear any clothes. For me both of these are conditions are being forceful where they should not be.
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