Nura Farah is Finland’s first published writer with Somali roots. She moved to Finland as a refugee in the early 1990s when she was 13 years old and when one of her countries became absorbed in a costly and painful civil war that continues to date.
Her first book, Aavikon tyttäret (Daughters of the desert), published by Otava last year, gives a glimpse of the lives of women in Somalia during that country’s struggle for independence in 1940-60.
Nura Farah. Kuva: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Otava.
Apart from being the first “Somali” writer to publish in the Finnish language, her latest milestone as a writer was winning in December the 2015 Suomi-palkkinnon award, which is given by the ministry of education to aspiring and established artists and writers.
This year’s prize was 24,700 euros.
“I’m not the only one who’s got the award there were others [like writer and film director Hassan Blasim and artist Abdel Abidin],” said Farah with a hint of humility. “This year’s [Suomi-palkinnon] awards reflect support by the ministry of education for multiculturalism.”
Farah said that there are many challenges as Finnish society becomes ever-culturally diverse. She believes that multiculturalism can work, but it’s important that migrants and minorities don’t isolate themselves from the rest of society.
“We live in difficult times these days,” she continued. “It’s even scary and I sometimes feel that we’ve returned back to the 1990s [when racism was more public].”
According to Farah, one of the problems that Finland should acknowledge today is that social exclusion is a problem we must challenge. She said that even if you were born in this country to non-Finnish parents you’re still not accepted as an equal member of society never mind as a “real” Finn.
“There is a lot of hate against Muslims and religion is a big topic,” she explained. “I wish that the Paris attacks would never have happened because they have only made matters worse.”
Farah believes that there are ways to tackle radicalism among Muslim youths. She said that there should be more “give and take” by the parents to their children and not bond them too much to one culture.
“Another issue is how people are identified in Finland,” Farah continued. “Those who are black, like me, aren’t still considered ‘real’ Finns.”
The writer said that an important matter that all minorities and migrants should keep in mind when growing up in countries like Finland is that they are the ones who define their identity and who they are.
“People may want to define who I am, but I don’t allow them to do that,” she said. “I identify who I am. I consider myself to be a Finnish Somali and a Muslim. People have a right to choose their religion and change religions if they wish.”
Even if religious freedom is a human right in Finland, Farah said that she sometimes feels that the only Muslim that is acceptable in this country is one that renounces his or her faith.
“But it’s impossible to give up your religion and culture totally because both form such a strong part of your identity,” she added.
One doesn’t have to read too many studies about Africans, Afro Finns and Somali Finns to understand the negative side of discrimination and social exclusion. In the face of such studies, there are many successful Africans and Somalis. Some of these include Abdirahim Husu Hussein, Maryan Abdulkarim, Fadumo Dayib and Abdi Osman.
Finland got its first-ever black MP in 2011 when Jani Toivola was elected to parliament.
Despite the ever-growing voices of people like Farah, there’s still a lot of work to be done to make this country a better place to live for people who aren’t so-called ethnic Finns, or kantasuomalaisia.
“The term kantasuomalainen is a pretty recent term and shows how diverse our society has become,” she said. “It’s a way of dividing those who are so-called ‘real’ Finns with those who aren’t.”
“For me racism shatters something precious inside of you,” she continued. “Very little is written about the discrimination that some children suffer at school. I suffered a lot of bullying at school in the 1990s due to my ethnic background and plan to write about it in my next book.”
Farah said that she has a lot of respect for Finland. She considers precious values like social equality and women’s rights, which are crucial.
“I could have never become a writer in the same way as in Finland if I’d live in Somalia,” she concluded. “I believe multicultural Finns should write more about their lives and experiences. It’s important because it’s our narrative.”