Category Archives: Somali culture

The Alexandria of one’s youth

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 08.55.36Dalrymple writes that a cosmopolitan city, such as the Alexandria he knew as a young man in the 1890s,

is one in which several nationalities and cultures coexist with some actual knowledge of each other’s languages and sympathetic participation in each other’s customs, not a city in which the citizens of 167 different countries happened to have turned up in the hope of social security and/or a decent job.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 09.00.10There is

a difference between a cocktail and a Mickey Finn; and I doubt that many extollers of cosmopolitanism in Le Monde sense of the word have taken a serious interest in Somali culture, for example, even if there is a large Somali ‘community’ in their city. (I have been to Somalia, and I intended at the time to read the works of a celebrated specialist anthropologist called I.M. Lewis about Somali culture. It is still on my list of things to do.)

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Mosaics, kaleidoscopes, salad bowls

Pan with hamadryad, from Pompeii, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

No: Pan with hamadryad, from Pompeii. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Bring back the melting pot

Doctrinal multiculturalism furnishes, writes Dalrymple,

  • a portion of the intelligentsia with an opportunity to exhibit its virtue and generosity for all the world to see
  • cultural bureaucrats with a minor if lucrative source of employment

He points out that understanding another culture

is a Herculean labour.

What chance



is there for people to understand, in any but the most superficial way, the hundreds of extremely diverse cultures from which immigrants come to our shores? To understand Amhara culture in any detail is the work of a lifetime for a highly intelligent person of American or European background who is determined and motivated to do so; for one person to understand Bengali, Somali, Yemeni and Vietnamese cultures as well is impossible.



It follows

that is it for immigrants who do us the honour of coming to our country to understand us, not for us to understand them — which is impossible in any case. It is for them to make the mental, intellectual and cultural adjustments, not us.

In special circumstances,

it is well that certain people should try to learn something of the culture of immigrants. But it is humanity that should demand it, not bureaucratic multiculturalism.

Yes: Israel Zangwill's 1908 play

Yes: Israel Zangwill’s 1908 play

For instance, it was very necessary in Dalrymple’s work as a physician in an area with many immigrants that he should understand

the situation of Muslim girls brought up in Britain and forced into unwanted, indeed repellent, marriages to a first cousin in a village in Pakistan.


understanding and sympathy cannot be decreed.

The answer to the problems of the multi-ethnic, multilingual society remains

the melting pot.