(by Abdinasir Mohamed, The Wall Street Journal, WSJ.com) MOGADISHU, Somalia — World Cup madness has come to this troubled nation, creating a dangerous cat-and-mouse game between fans eager to watch televised soccer matches and Islamic militants determined to stop them.
The militia group al Shabaab [designated a terrorist organization by the U.S.], which controls most of south and central Somalia, has declared the World Cup un-Islamic and banned watching the games on television. By al Shabaab’s logic, the World Cup interferes with the militant group’s “jihad,” to overthrow the government, because young Somalis are too busy watching the games to fight on their behalf. While the group hasn’t yet laid out specific consequences for those defying the ban, the militants have been known to behead or amputate limbs of people who oppose them.
Undeterred Somali soccer fans, whose national team failed to qualify for the tournament, are going underground in search of ways to watch the world’s largest televised sporting event, which opens Friday in South Africa.
In recent days, wealthier Somalis in both government-controlled and al Shabaab run areas have been lining up at electronics shops to buy satellite dishes to watch at home. Local technicians will-for a fee-patch together dishes and wires to rig televisions to show the games.
“I don’t like my children watching TV-but I don’t want to miss watching the World Cup,” said Abdullahi Sheikh, a 49-year-old Mogadishu resident who was in line to buy a television and a dish at a shop in town. “It’s an amazing event to watch!”
Al Shabaab controls much of Somalia by force. But the militant group’s ad-hoc prohibitions have alienated most Somalis. At various times, and in various places around the country, the militants have banned mustaches, dancing and celebrating religious holidays.
For followers of the World Cup, the most dangerous ban is the one on soccer. In 2006, the militant group, which was then the armed wing of the government, the Union of Islamic Courts, launched a violent campaign against Somali fans.
War-weary Somalis don’t have the means to fend off al Shabaab, which has sworn to overthrow the government of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, and the government remains too weak to defeat the militants. Government troops had to fend off a recent attack on the on the presidential palace.
These days, the only public place to watch games safely is at the Dhamuke Cinema, part of a small patch of government-controlled territory in the capital Mogadishu. Dhamuke remains one of the few cinemas al Shabaab hasn’t destroyed or shut down. The cinema hosts hundreds of teenagers from around the city to watch movies and soccer matches via satellite.
Dhamuke, which is open every day from 10 a.m. to midnight, is almost always full of young people eager to escape the social [restrictions] imposed in other parts of Somalia. Boys and girls are allowed to sit together-a taboo in al Shabaab-controlled areas. Older soccer [fans] also occupy the folding metal chairs.
On nights when soccer isn’t on, the audience watches whatever else is on hand-American movies, Bollywood [Indian version of Hollywood] flicks and films in Swahili and Somali. When one finishes, another reel starts rolling. Price of admission is 2,000 Somali shillings, or a few pennies.
Outside of the government-run area, the cinemas will be dark because showing the games is too dangerous. Over the past few years, militants have hurled grenades into cinemas in several towns, killing and injuring people.
In a Mogadishu café on a recent afternoon, young men huddled to discuss their plans for watching the game. “If we have no jobs and can’t watch or play [soccer] it’s heartbreaking-and unacceptable,” said Said Haji, a 22-year-old Somali sipping coffee. Mr. Haji lives in the government-controlled area, and will be able to go to the cinema. “Some of my friends don’t have that chance,” he says.
Some young men say militants have deprived them of one of their only means of entertainment. “We can’t play [soccer], we have no cinemas to watch the World Cup and we don’t have jobs,” said Mohamed Nur, a 24-year-old World Cup fan. “We wake up, and go to sleep, alone.”
But not all Somali soccer fans have been dissuaded. People who can’t find a cinema are likely to tune into local radio stations that broadcast soccer matches, which haven’t yet been banned by al Shabaab. They can also look up scores in Internet cafés. And at informal gatherings, men of every age will debate the merits of their favorite teams late into the night… .
1. a) List the countries that border Somalia.
b) Name the capital of Somalia.
2. What is al Shabaab?
3. Why has al Shabaab banned Somalis from watching World Cup soccer games?
4. What additional bans has al Shabaab implemented since it took control of much of Somalia?
5. What will al Shabaab do to Somalis caught watching World Cup games?
6. How does al Shabaab prevent Somalis from watching games?
7. How does this article affect your view of your own situation in life? Explain your answer.
NOTE: “Answers by Email” has ended for the summer–daily news postings will end June 11th — have a great summer!
The World Cup is an international soccer competition that has been held every four years since the first tournament in 1930, except in 1942 and 1946 when it was not contested because of World War II.
The World Cup is the most widely viewed sporting event in the world; an estimated 715.1 million people watched the final match of the 2006 World Cup held in Germany. The 2010 World Cup will be held in South Africa, from June 11 to July 11, and the 2014 World Cup will be held in Brazil.
The current format of the tournament involves 32 teams competing for the title at venues within the host nation over a period of about a month – this phase is often called the World Cup Finals. A qualification phase, which currently takes place over the preceding three years, is used to determine which teams qualify for the tournament together with the host nation.
During the 18 tournaments that have been held [since the World Cup began], seven nations have won the title. Brazil has won the World Cup a record five times, and they are the only team to have played in every tournament. Italy, the current champion, has won four titles, and Germany is next with three titles. The other former champions are Uruguay, winners of the inaugural tournament, and Argentina, with two titles each, and England and France, with one title each.
SOMALIA’S GOVERNMENT AND AL-SHABAAB: (The U.S. State Department has identified al-Shabaab as a terrorist organization.)
For the World Cup schedule, go to usatoday.com/SPORTS/usaedition/2010-06-10-worldcupscheduleday_st_U.htm?csp=34.
For information on World Cup players to watch, go to nydailynews.com/sports/worldcup2010/galleries/world_cup_2010_the_top_players_to_watch_in_south_africa/world_cup_.html.
For the New York Daily News’ World Cup coverage, go to nydailynews.com/sports/worldcup2010/index.html.
For information on the Somali terrorist group al Shabab, go to cfr.org/publication/18650/alshabaab.html.
For a map of Africa and Somalia, go to worldatlas.com.
For background information on Somalia, go to the CIA World FactBook.
Read about sharia law (Islamic law – by which governments of many Muslim countries govern their citizens) at cfr.org.