American Idol vs. Islamic Extremism

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts yesterday, called Invisibilia, and the show focused on a unique attempt to counter Islamic Extremism, which was to run an American Idol type reality show in Somalia.  If you don’t have time to read the 40 minute podcast, you can read about it here.  If you don’t have time for either, the gist of this was that there was a plan supported by the U.N fight extremism by impacting the emotional landscape of the country.  The government at the time was unstable but had recently replaced the far more extreme Al-Shabab government that had previously held Mogadishu.  So things were better, but delicate.  Previously Al Shabab had forbit music, even at weddings, and went so far as to kill many important Somalian musicians and poets.

Hearing this story brought a number of thoughts to my head.  One was how pop culture might be used to transform a culture in a positive way.  In my last post I talked about the harms of excessive moral outrage exacerbated by social media, which polarizes and brings more instability to a culture.  Here was an attempt to do the opposite.  It might seem surprising but some of the advantages that American Idol has are:

  • democratic voting process
  • a panel of judges that are both men and women
  • one mean/tough judge, that increases the joy of the contestant when the mean judge soften to approve the contestant

It may not seem like much, but when you think about the just act of getting into the habit of voting, and getting a say in an outcome, seeing authority that is both mean and women, and a nation of people watching and sharing in the joy of a contestant who has overcome a number of hurdles.  Well maybe it’s the upper the country needs to continue to stem the tide against extremism.

Of course this also made me think how easy it is to erode culture with western culture, and that’s an entire other conversation, but the good thing here is that they not only made it about music, but also included a poetry, as part of the competition, which is big in Somali culture.  At the very least they were trying to adapt their idea to fit Somali values and traditions.

These are of course only seeds, and real change will happen slowly.  As the article says:

Which brings us to this question: Did this reality show actually change reality in any way?

It would be impossible to make the case that Somalia is a completely different country now. It isn’t.

But there is at least one undeniable change since 2013. Music is back in the streets. Brought back, slowly and painfully, through a complicated combination of political strategy and personal courage.

Anyway, I thought this was an interesting story and wanted to share it.

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8 thoughts on “American Idol vs. Islamic Extremism

  1. Secular values will challenge religious values at every level, and for the better. Look at Iran prior to 1979. Progressive and women in politics and education. Religion regained power and plummeted them back to the 14th century.

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  2. I think the show is based on a misguided idea that one culture is superior to another in some way or another. If the Somalis are not killing each other, they are better off with their cultures that have developed over hundreds of years and only adopting what they think is appropriate

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    1. I tend to agree with you in general. In listening to story as told by the Somali’s they interviewed for the program and who were on or involved with the show in this case in came out as a positive, and it led to a stronger expression of their culture not an expression of a Western one. After the show there was a strong increase in the amount of local music that was heard in Mogadishu. In general of course being comfortable with such practices as designed here by the U.N. can lead to the type of cultural erosion that I think is bad. However, I do think it is possible, to engineer positive ways to change the emotional landscape of a culture, by accentuating expressions of that culture. This is what Russian interference has done here and in other democracies. They haven’t changed the emotional landscape by imposing Russian culture, but by inflating an existing emotional landscape. In this case a harmful one. I don’t think the Russians could have successfully polarized us during the election if that rift wasn’t already present to a certain degree.

      If you watch an episode of Somalia Inspire which is available on YouTube, you will find little western about it. lol

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        1. At the very least, I would say Al Shabob has done more to destroy Somali culture, then anything else. When you start banning music and killing local musicians that seems like culture being repressed. But I certainly support your sentiment and it has been far too common in the past where the west looks past another country’s culture and simply supplant’s their own. This set up by the U.N. seemed to at least be designed to promote self-determination among Somali’s. But even the best of intentions still can sometimes be based on cultural bias.

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          1. Of course, some of the things they banned were outrageous. So yes, Al Shabaab has been destructive to Somali society maybe not so much as the civil war that led to the fracturing of the state.
            There are many instances where the west has supplanted whole cultures or led to their destruction. The most easiest to see is Christianity and things that followed where you have an African who’s neither white nor black. Lost to himself and lost to society at large.
            Some friend said usually it is those who suffer a saviour mentality who end up ruining things. We bomb you to bring you democracy and peace as long as we can plant out stooge to lord it over you, we are fine

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            1. Agreed. I think that there are two different kinds of help. One is, you will get my help, only under my conditions, and then there is the help which is under the conditions of the person you are helping. We rarely see this kind of help at the level of a country, and even at an individual level I think we all know people like this, whose help comes sometimes at a greater cost, where maybe you shouldn’t have taken the help to begin with.

              I do think there are times when people truly think they are helping, even when they are not. I think it’s important to really reflect on how one can best help. Too often there is an eagerness to step in without careful thought and the results are usually disastrous.

              I was thinking about professors I’ve had that corrected writing because they didn’t like my style even though I might be grammatically correct. There are those type of people too, who think they are helping, but they aren’t really achieving different results, just molding what they see into a style that pleases them aesthetically. This is also unhelpful help. It can be helpful to be exposed to different styles, but when we start caring too much about a particular aesthetic that doesn’t achieve different results this is also problematic.

              With countries or individuals self-determination is extremely important. The best help comes in a way that course corrects in a manner that respects that gives the most amount of control to those you are helping. This type of help has not been present historically when one country “helps” another.

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