An interesting article in Monsters and Critics today describes a Somali film Leopards in the Snow, which aired at the Toronto film festival in which Somalis tell their stories of the tragedies and difficulties they’ve been through during the devastating Somali civil war. According to the director of the film, Laura Forth, the film gives “a message of hope and also peace”, but “no one in Somalia is allowed to watch it. They’d be given 40 lashes or worse.”
In Somalia, it is now illegal to watch a movie, a video, or a television show. Popular music is also illegal. Over the last few weeks the international media has reported that armed gunmen representing the United Islamic Courts (UIC) known as the “Soldiers of Allah” entered movie houses making arrests and confiscating media and equipment. The raids also followed the imposition of new restrictions that forbid all forms of trade and public transport during prayer times.
Witnesses reported that at least 30 people were detained in the raids when armed Soldiers of Allah entered two movie theaters in southern Mogadishu’s Wardhiigley district. The soldiers dispersed audiences who were watching Indian Bollywood movies which are very popular in Somalia and other parts of Africa, but are deemed pornographic by the UIC. Witnesses reported that the soldiers also confiscated projection equipment and generators. “We managed to arrest 30, but most of them fled,” militia commander Nuur Hassan Raghe reported. “They were watching movies that are ethically unfit.”
(Middle East Times, Sept. 4, 2006)
Watching movies and listening to music is an everyday pleasure enjoyed commonly by men and women around the world. Turning this into a crime makes everyone into a criminal. Similarly, a convenient side effect for governments that want to control people by burning books for example, is to criminalize book owners.
Media control is of course also one of the primary tools of both past and modern fascist and communist regimes. Controlling what media people can consume in effect allows you to control what they can think, feel, and know. And it doesn’t matter whether its the government, a group of armed militia, or corporations that are exercising control. Consider for example the MPAA and the RIAA’s efforts to control what media you can consume through the use of Digital Rights Management software and its campaign of intimidation through mass litigation.