What does living in two worlds mean to an immigrant? Somali author Nuruddin Farah discussed this theme in the Winternachten lecture on 15 January 2009. Farah fled to Europe in 1974, and did not return to his homeland until 1996. He has lived in South Africa for many years now.
Farah started his tale with the memory of a meeting that took place many decades ago. He was talking to a boy in Paris whose parents came the Ivory Coast. The boy described himself as being 'completely French'. "I suffered an acute sense of loss, albeit vicariously, when taking leave of the young man. I reasoned that the loss not only of their homeland but also of their identities must have been hard on his Ivorian parents", explained Farah. He still wonders how the young man is doing, now that post-9/11 society has become so stony. "Muslims (are) seen and dealt with as undesirable aliens, even if they are nationals... I have heard Muslims tell heartbreaking tales about the treatment meted out to them, their harrowing stories reminding one of the anti-Semitism prevalent in Europe in pre-war Germany."
Farah determined that many Muslim immigrants are hopelessly caught in the middle: while striving to remain true to their faith on the one hand, they are deeply rooted in Western society on the other. The migrant's ultimate destiny is not belonging anywhere. This also holds true for Farah, who returned in 1996 to a Somalia that was nothing like the country of his youth.
Farah himself has never been able to sever all ties with his country of birth. His entire oeuvre is devoted to "keeping Somalia alive". Yet again during his Winternachtenlezing Farah discussed at length the recent history of his country. He concluded, however, by saying that even his own migration can be viewed in a positive light: "I believe that I owe everything that I have become to a world that is much bigger than the world in which I was born."
The Winternachten lecture was presented by Nuruddin Farah in the Nieuwe Kerk in The Hague on 15 January 2009 after an introduction by Kristien Hemmerechts. The Winternachten lecture is made possible in part by the DOEN Foundation and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.