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VOICE 1: I’m going to go in through his back. And then we're going to start to peel off his skin and he's ready to be stuffed.
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Arts and crafts never sounded like this. No, that's the sound of a workshop where people are learning to stuff rats. It's called a rogue taxidermy and it is resurgent, attracting everyone from avant garde artists to couples out on date nights. And where taxidermy was once the stuff of traditional mounted hunting trophies, today's version includes roadkill and sometimes sees animals preserved in gold leaf and neon colors. And if that sounds morbid to you, well that's the attraction. We’ll tell you more in half an hour. Also today, this may just be the sound of a turning point.
VOICE 1: [Somali speaking language]
MANY VOICES: [chanting in unison]
AMT: That is the sound of enraged people, ordinary Somalis who might once have been afraid to speak out against the Islamist group al-Shabaab. But after the massive and devastating bomb blast in the centre of Mogadishu ten days ago people have had enough, and they've taken to the streets in cities across Somalia. In an hour we're asking how that anger might change Somalia's future. But we're starting here.
VOICE 1: I was a bit surprised that Dalhousie was legitimizing a complaint such as this. But there's a lot of folks that feel that racism doesn't exist anymore. But I think I'm here to be frank and say hey that's not reality.
AMT: Racism, free speech, disciplinary decisions, and the controversy engulfing Dalhousie University. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti, this is The Current.
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Update: Dalhousie university drops disciplinary action against student over Canada 150 post
Guests: Masuma Khan, Jim Turk
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: It is a campus free speech debate that is consuming Dalhousie University since becoming public last week. But it all started just ahead of Canada Day this past summer. Masuma Khan, a vice president in the Dalhousie Student Union, put forward a motion that the student union not participate in Canada 150 celebrations. It was about showing solidarity with Indigenous peoples and her motion passed, albeit with some backlash. So Masuma Khan took to Facebook. Her post contains some incendiary language, including #WhiteFragilityCanKissMyAss and #YourWhiteTearsArentSacredThisLandIs. And after a fellow student’s complained about the post Ms. Khan found herself in hot water with the school. She is facing a formal disciplinary process. Professor Janice Graham of the school's pediatrics department is among the many speaking up for her.
JANICE GRAHAM: I think that Ms. Khan has been subject to incredible amounts of what they're calling white fragility and attacks that are vehement and violent. And I think that Dalhousie should be supporting her rather than considering an action.
AMT: Her case raises some important questions about free speech on campus in our highly polarized times. And we're starting that discussion today with Masuma Khan who joins us from Halifax. Hello.
MASUMA KHAN: Hi.
AMT: What kind of criticism did you initially face after that motion passed?
MASUMA KHAN: You know, there was a counsellor who was there and told me that, you know, if I didn't believe in the legitimacy of Canada I should, you know, revoke my rights to the charter and which I didn't find, you know, a happy conversation for someone to say, you know, if you don't like it you might as well just give your rights away and leave. So yeah.
AMT: So what was your state of mind when you decided to react on Facebook?
MASUMA KHAN: My state of mind when I decided to react was a lot of the comments that were happening were, you know, the DSU should be instilling pride in our Canadian youth. And it's, you know, how can we instill pride when, you know, the truth is that genocide has happened on this land for over 400 years? That 172 Indigenous communities don't have access to clean drinking water right now? And you know these are my friends that don't have clean access, you know, to drinking water and their children. And I have to think about that every day. So my response was a response to the daily racism that I face and my response was to the lack of solidarity that a majority of Canadians are showing our Indigenous people.
AMT: And who was your intended audience on that Facebook post?
MASUMA KHAN: My intended audience was, you know, my support groups, the social activists and student leaders from across Turtle Island. It was basically my way of saying hey supports like I'm really frustrated with this, can you give me some encouraging words?
AMT: This is your personal Facebook Page?
MASUMA KHAN: Yes of course, my personal Facebook page yeah.
AMT: How did you find out the university had received a complaint about it?
MASUMA KHAN: Well the vice-provost came to me about a week after telling me that there was complaints and then requested or advised me to delete my post and I said OK no problem. And then that was a Friday and then the Monday The National Post article with Michael Smith came out. And then after that I received the formal complaint.
AMT: Well the student who complained to the university was Michael Smith. He was a graduate student in history at the time. He has since graduated. We spoke to him about why he complained and this is part of what he said.
MICHAEL SMITH: I was a student and this is how the vice president views me as a student. If I have concerns, my concerns to quote her, it’s not that I was sitting there crying but white tears is what she said can kiss my ass. So if anyone who's white disagrees with her view on Canada Day they can essentially, not essentially, they can literally it's her, she said it, she said you can kiss my ass. That to me is not a very productive way to have a conversation or to start a conversation or to win anyone over onto your side. This is supposed to be a place where an intellectual debate is taking place. It’s supposed to be a place where ideas should be respectfully challenged. And yes it did offend me as someone who is white as well, because I don't think of my skin colour at all and I'm sure some people, she clearly does, she's obsessed with it and she's obsessed with the skin colour of other people. And for her to come to all these conclusions about me and people like me simply by virtue of something that's an immutable characteristic of biology, I just don't understand it.
AMT: Masuma Khan, how do you respond to that?
MASUMA KHAN: I think it's easy for Michael to say that he doesn't have to think about his skin colour, because the reality is and he just proved my point that, you know, his skin colour doesn't really create a factor in the racism that he supposedly faces. Because for me the reality is my skin colour plays a factor and I have to think about that. Black folks have to think about that. Racism exists. We can look at it in a biological way all we want but, you know, racism does exist. It's been around for a very long time, you can talk to all the critical race thinkers you want from across the globe and they will tell you that racism exists and that reverse racism does not exist.
AMT: And so do you accept on any level that your post could have made people who don't agree with you not want to voice their opinions? Feel intimidated?
MASUMA KHAN: I mean, my post was really to get my feelings out there and, you know, my post doesn't say, you know, if you're white you can kiss my ass. My post says white fragility, this concept can kiss my ass, because every time I talk about racism people want to believe that it doesn't exist, people say it doesn't exist. People are pulling out this reverse racism card which doesn't exist and that in itself is point blank, you know, a proof that reverse racism doesn't exist and that the racism that I'm talking about does in fact exist and this fragility is so rampant within our society.
AMT: According to a statement put out by Arig al Shaibah, the Vice-Provost of Student Affairs, and I'm quoting here, “several students of multiple intersecting identities along the continuum of privilege had approached me about feeling disrespected, demeaned, and invalidated as a consequence of the language and tenor of the post in question. We're a diverse community with a large international population. All leaders regardless of their social identities on campus set the tone for a sense of inclusion by all.” Your role is a paid position, do you think you have a greater responsibility to be careful about language?
MASUMA KHAN: Well I think the reality is, and I think the university is misconstruing this, is that the university actually doesn't have any authority over me as my vice president role, it’s the student union who has authority over me. And they have authority to discipline me based off of my role and my title. And, you know, counselor did try, they tried to get me impeached in September and it didn't work. The council voted to keep me. 2,000 students voted for me. They voted for this voice. They voted for someone who is going to talk about racism. Who is going to talk about white supremacy. Who's going to talk about equity issues. Who's going to support queer and trans students, who's going to support BIPOC students, like this is what they voted for.
AMT: What kind of response have you had since your story went public?
MASUMA KHAN: You know, I've had very mixed responses. I've been getting death threats and a lot of harmful messages and violent messages where people are asking me to harm myself or are saying that they would like to sexually harm me in some way. And then, you know, I'm getting support from profs and lawyers from all across Turtle Island who are saying, you know, what Dalhousie’s doing is ridiculous. And, you know, the law profs at Dal who stood up for me and, you know, my profs in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, who they themselves, you know, made a statement saying that colonialism and the impacts of colonialism is very real. And I think a really troubling and problematic thing that we're not really acknowledging here is Michael Smith is supposed to be this graduate student that learnt about specifically colonialism and slavery. And for him to say that racism doesn't exist in this way I think is just a showing of how Dalhousie has failed to really educate him on these issues.
AMT: Well I have another clip from Michael Smith. He told us he also has had a lot of support from professors across the country.
MICHAEL SMITH: It's really ironic that the media is portraying that her free expression is being, she's on the defense, which I think is a very ironic situation considering she was the one who started this whole attack on people, she's going to sort of the inflammatory comments. I think that the people who hold my views will continue to be afraid to say things like what I say. There is a vocal minority of people like Masuma Khan who are obsessed with identity politics, labeling people, silencing opinions, and what they do is if you dissent from their view they instantly label you a racist.
AMT: What's your response to comments like that?
MASUMA KHAN: [sighs] I mean, he can feel the way that he feels, he's entitled to that. But I think I didn't choose to attack people. I think the reality is is that, you know, I was dealing with racism for bring this historically left out voice to the table. And, you know, I'm allowed to be validated, I'm allowed to say like, you know, this isn’t easy, racism doesn't ask me politely before it affects me. So when I'm talking about things like in structures like white supremacy and white fragility and white privilege, you know, folks aren't going to be too willing to talk about it because it's not easy to talk about these issues. It's human tendency to, you know, turn our minds to something else and not really talk about the issues that are at hand if you're looking at anything from mental health to race issues and beyond.
AMT: What kind of punishment are you potentially facing?
MASUMA KHAN: You know, it's the training on how to talk about racism in a nicer way. It's the reflective essay. But I think regardless, those suggestions are ridiculous because how can you police students and tell them how they can really talk about racism?
AMT: The provost is saying that it's actually not the issue of white fragility that's being looked at.
MASUMA KHAN: Yeah, the provost is saying it's the issue of demeaning behaviour. And when she said that I said to her in front of her at the Senate in front of all the faculty members, you know, how can you consider this to be demeaning behaviour? But you don't consider sexualized violence to be demeaning behaviour to those survivors that came forward during Dal dentistry? Like I'm sorry but your definitions of demeaning behaviour changes, your definitions of violence changes, and it's not OK for the university to take this stance and not support me and not even reach out to me to see how I'm doing.
AMT: What's at stake for you if the Senate committee decides that you are in violation?
MASUMA KHAN: If they decide that, you know, I have to go for the training I guess, you know, I can go through an appeal after their decision and I can still try again to fight it. But, you know, I don't plan on taking training on how to talk about racism when I live it.
AMT: Masuma Khan we have to leave it there. Thank you.
MASUMA KHAN: Thank you.
AMT: Masuma Khan is a fourth year Dalhousie University student, she's studying international development. She's also vice president of the Dalhousie Student Union. And she was in our Halifax studio. I want to bring someone in now who focuses on free speech on Canadian campuses. James Turk directs the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University. He's also the editor of Academic Freedom in Conflict: The Struggle Over Free Speech Rights in the University. Jim Turk is with me in our Toronto studio. Hello.
JIM TURK: Good morning Anna Maria.
AMT: What were you thinking as you were listening to Ms. Khan?
JIM TURK: Well, I mean my immediate reaction is I think the behaviour of the Dalhousie University administration is reprehensible.
JIM TURK: It is undermining the raise on debt to the university. The university is to be a place, perhaps the principal place in democratic society where people can debate difficult issues, can examine, analyze, criticize, look at from all perspectives. And their action is to try to silence this student and her criticisms.
AMT: Now, the university says it's not the use of white fragility in the language.
JIM TURK: Right.
AMT: They say that it's got to do, the matters moving forward based on a section of their code related to unwelcome or persistent conduct that the student knows or ought to reasonably know would cause another person to feel demeaned intimidated or harassed.
JIM TURK: Yes, well they’re ignoring one of the first parts of their student code which is seemingly would make the code of student conduct at Dalhousie appropriate. It says nothing in this code shall be construed to prohibit peaceful assemblies and demonstrations or lawful picketing or to inhibit the freedom of speech. Now the clause that they're using can only be used to inhibit the freedom of speech. You know, what you just read that no student can do anything that they know or ought to reasonably know would cause another person to feel demeaned, intimidated, and harassed. Well, there's a thousand things that happen to me everyday that could cause me to feel intimidated or harassed. Somebody says well you're talk on the curb was terrible, whatever. So that provision in their code, I would argue, is unconstitutional. Supreme Court has looked at what human rights code can prohibit, and in the last big case before the Supreme Court, the court unanimously told the Saskatchewan human rights commission that it's language that prohibited expression that I'm quoting, “ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of the court says does not rise to the level of ardent and extreme feelings constituting hatred required to uphold the constitutionality of the provision.” Or as I said you can't have that.
AMT: OK, but let's back up. What's the current climate around free speech like on campuses in Canada right now?
JIM TURK: It’s quite contested. It actually for a long time has been contested. I was a student activist at an earlier period when we wanted the administration off our backs, we wanted the freedom to say. Now there's a lot of pressure coming often from marginalized students, saying we want a safe space, we don't want to be confronted with offensive or difficult language. And universities have responded with policies like Dalhousie’s or with respect to workplace policies that cover everybody. But they're like an open hunting license because this vague language of what might be offensive is so broad that it gives them license to go after anybody. And interestingly the ones they often go after are the very marginalized students like Ms. Khan.
AMT: So can you give me some examples where you are concerned about limits being placed on free speech now on campus?
JIM TURK: Well I mean, the problem is policies like the Dalhousie policy that have this vague reference to saying well you can't do anything that might be demeaning, that might insult or offend somebody else. Well how do you have intellectual discourse without the possibility of offending somebody? If you say I think your ideas are wrong, I mean you can try to say that respectfully but it's still hurtful. You know, I write a paper, I give a lecture and somebody says that was really terrible. They can say it in the nicest way but I can be offended. And if there are policies as there are at many universities that allows the potentially to be at risk. And then it's up to the university administration to decide whether they want to come after me or not.
AMT: But are there cases? For example there are cases, concerns from racialized students around racism and Islamophobia being on campus in terms of speakers.
JIM TURK: Right.
AMT: Are those concerns legit or should those voices be heard?
JIM TURK: The concerns about racism and Islamophobia are absolutely legit. What's not legit is dealing with that problem by silencing and suppressing speech. So and one of the problems too is that a lot of the right has seized on this to mock the students calling expressing concerns. Their concerns are legitimate. It's just their solution that's the wrong solution.
AMT: And then, you know, we heard a reference to the dentistry students at Dalhousie.
JIM TURK: Right.
AMT: So these were dentistry students who had a Facebook Page for the class.
JIM TURK: Yes.
AMT: Two years ago there were references to sexual violence against women, identifying which women they wanted to harm essentially. They got restorative justice, they were temporarily suspended, some say this is a double standard how Ms. Khan has had complaints because of her white fragility comment.
JIM TURK: Well I mean what the dentistry students did was really terrible stuff. And the university responded and tried to do it, as you say, in a way of restorative justice. In Ms. Khan’s case she didn't do anything wrong. The kinds of statements she made on her Facebook Page are statements that are permissible in Canada, they're not a violation of any law or of any practice and they're the kind of statements that a human rights commission cannot prohibit and certainly a student policy or student code of conduct that prohibits it is totally inappropriate. The university, when the complaint was made, should have said I'm sorry we have a provision in our code of student conduct that nothing in this was to inhibit freedom of speech. This is speech that's perfectly constitutional and legal in Canada and we're now proceeding. But instead they took this vague language in their code of student conduct and decided to go against her. And that's what's unacceptable.
AMT: And do you see, what's your concern, the wider concern than for universities?
JIM TURK: Well the wider concern is this kind of language that they're using to go after Ms. Khan can have a really chilling effect on people. You know, universities are about educating students, the search for knowledge. You can't do that if you're afraid to say something, you're afraid you might offend someone, you are afraid that if you're critical of certain ideas or certain perspectives, whether you're in political science or whatever and so you keep your mouth shut. Well that undermines the purpose of the university. It undermines the search for truth, the trying to get a better understanding of things.
AMT: Shouldn't university administrators who have access to their own law schools, people who understand language, shouldn't they know that?
JIM TURK: I mean that's why I began by saying what they're doing is reprehensible. There's no excuse, of course they should know that. And they've had a whole bunch of their law professors tell them that. But they, you know, most university administrations these days are more concerned with their brand, not offending donors, not offending alumni, when their brand should be pride in being a place where there's unfettered rights within the broader limitations of hate speech to explore things. They don't take pride in that, they try to suppress it.
AMT: James Turk, thanks for coming.
JIM TURK: My pleasure.
AMT: James Turk, Director of the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University, editor of Academic Freedom in Conflict: The Struggle Over Free Speech Rights in the University. We want to hear from you on this story, send us an email by going to our website cbc.ca/thecurrent. Find us on Facebook or Twitter @TheCurrentCBC. And stay with us, because coming up next it's not your grandfather's taxidermy.
VOICE 1: So here we have a three headed cerber rat strapped down and chained to a crystal cave.
AMT: We're talking rogue taxidermy when we return. This is The Current.
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Dead animals into art? Meet these women 'rogue taxidermists'
Guests: Ankixa Risk, Jessica Lee, Sarina Brewer, Joanna Ebenstein
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Hello, I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.
AMT: Still to come, the truck bomb attack in the centre of Mogadishu earlier this month left at least 350 people dead, more than 500 people injured. The country's information minister has called it Somalia's 9/11. I'm going to speak with a minister in half an hour about how that attack is unifying the people of Somalia against the jihadst al-Shabaab group. But first, new life for an art form of the dead.
VOICE 1: So I've got here a bag of frozen dead rats. To be perfectly honest I do have a separate deep freeze for my rats right now, I'm just on a very intensive project that is requiring a whole lot of them and there was a bit of an overflow. I've got a few up here in my regular freezer.
[Sound: bag crunching]
AMT: Yeah you heard that correctly, peeling the pelt off a semi frozen rat is not usually part of the job description for producers here at The Current. But that is what our Karin Marley set off to do when she visited taxidermist Ankixa Risk in Hamilton, Ontario.
ANKIXA RISK: So let's get our little friend here. And I've got my scalpel here and I'm just going to start with this guy because he is going to be fully clothed in an anthropomorphic style mount. I'm going to go in through his back and then we're going to start to peel off his skin.
VOICE 1: Can I help with the peeling of the skin?
ANKIXA RISK: Yeah you certainly can.
VOICE 1: It's tricky.
ANKIXA RISK: I'm actually going to get right in around his back leg so you can see his ankle is still within the pelt there and we've just it's like he's caught in his skinny jeans. You can't quite get them off. You're just going to snip through the ankle here, being very careful not to snip the pelt.
[Sound: scissors snipping]
ANKIXA RISK: There you go. Really in specimens this small you want to be careful, it takes the most detail in the heads because if you accidentally chop off an ear or chop off an eyelid, you sort of have to mask that by say, putting an eye patch or a hat or giving him glasses.
ANKIXA RISK: Now we've got this lovely rat pelt to work with and he's ready to be stuffed.
[Sound: rustling noise]
AMT: Ankixa Risk and her business partner Jessica Lee turn dead creatures into unusual art, sometimes with Jessica's kids looking on. They are part of a taxidermy revival, teaching rat stuffing workshops to everyone from middle aged women to corporate team building events, even couples out on date nights.
VOICE 2: So what do we have here?
ANKIXA RISK: So here we have a three headed cerber rat strapped down and chained to a crystal cave. I focus on like whimsical dioramas and [unintelligible] I grew up like on a dirt road in the country and was always surrounded by animals. And as a young girl, you know, they were my friends, I like sort of thought of them as like wouldn't it be great if they were just always around and doing these human things?
JESSICA LEE: It's just that sort of day and age where like the unique is held high. It’s OK to be you know a taxidermist mom.
PRODUCER: What do you think of the animals?
CHILD 1: I like them.
PRODUCER: Yeah? Which one’s your favourite?
CHILD 1: Oh, that’s hard, the spring one.
ANKIXA RISK: The farmer?
CHILD 1: Yeah.
PRODUCER: There's a rat farmer in your house?
ANKIXA RISK: Yeah.
CHILD 1: Yeah.
JESSICA LEE: So it was like a nice warm hug to see how many people were interested in taking the classes and treating it as an art form and not an obscurity.
PRODUCER: And now there's like, there's a community.
JESSICA LEE: And now there's a little community and it's so cool.
ANKIXA RISK: And very friendly and quickly growing community.
JESSICA LEE: And they’re loving.
ANKIXA RISK: They’re like animal lovers.
AMT: Well we're going to post pictures on our website today of Ankixa Risk’s and Jessica Lee's art, cbc.ca/thecurrent. They’re just two of the many people participating in what is known today as rogue taxidermy. It is a world inhabited largely by women, and for these rogue taxidermists the ethics of how the animals are treated are front and centre concerns.
ANKIXA RISK: I get all of my specimens from a local reptile zoo and then we actually donate all of the meat back to the zoo to feed the crocodiles and the alligators there. We're working with animals that were part of the food chain that maybe never got to see a life past that food chain. We're giving them a new life and so.
PRODUCER: These animals aren't, like it’s not like you're working with roadkill or whatever that just died by accident?
ANKIXA RISK: We do that as well. We are I guess part of vulture culture, where if we do find specimens that are still fully intact and workable we're not opposed to picking them up. [laughs]
JESSICA LEE: Not at all. Yeah, give it a wee shake, shake off the bugs and there you go. Yeah.
ANKIXA RISK: It’s about preservation and really honouring a deceased animal versus, you know, I'm going to kill you for your pelt.
JESSICA LEE: I would never revel or glorify in the death of a beautiful animal.
AMT: Well the rogue taxidermy community has grown around the world. Sarina Brewer is an artist who co-founded the movement in 2004. She is in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Hello.
SARINA BREWER: Hey Anna Maria.
AMT: What is rogue taxidermy Sarina?
SARINA BREWER: Well rogue taxidermy actually encompasses a lot of different things. A large part of it is what you're talking about right now and the people that are going to the classes and learning the actual craft of taxidermy. The other end of it are people creating art work that’s in galleries and art museums. The definition that we put forth in 2004 when we first formed the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists, which for the record was actually a collective of artists, we were not a group of taxidermists, we define rogue taxidermy as a genre of pop surrealist art characterized by mixed media sculptures containing conventional taxidermy related materials that are used in an unconventional manner. So rogue taxidermy can be made out of animal bones, it can be made out of mummified animal components, it can be actually taxidermy like the hide of the animal.
AMT: What does your taxidermy art look like?
SARINA BREWER: A lot of it is using the hide of an animal to create a kind of hybrid animals that are inspired by mythology. Another strain of my work where I actually take the body of an animal I mummify it and I cover it in gold leaf.
AMT: Do you have a favourite of your own work?
SARINA BREWER: I do have a few favourites. I do have one called mother's little helper monkey which is a winged monkey holding a martini that's wearing a fez. Most recently there was one titled noircissist, which was a combination of a neighbourhood donated to me one of their hens that had passed on, they’re urban chicken ranchers, and that was a stillborn baby goat kind of an upright position with a feather kind of antenna on the head.
AMT: Why did you start working in taxidermy?
SARINA BREWER: Well it was kind of an evolution actually. When I grew up there were a lot of pets in our family. Daily life revolved around this menagerie of animals and I was very attached to all of them. I spent a lot of time outdoors interacting with nature. So when an animal would die I was really heartbroken. So everything got a very lavish funeral, a pet or a dead bird that I would find outside in the yard. My parents are both artists and studied at the Minneapolis College of Art Design. So I also attended MCAD and when I was working at MCAD, I just began working with animal remains and bones because I had been collecting natural history artifacts like that my entire life. And using animal bones and then mummified animals that I was putting a gold leaf on eventually necessitated learning a better way to make them last longer. So I started just kind of teaching myself taxidermy from a couple of books and some VHS tapes.
AMT: And how did people react when you first started doing taxidermy art?
SARINA BREWER: There was a huge amount of pushback back in the early 1990s. My work was seen as being created for shock value. People said it was disrespectful. In that day using an animal's remains, that just was not an artistic medium. So therefore anything that you created out of that was absolutely not art. So a lot has changed since then. I used to receive tons of hate mail, almost on a daily basis. But now I've been a hate mail free for at least five years, so that's good.
SARINA BREWER: Instead now I receive emails from other artists who are absolutely thrilled to have found me because they work with similar materials.
AMT: So when you weren't getting all that pushback and the hate mail, you were an artist, did you ever think that you should do something else? I mean how did you react on a really personal level to that criticism?
SARINA BREWER: Well I think if you're basing what you're creating on what other people are thinking about it then you're not really being true to yourself and that's really not what art is about. You know, and when you're using animal remains it's a lot different than using clay. Obviously this is something that used to be a living thing. So when you were touching that and holding that it's a really a different experience. So often when I'm creating work like the sculpture that comes out of that sometimes even tells the story of where that animal came from and the history of that animal.
AMT: So you wouldn't be swayed by the criticism?
SARINA BREWER: No. [chuckles]
SARINA BREWER: I wouldn't be here right now if I was. It was a hard road to get here, but now that the path has kind of been carved, you know, a lot of people are excited to follow that path and explore this kind of new horizon.
AMT: We asked PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, what they think of rogue taxidermy. And here's what they had to say, and I've got a clip here of Katie Arth, media assistant manager for PETA.
VOICE 1: The most important thing is to look at how the animal died. If the animal died naturally or in an accident, than PETA doesn’t have a problem with preserving their carcass. The issue comes to what most animals who end up being taxidermied who are violently killed by hunters. No animal wants to be shot to death and have their heads mounted on a living room wall.
AMT: Sarina Brewer, are you surprised that they're OK with the kind of art then that you do?
SARINA BREWER: This is really really kind of very shocking for me to hear that. One thing that I do want to address that she said, an animal does not want to have its head mounted on the wall. And I think that part of the big problem with the rogue taxidermy art movement, the beginning of my work in the beginning, was other people deciding for that animal how that animal wanted to be treated after it was dead. Like I would get, you know, hate mail from people saying you need to bury that squirrel. And my response would be like well did you have a meeting with the squirrel before it passed on and you are you in charge of its last will and testament? How you deal with a dead person or a dead animal, you can't really impose your personal opinion about how, you know, that should be dealt with. But yeah, I guess I'm surprised to hear that they've kind of come around on that. The Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists, how we reframed taxidermy really has kind of changed how everybody looks at taxidermy now, including animal rights people.
AMT: Mhm. Because they had originally said they'd called it cruel, they said you can never know where the bodies came from, they really have become more accepting huh?
SARINA BREWER: Yes definitely.
AMT: I want to play you another clip. This is from Beth Beverly in Philadelphia who specializes in alternative and wearable taxidermy. She works with animals that have died naturally or have been killed at humanely run farms. But she does work with hunters under specific conditions. Listen to her.
VOICE 1: I do not condone hunting and killing animals simply to make something out of their hides. And if you are going to take an active part in harvesting an animal, it's a huge insult to not use every part of it. I've got a variety of clients that I work with and some of them will you know bring me a part of a bear and then I'll knock down the price a bit if they share some of the bear meat with me. I've had guys bring me snakes. They actually didn't want the meat so I got to keep the snake meat for myself. I did have a client who hunted a coyote, so I actually made a coyote stew. I've eaten skunk. If they don't want it, I'll eat it. I'll feed it to my cat. I also feel like if I'm consuming this meat that's readily available to me, that's one less person taking part in the factory farming industrial complex.
AMT: Sarina Brewer, what do you think of that?
SARINA BREWER: She's spot on with all that. Beth is actually one of the members of the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists. You could not be part of the group unless you pledged that you were only going to use animals that were ethically sourced, and she's taking that message out to everybody it's waste not want not. And if you're doing anything otherwise you're being disrespectful to Mother Nature. What she's doing, she's really, it's more it's like a higher level more intimate relationship with the animal. When you're holding an animal and looking at it, I mean you can't help but think about where it came from and the life that it had.
AMT: What's your own ethical code around the animals with which you work?
SARINA BREWER: Well I've never killed anything for my work. So all of my animals are either donated to me, donated animals sometimes are nuisance animals that had to be destroyed. Squirrels for example that are destroyed by property owners. I do pick up roadkill and I also use livestock remnants.
AMT: So what does taxidermy mean to you?
SARINA BREWER: Taxidermy, what I do, my work is an homage to the animal. It’s really to commemorate the animal and tell that animal’s story or my story through using that animal's body. I kind of distance myself from traditional taxidermists and especially the hunting culture and those types of mounts, because that's not where my work comes from. My work is about commemorating the animal's life, not about the experience of killing the animal, which is what trophy hunting is about and trophy mounts are about.
AMT: What would be your ultimate animal or collection of animals to taxidermy?
SARINA BREWER: It's really an honour when people donate their pets to me. I have had several pets donated to me over the years. And when somebody gives me their pet that means they really understand where I come from, where this art movement is coming from and that's extremely meaningful.
AMT: OK. Well thanks for speaking with me today and explaining your art.
SARINA BREWER: Well thank you for having me Anna Maria.
AMT: Sarina Brewer, one of the founders of rogue taxidermy, the movement. She joined us from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Well for inspiration many rogue taxidermists look to Victorian artists who also created a tableau featuring rats, cats, and more. Joanna Ebenstein is the co-author of Walter Potter's Curious World of Taxidermy, about a quirky Victorian amateur taxidermist. She was involved in bringing taxidermy workshops to Brooklyn, New York about eight years ago. She's also the co-founder of Brooklyn's Morbid Anatomy Museum which is now closed. Joanna Ebenstein has looked at what cultural objects can tell us about our changing attitudes towards death. And she joins us now from New York. Hello.
JOANNA EBENSTEIN: Hello. Thanks for having me.
AMT: Well it's good to have you with us, I've got lots of questions.
JOANNA EBENSTEIN: [laughs]
AMT: First of all, why were the people interested in learning taxidermy through the workshops you helped organize?
JOANNA EBENSTEIN: Yeah.
AMT: What were they there to learn?
JOANNA EBENSTEIN: You know, I can tell you that when we started the class it was just an idea. A friend of mine she had taught herself this art, and when she told me that she was doing this sort of work I said oh that's incredible, why don't you come teach a class about it here? In my mind I thought OK if I'm interested in this, there's at least 20 other people that are interested. Well it'll be a successful class and will do fine. Little did I know it was a phenomenon. Our waitlist at one point was 650 people. The thing that I would say mostly stood out to me is the female aspect of it. Seeing a man there was rare. There's a crafty element, there's an element of the love of miniatures and dollhouses and making something quirky and unique. But I believe that a lot of people were there to look at death in some way, to kind of challenge themselves to open up an animal and fathom their own feelings about what that meant. I think it was a way to face something that they were curious and maybe slightly afraid about.
AMT: And how does rogue taxidermy relate to the art of Walter Potter, the Victorian artist?
JOANNA EBENSTEIN: Well I think if there is a forefather of rogue taxidermy it is Walter Potter. He was a Victorian taxidermist who really popularized this idea of stuffing animals and posing them into human like situation. So what he's most famous for are these really large scale tableaus with dozens, if not more, animals, things like the kittens wedding. It transcends kitsch somehow. He has, I would say Walter Potter if he lived today, he'd probably be doing model train sets or something. But at the time that he was born, taxidermy was just a part of culture, it wasn't seen as perverse or grotesque.
AMT: And I should just tell our listeners, we will link to some of the pictures of things like the kittens wedding and what's the schoolhouse one? The bunny schoolhouse?
JOANNA EBENSTEIN: The rabbit schoolhouse.
AMT: Rabbit schoolhouse.
JOANNA EBENSTEIN: Yeah, incredible. It's one of the best, you'll see it. And there's something in this work that today because of our attitudes about animal rights and our attitudes about the appropriate ways to view dead bodies, there is a perverse element that has attention with the absolute adorableness of it.
AMT: So it really does speak to differences to how we see animals in death then and now?
JOANNA EBENSTEIN: In my opinion 100 per cent. Through the whole morbid anatomy project that was always my intent, was to show objects in the past that exhibited such a different attitude towards looking at death that it would force us to question our own attitudes as being specific to our own time and place. I've never seen another culture like ours where it is seen as inappropriate to look at death. You know, my whole life I've been interested in taxidermy and I've been interested in images of death. And my whole life people were telling me I was morbid and horrible. And I used to think OK maybe I'm a morbid, horrible person. But then at a certain point I began to just think about it and say well OK I'm looking at the past and every single other time period or culture that I can see had an above board dignified discourse and art practice around death. And when you think about it, death is the great human mystery really. It will happen to each of us, we don't know definitively what it is or why it happens. How could we not be interested in death? The idea that people could not be curious about death to me seems morbid.
AMT: And so in line with that, what other historical objects related to death do you collect?
JOANNA EBENSTEIN: Right now I'm really interested in objects from Latin American culture. This is a contemporary phenomenon, it's called Santa Muerta. And this is literally saint or holy death. It's a depiction of something that looks like the Grim Reaper but in a female form, and this figure is paid homage to and prayed to and offerings are made to her so that she will help people on Earth. I feel like we're seeing a return of these older ideas of death, these kind of memento mori or dance of death figures in which death is personified as a godlike figure. And with the capriciousness of a godlike figure, this kind of unpredictability of when death will come.
AMT: Mm. You also collect antique wax and comical figures do you not?
JOANNA EBENSTEIN: [chuckles] I collect photos of antique wax anatomical figures. I can't really afford to buy them. Part of why they're so expensive is they're quite rare. You know, they were made between most of them between the 18th and 19th centuries, early 20th century a bit. So to me my favourite of all the anatomical wax models is this thing, my other book that I worked on was called The Anatomical Venus. And that's what they called this figure that they made in 18th century Florence, so made around 1780, life sized beautiful, it's like a painting of a Venus come to life only it's three dimensional and it's coloured wax with real human hair, Venetian glass eyes, and in a rosewood and Venetian glass case. And it was made to teach the general public at the first public science museum in Florence, Italy about human anatomy. You can lift off her breastplate and dissect her. And eventually after you peel off all eight layers you find a fetus in her womb. They're just incredibly powerful figures. And kind of like Walter Potter's taxidermy, they exist on this edge, this tension between categories that we don't think fit together. She's incredibly beautiful and deeply disturbing at the same time. And so it's kind of this flickering that happens on the edge and these are the kind of objects that I am drawn to and what they tell us by challenging our very notions of these opposites and these dualities.
AMT: Am I right in understanding that some of these then were created at a time when people were learning more about anatomy and medicine and there was a fascination with things that really hadn't been looked at before?
JOANNA EBENSTEIN: Absolutely. That's a really important point. You know, this is after the Renaissance when we have, you know, Da Vinci dissecting corpses and things like this. And we have a Vesalius kind of redefining how we're looking at the body. Until around 1543 when Vesalius published his groundbreaking book about human anatomy, people's beliefs about anatomy were stretching back to classical models that were basically incorrect because they were based on dissections that weren't made from humans mostly, they were mostly made from pigs and apes. And then by the time you get to the 18th century, anatomy is seen as something gentlemen would be interested in, it's enlightened, it's forward thinking, it's progressive. Another part that's really important and I think this deals with a lot of stuff that we see about death from the past is religion. And I think that's the hardest thing for us to understand today. That in the 18th century the human body was not just a material object, it was the mind of God made visible. It was God's finest creation. So there is this very real way in which to teach people to understand your own body was a religious act, a metaphysical act as well.
AMT: So interesting. And then of course if we fast forward to today I was surfing around looking at different images of taxidermy and I came across Iris Schieferstein who designed shoes from the hooves of horses.
JOANNA EBENSTEIN: Interesting.
AMT: And sandals with taxidermy doves on them. Very unusual. A little unsettling I have to admit. But it's really interesting how art has really taken a place with this now.
JOANNA EBENSTEIN: Yeah. And I kind of think it's a long time coming. I think there's something generational about it as well. Like when I was growing up I loved animals, I wanted to be a veterinarian or maybe a wildlife photographer. I love my pets. And at the same time without any internal contradiction to myself, when animals died my dad very God bless my father, very indulgent man, he bought formaldehyde for me and he would put animals in jars and I had a collection of them in my room. And to me this was just an extension of my love of animals. I would never ever kill an animal and I loved animals. But I also loved them dead. Again, it's going back to these ideas of what is appropriate to do with a dead body? Is there something intrinsically disrespectful in keeping the body of something? And like Sarina I do not think there is. I think that in a culture in which it is seen as impolite to remind ourselves that death exists, that becomes this kind of response that is the most socially acceptable of them. But I was never like that. I think a lot of women more than men have felt the same way, that there's always been a curiosity and a fascination and a lack of squeamishness about it. You know, something I've been thinking about a lot lately about feminine versus masculine or men versus women let's say, is that women are less squeamish about the body and I think we kind of have no choice. You know, we menstruate, we have babies. Our body is like a force that changes things in very concrete ways, in a way that I don't think men deal with in as regular a way.
AMT: It's fascinating to listen to your thoughts on all of this. Thanks for sharing your ideas.
JOANNA EBENSTEIN: My pleasure.
AMT: Joanna Ebenstein, she's the co-author of Walter Potter's Curious World of Taxidermy. She co-founded Brooklyn’s now defunct Morbid Anatomy Museum. And she joined us from New York. Something else we're going to have up on our website today, pictures of our guest’s taxidermy art, including a music video for the Canadian punk rock band Billy Talent which features and Ankixa Risk’s rats and mice in stop motion action. Don't miss that. That will be on our website cbc.ca/thecurrent. Coming up in our next half hour, how the deadliest terror attack in Somalia's history may be a unifying factor in a fractured population. How to channel that energy into the fight against al-Shabaab. We'll be talking about that in our next half hour. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti, this is The Current.
[Music: Extro]Back To Top »
Thousands protest against al-Shabaab after deadly Somalia bombing
Guests: Abdirahman Osman, Hassan Santur
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Hello, I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and this is The Current.
CROWD: [shouting in Somali language]
AMT: The sounds of anger against al-Shabaab in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. Protesters gathered in several cities across Somalia to denounce the extremist group in the wake of the terrorist attack in Mogadishu on October 14th. Al-Shabaab has not formally claimed responsibility for that attack but there is certainty across Somalia that it bore the extremist group’s signature. And Somalis have reacted with unprecedented outrage and unity. More than 300 people were killed you'll remember, hundreds more injured when a truck bomb exploded on a busy road in the city centre. It is the single deadliest terrorist strike in Somalia's history. Mohamed Farah is the co-founder of Aamin Ambulance, a volunteer-led paramedic service in Mogadishu. This is how he describes the devastation he witnessed.
MOHAMED FARAH: The last bombing in Mogadishu I can say that was the most difficult situation that I have ever seen. Those who had small injuries, they started running away from the scene, so I have seen many of them along the road and I was also coordinating the ambulances rescue the people. There was a colleague of mine, he is a businessman, he's one of the people that I saw and I met with him along the street. So he had injuries in his stomach, so he was holding his stomach on his hand, so he was trying to make sure that you don't get a lot of bleeding. So he was trying to pressure his stomach. At that time you could not able even to identify exactly what kind of injury that the people they have because the situation was very horrific and the only thing that you can think about is the only way that you can give this person a transport so that you can transport him from this area to the nearest health service provider.
AMT: Mohamed Farah says the anger and outrage have only grown in the days since the attack and appeared to have brought unity to a country fractured by decades of war.
MOHAMED FARAH: This incident was quite different from previous terror attacks that happened in Mogadishu. So people they show that they're very very anger and also they show their grievances about what happened. Now people are saying regardless of who you are, whether you are civilian, whether you are working with the government, whether you are working with international organizations, whoever you are, regardless of your status, regardless of your type of business that you are doing, this is a common problem for all people who are living in this city.
AMT: Well my next guest has called the Mogadishu attack the 9/11 of Somalia. Abdirahman Osman is the country's information minister and he's in the capital. Hello.
ABDIRAHMAN OSMAN: Hello Anna Maria.
AMT: The Somali government has said it is planning a state of war against al-Shabaab, what will that look like?
ABDIRAHMAN OSMAN: The country has witnessed one of the worst terrorist attacks in our soil. We lost 358 people. We still have 56 missing. And one of the worst was that for us to bury 165 that went beyond recognition. And those families out there still looking for their loved ones and they cannot guarantee whether their loved ones was part of that. So our president has called a state of war. We cannot continue the terrorist attacks in our soil. We had enough people came out in support saying enough is enough. So now is the time that we believe that more military operation is appropriate in order to stop terrorist groups coming to the cities to kill innocent people.
AMT: What have you learned about the people who did this and who they were targeting? What more do you know?
ABDIRAHMAN OSMAN: For the last four months we have successfully managed to stabilize the capital city of Mogadishu, where we deployed 1,500 troops. Then we foiled a number of their attacks. So by every day when we foiling an attack, they change their tactics. No one would have thought that they would use such a truck that could explode. So it’s a desperation from them, we're learning that the people had enough of terrorists, now the first time we've got people coming out in public against terrorist group al-Shabaab. So while we are still mourning for the loss of our people, we believe that we can do more to stop terrorists in Somalia.
AMT: OK before I ask you about the unity, I want to ask you a little bit more of what you just said. You said that you haven't seen them use a truck like this before, what of the terror attacks that you managed to stop, that you managed to foil, what were they using?
ABDIRAHMAN OSMAN: They were using smaller vehicles and they have been planting either bombs or trying roadside bombs. Once they realize that we are prioritizing security in our people to protect, then now they change these tactics. And you can see also in the area that they exploded which was the busiest area in the city. And at a time where the schools were closed around 3:20 PM, lots of shops. So this is a desperation, and we have stopped them for them to attack government institutions and buildings, now they move to this. So we are learning every day.
AMT: So how did a truck carrying explosives manage to get it into the city despite your security checkpoints?
ABDIRAHMAN OSMAN: Absolutely. This is the key question. And when our security tried to stop around 500 metres from the place that it was detonated, the driver forced his way through the checkpoint. Security forces were following the truck but it was too late to stop. And while we are doing everything in our power, but it's very difficult and no one would have predicted that they could use such 400 kilogram of mixed explosives including military grade. So all those things is something that we are learning. We have by the way arrested a number of people, including the person who had the [unintelligible] of the vehicle. We have arrested the driver of another vehicle that was detonated on that day and security ports are still questioning.
AMT: Right. And can I ask you though, can I just clarify, you said that your security forces were following this truck then? That they thought it was suspicious and they were actually following it?
ABDIRAHMAN OSMAN: Yeah they stop it around 500 metres from the area where it exploded. When they stop it the driver was asked to switch off the engine and come out. But once he realized that if he does that then the things will stop and then he immediately drove off and from the checkpoint. And since then security forces were following but it was too late.
AMT: Al-Shabaab has not actually claimed responsibility. Why do you think that is?
ABDIRAHMAN OSMAN: Definitely this was al-Shabaab. It has all the hallmarks of terrorist groups. And the only terrorist group is against the people of Somalia al-Shabaab. So definitely, maybe they never thought that they could cause such killings but definitely this is al-Shabaab.
AMT: And you mention that you see unity in the response of the Somali people. Tell me how you interpret what you're seeing as the people took to the streets in so many parts of the country.
ABDIRAHMAN OSMAN: We have seen how the people are united. For example, we have had a number of young volunteers come into the centre of the operation system, the government institutions, the ambulances. We have had even people coming out in public demonstrations. So you can see the anger and the grievances from the people. The level of the Somali ownership and how the people come in unity even to fundraise, it was a level that we've never seen before.
AMT: And so how does your government plan to capitalize on that national outrage?
ABDIRAHMAN OSMAN: This is very important because any military operation that you are taking unless you have the support of the people you will never be able to succeed. So by having the people on our side, we believe that we are winning the hearts and minds of our people which is very important to the success of the military operation as well.
AMT: Now, the US President Donald Trump wants to step up US military involvement in Somalia. Is that the kind of international help your government wants?
ABDIRAHMAN OSMAN: Absolutely. I think this is a global phenomena that requires global solution. The US has helped us a number of attacks and number of senior al-Shabaab members have been killed as a result of the airstrikes by the US. But we need intensifying airstrikes coupled with military operations on the ground, and as well as in every area when we stabilize we need international partners to help us to provide basic services to the people. Otherwise the people will not see as an alternative and that is very important to us.
AMT: President Trump has also eased rules meant to protect civilian casualties when American military operations are in Somalia. I'm guessing that has to do with airstrikes as well, are you concerned about that? The easing of the rules meant to prevent civilian casualties?
ABDIRAHMAN OSMAN: Well to be honest even though we are concerned about civilian casualties, but when you see what happened on the 14th of October then you have to use all the necessary means to stop these terror attacks happening. We cannot wait another such attack to happen. The only way that we can guarantee the safety and the protection of our people is to go after them so that we can provide an environment that's conducive for peace and stability in our country. Yes we are concerned about the civilian casualties but definitely this is not the time to really talk about the balance in what needs to be done. This is the time we need to end the war on terror and in Somalia we have proven that we won the military war, so now is the time to finish that mission.
AMT: Has your government heard directly from President Trump since the Mogadishu attack?
ABDIRAHMAN OSMAN: To be honest I cannot say that in public. But definitely the support that we have that we have received from the US government has shown us or given us confidence that the war that we want to intensify, it will be one that we have allies and friends that we can rely on.
AMT: You know there are many security specialists who say an attack like the one in Mogadishu, as devastating as it was, is a sign that al-Shabaab is growing weak and desperate. What do you think?
ABDIRAHMAN OSMAN: Definitely. The way we see it, this was a desperation of al-Shabaab and this is the momentum that is building up at the moment. While they even cannot the attacks that it used to claim, it shows their weakness from their side. Also there are divisions among themselves the leaders. So this is the best time where we need to intensify. This is the best time we need international support. This is the best time we need to only focus on ending the war on terror.
AMT: Mr. Osman, thank you for speaking with me.
ABDIRAHMAN OSMAN: Thank you Anna Maria.
AMT: Abdirahman Osman, Somalia's information minister. We reached him in Mogadishu. Well the sight of ordinary Somalis on the streets in cities across the country demonstrating against al-Shabaab in the days after the attack is new. But the question now is whether or how that anger can be channeled into the fight to stop al-Shabaab. Hassan Santur is a Somali-Canadian journalist, he is based in Nairobi, Kenya. He's a contributing editor at Warscapes and he's the author of Maps of Exile. Hassan Santur joins us from Nairobi. Hello.
HASSAN SANTUR: Hello Anna Maria.
AMT: How have you reacted to the scenes of so many Somalis taking to the streets after this bombing?
HASSAN SANTUR: That has been actually one of the most sort of heartening things that have come out of this horrific tragedy of this attack. Over the years we have seen a lot of attacks taking place in Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia. But I have never seen the kind of anger that we have seen on the streets of many cities across Somalia. Of course the largest one took place in Mogadishu, the capital. There were also other demonstrations in towns like Kismayo, Dhusamareb, Beledweyne, pretty much all across Somalia really. And it's been an incredible thing to see that people are losing fear of al-Shabaab. For over a decade the general public were really frightened of al-Shabaab and did not want to come out publicly to criticize them for fear of reprisal. So to see people reach this limit of basically saying enough is enough, you know, and sort of losing their fear of al-Shabaab has been incredible to see.
AMT: And do you see this as a turning point of sorts then?
HASSAN SANTUR: I do actually, I do. I remember as soon as I've heard about the attack, and of course as most people do these days, my first reaction was to go online on Twitter to basically see the most sort of unfiltered on the ground reports by people, you know, who are reporting what they're seeing or what they're witnessing. And even as I was going through all these pictures and all these reports I couldn’t help but think this is different. I've never seen anything of the scale, of this horror. And even then it felt like this could be a tipping point. I know it's a horrible thing to think about this horrific attack as anything but, you know, just a tragedy, but if there's anything good coming out of this it's that I think it could be at the tipping point that Somalia needs.
AMT: So in other words after all the attacks this one went too far.
HASSAN SANTUR: I think even for al-Shabaab. And I think as Mr. Osman was saying that even for a group that has killed thousands of Somalis over the last decade, this might have been too much for them. This is a terrorist group after all, so I say this with a, you know, a certain amount of skepticism but I hope that even for a terrorist group this was just too much.
AMT: Why do you think al-Shabaab has not claimed responsibility? Because of the size of it?
HASSAN SANTUR: That’s basically everything I've spoken to a bunch of people in Somalia, in Mogadishu, and people who are on the ground, and the consensus is yes that that's the reason why they have not claimed responsibility. One because of just the sheer sort of magnitude of the casualties combined with the reaction, the kind of blowback so of speak, the anger that it has elicited the attack. And also combined with the fact that as the minister was saying, this was actually a kind of a failure of this operation because it didn't reach where it was intended. Al Jazeera is reporting now that actually the target of the attack was the Turkish military base, the largest military base that Turkey has outside of Turkey. And so in a sense this was actually a failure. Even though of course as above has killed a lot of civilians over the years, they really what they really go for their big prize have always been the Somali military personnel, AMISOM military. And so to go after just sort of average mothers and fathers and students, people selling their things on the side of the street in kiosks, that is not really their target.
AMT: So that’s really interesting because of course that was the first observation at the time, this time and it went after ordinary Somalis in an area where ordinary Somalis were in large numbers. So if it was a failed attack that would explain why they’re not saying anything.
HASSAN SANTUR: Yes to come out right now and to admit that they were indeed responsible for the attack would a, just you know increase the anger and the animosity to the group but as well as also admit failure, a major failure.
AMT: Well given all of this Hassan, what are you watching for with the Somali government then? What kind of approach would you like to see them taking? What are you expecting out of them?
HASSAN SANTUR: Even though the reaction from the public, the average Somali has been incredibly heartening to see, I am as well at the same time actually quite depressed by the reaction by the government. Just as the minister was saying and also as well as the president came out two days ago gave a very militaristic, very sort of bellicose speech in which he declared war on al-Shabaab, which of course is not the first time that this president, even though his presidency is only ten months old, he has already done that several times, declared war on al-Shabaab. Of course previous governments have done the same. So I'm hearing the same thing that we have heard for the last ten years. We're going to go to war with al-Shabaab and we're going to defeat this. And it's been ten years now. So that has been very depressing to hear. I've also found it really quite disturbing what the minister said when you asked him about the potential for increased civilian casualties as a result of US airstrikes and drone strikes. And I think his words were something to the effect of this is not the time to talk about that. And I found it really quite disheartening. I mean, one of the things that we know about al-Shabaab is that they use, they have a very sophisticated propaganda program. And one of the things they do is every time that foreign troops, whether it's, you know, Kenyan troops or Ugandan troops within the AMISOM mission or US drones kill Somali civilians, they basically use that as look, here you see the infidels killing your Muslim brothers. And that course has a huge impact on how young Somalis, especially young Muslim male Somalis react. So I feel like we're just sort of following the same playbook ten years on and we are not getting anywhere.
AMT: Well we heard the government minister welcome more military involvement from the US. What do you make of President Trump's silence on the actual attack?
HASSAN SANTUR: Hm. So I am a person who thinks that really I doubt that President Trump has actually, you know, knows anything about Somalia. And the extent to which he's interested in Somalia is, you know, a military operation that he can tweet about in the middle of the night. So I don't really put a whole lot of stock in President Trump and his engagement and interest in Somalia and the lives of Somali people. One of the things that I really hoped that this attack would change is seeing Somalia purely through the prism of counterterrorism and as a security problem for the region and for the world. Somalis are just like everyone else in the world, human beings first and foremost, who need a lot more than, you know, security. Of course that is a number one sort of need but also they need so much more. And to sort of constantly view Somalia through the prism and through this sort of regional interest of security is just a continuation of the mistakes of the last ten years in my opinion.
AMT: It's interesting because we hear the minister talking about the need for US help and other international help, but what you're also saying is that on the ground there is a grassroots swelling of concern for other Somalis and against al-Shabaab that that may actually be more important right now than who's sending in other things, just that attitude shift.
HASSAN SANTUR: Absolutely.
AMT: That lack of fear about standing up on the streets and saying this is too much.
HASSAN SANTUR: Absolutely yes. I do believe that one of the things that this attack has done is that it was a tipping point in that sense of Somalis taking ownership of this attack in a way that we haven't seen with other attacks. Their anger, their vehemence, the rejection of al-Shabaab ideology has been great but also other Somalis, people, Somali diaspora communities raising incredible amounts of funds, coming out in cities such as Minnesota, London, Toronto, really aiding coming to the aid of their fellow Somalis has been incredible to see. And I remember getting into a bit of a debate with a friend a couple of days ago who was sort of expressing the same kind of outrage about, you know, why we're not seeing the same kind of media coverage as we see with other terrorist attacks in the West, whether it's in Europe or the US. And at some point I sort of got really kind of annoyed with this kind of obsession with the sympathy of outsiders because one of the things that I've noticed with this attack was that Somalis are sympathizing and empathizing with each other in a way that I've never seen before. Their level of concern for their fellow Somali, whether it's donations and cash and just sort of, you know, moral support and words of condolences has been incredible, emotionally gratifying to see that. So I'm not particularly concerned or too wounded by the fact that we haven't seen the kind of outpouring that we see with other attacks in, whether it's in Manchester or, you know, other places.
AMT: So what are you watching for to see how this carries forward and if this does represent a change?
HASSAN SANTUR: Well it's kind of two fronts. One is to see if we can sustain the kind of public outrage, the kind of public demand for accountability from the government in terms of increased security, in terms of actual results on the ground. How long can this go on or is this going to be basically a kind of two week outrage and then people go on with their lives? That's one thing. Another thing that I want to see is how is this military, this sort of declared war al-Shabaab, how is it going to be different? Is it going to be the same kind of, you know, AMISOM Somalia troops going into a couple of towns and carrying out you know small relatively small attacks on al-Shabaab and then going back and retreating back to the capital? Or is this going to be a much more sustained effort? What form will the US military involvement take? Is it going to be basically more drones that could have huge, you know, collateral damage in terms of casualties? So all these are areas that we need to look at in the coming months and even over the year to see if this particular attack has actually resulted in a change in not just military strategy but also what happens after that.
AMT: Hassan Santur, thank you for your perspective.
HASSAN SANTUR: It's been a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me Anna Maria.
AMT: Hassan Santur, he's a Somali-Canadian journalist, he's based in Nairobi, Kenya. He's a contributing editor at Warscapes and the author of Maps of Exile. Hassan Santur spoke to us from Nairobi. Let us know what you think of what you're hearing about this issue, how the people and their anger might just change something on the ground that hasn't been able to change for decades. We are @TheCurrentCBC on Twitter, find us on Facebook, go to our website cbc.ca/thecurrent. And that is our program for today. Remember you can always take The Current with you to go on the CBC Radio app. Browse through past episodes of our show, start listening in just a few moments. It is free from the App Store or Google Play. Now, after our tour into the world of rogue taxidermy today, we're going to end things off by meeting another young taxidermist and his mother. Tristan Meyer-Odell is a Toronto teenager who is passionate about taxidermy. His mom Gretel supports his unusual hobby. They were profiled in a documentary by the CBC's Rachel Matlow on The Sunday Edition earlier this year. So we'll leave you with a bit of that documentary, The Teenage Taxidermist. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti, thanks for listening to The Current.
TRISTAN MEYER-ODELL: Beside you right now is my freezer. That was a Christmas present.
VOICE 1: It was a Christmas present from his parents because our freezer was constantly full of really horrifying things in states of semi undress.
TRISTAN MEYER-ODELL: Especially when we have an AirBnB in our basement.
VOICE 1: So we do have AirBnB guests from time to time using our fridge and freezer and Triston’s father is a vegetarian and a practicing Buddhist and would rather not see these things all the time while he does support Tristan's passion.
TRISTAN MEYER-ODELL: Also in these, there’s a freezer I have multiple rabbit heads.
VOICE 1: You know it should be underscored that Tristan is an incredible animal lover and that no lives have been taken just for the pursuit of his art.
TRISTAN MEYER-ODELL: I am a very large animal lover. I have multiple pets and I've had multiple pets in the past, rabbits, I've had pet rats, snakes, lizards, dogs, frogs, fish, all of the above. And I really do love them so I've gone through a lot of deaths and phases with these animals. I know my first few were very harsh on me but after a while you pick up on it and you realize it’s a natural part of life. And then after a while from that even, you realize that when you bury them you're kind of wasting them and not really preserving them and leaving them be. So I like to believe that when I do taxidermy it shows that we're using as much of them as we can.
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