This interview is part of a series of profiles celebrating October’s special youth-focused New Internationalist magazine. Read articles or buy a copy here.
For most committed activists, the first time they took part in political action was an inspiring and invigorating experience – otherwise they wouldn’t have carried on doing it.
For Shukri Sultan, who is now 18, this moment came four years ago at a demonstration against Israeli strikes on Gaza. ‘It was absolutely amazing; the environment was energetic and it was quite an angry mood,’ she says. ‘It was probably one of the best protests I’ve been on – apart from the student ones [in 2010/2011].’
After this, Sultan went to more protests and became involved with Stop the War Coalition. It was at their conference that she heard about Hands Off Somalia when she went to a talk by Muna Hassan from the organization.
She now meets with them every week and campaigns against imperialist intervention in Somalia and to raise awareness about discrimination faced by the Somali community in Britain.
‘Even though I come from a Somali background I’ve never been there, so where my perceptions of Somalia really comes from is the news,’ says Sultan, who found that Hassan’s speech helped her see the country in a different light: ‘The situation in Somalia isn’t 100 per cent due to the Somalis,’ she adds.
The group is currently working to set up a series of workshops aimed at young people. Sultan strongly believes that young people are just as engaged in political issues as any other group. ‘Those who are apathetic now can still be apathetic in 20 years’ time,’ she explains.
‘In a way, in the West, we’re living relatively comfortable, cosy lives, so I guess we don’t know what it’s like to really want revolution and really want change, even though we might aspire to it.’
One of Sultan’s favourite activities is working with groups that are run by young people – including the Horn of Africa Community Centre in her home city of London. ‘Learning from them and seeing the evidence of their work and how it has changed and improved people’s lives gives me hope. It shows that anyone with the right intentions can do good,’ she explains.
In the future, Sultan, who is at college doing a foundation degree in art with a view to studying architecture at university, wants to keep working with African-related organizations: ‘I hope to be part of an organization that not just focuses on campaigning and protest but is very much part of the community and provides services for it, so instead of just acting for the community, it is the community.
‘The low points would be the failures in reaching out to others and not being able to motivate people, particularly in my own community [the British Somali community].’
Sultan is passionate, but not all her friends and family share her enthusiasm for activism: ‘Even though it was my mum that told me about the first protest I went to, she’s quite negative about it because she thinks its too distracting and I should be focusing more on my education. A lot of my friends also think that at this time I should be more concerned about getting into uni.’
However, she feels she owes it to herself to get involved, as well as concentrating on her studies: ‘It would be horrible to waste your life just sitting in society and going about your daily routine. I’d like to look back in a couple of years’ time and say: I’ve done this and that and I’ve actually attempted to change the world that I live in, even if I might not have been successful.’
Find out more about Hands Off Somalia at their website and on Facebook.