STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Think of the novelist Nuruddin Farah as a man of the world. He's lived in several countries not entirely by choice. He was born in Somalia, in East Africa. As a younger man, he studied abroad and something happened to him that is relevant to the latest novel he has written.
NURUDDIN FARAH: I left Somalia in 1974. And then when I was due to go back in 1976, was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
INSKEEP: What had you allegedly done to get 30 years in prison?
FARAH: I wrote a novel called "A Naked Needle," which is a satirical kind of novel about the regime in power at the time.
INSKEEP: And they didn't have a sense of humor about that?
FARAH: No, they didn't. They didn't. And then later on, after publishing another novel called "Sweet And Sour Milk," was sentenced to death. So it didn't make sense at all to go back.
INSKEEP: In the decade since, Nuruddin Farah has lived in Britain and in South Africa and now teaches at New York's Bard College. In his latest novel "North Of Dawn," he writes of a man a little like himself. He's living more or less in exile from Somalia. He's well-adjusted to life in the West, and then his son embraces Islamic extremism, returns to Somalia and dies in a suicide attack.
Do you feel you understand the difference between someone who takes an extremist path and someone who does not?
FARAH: It's not very difficult to know where they're coming from because whenever they're frustrated with the day-to-day living, they take an easy way out of the problems that they face. And one of them is to become more religious. One of them is to become more radical.
INSKEEP: This is part of the Somali writer's latest novel, and so is this. The Somali exile at the center of his story is living in Norway. It's 2011, the year of a real-life tragic tragedy and atrocity. That year, Anders Behring Breivik, a right-wing extremist, opened fire on a youth camp killing 69 people. He said he wanted all Muslims deported from Europe.
FARAH: The question in fact then takes us into, again, a confrontation between radical Islam and hard-right or neo-Nazi ideology to which Breivik belongs. Now, you have, Dhaqaneh, the young Somali, the son, and Breivik who are being compared to one another and what have they done. Most Somalis, or rather Shabab and the Somali terrorists, have created more havoc and killed more Somalis than they have killed foreigners. The majority of the Somalis have not participated in the terrorism that's taking place in the West. And I'm saying the majority of the Somali radical-leaning groups, whereas right-wing and neo-Nazi ideology - the violence is extensive. And yet there's little talk about it, and there is little comparison between radical Islam and the neo-Nazi groups - anti-Semitists, anti-Islam and anti-everything that is humane.
INSKEEP: I want to pose a bit of a problem to you here. You write about migration. You write very sympathetically about complex characters and how different people from the same place will be very different. But you also write frankly about extremism. What do you want Americans to think about refugees?
FARAH: This is a country which had - which has always welcomed foreigners. And our country is all the richer when the variety of people making it into a country is so diverse and can learn from the experiences of one another. And this country also is a country that, at some point in the 1930s and 1940s, refused to welcome Jews fleeing Nazi - the Holocaust. Now, it is something that comes back - this has come to haunt Americans, this unkindness to foreigners in those days. And now look at what the people who came who fled Nazi Holocaust or the Soviet Union or various other places - they found a home and a comfortable home and an acceptance here. And it is a great thing, for example, to see a young Somali refugee who arrived here when she was 12 and who is now a member of the House of Congress. Now, this is something to - for Americans to be proud of. Now, why would you turn your back on something that makes you special?
INSKEEP: Was it important to you specifically to represent migrants as many different kinds of people? Because it's clear that many people look upon outsiders, foreigners, refugees as kind of a frightening mass.
FARAH: They're not a frightening mass. They're not. In the sense that - you know, I live in Cape Town, South Africa, and I have a South African passport now. But if I were to come here as a refugee, so would, you know, hundreds of other people - some like me, some very different from me. And when you throw a net into the sea, you never know what kind of fish you're going to catch. And then when we catch fish - different types of fish that provide you different tastes and, you know, for different occasions and meals, you should appreciate that there is a bounty of fish which you can share with other people. Refugees have to be shared. Migrants have to be shared amongst nations that are doing better. This is my view. And I'm saying they are not one huge mass that are the same. They're not a mob either. They are human beings with a need. And that need must be met humanely by those who can.
INSKEEP: Nuruddin Farah is the author of "North Of Dawn." Thanks so much for taking the time to talk.
FARAH: Pleasure. Thank you.
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