Ethiopia: Do we know each other? We need dialogue
By Bahir Kemal
Trust is confidence born of two dimensions: character and competence. Character includes integrity, motive, and intent with people. Competence includes capabilities, skills, results, and track record. Both dimensions are vital. Relationships of trust depend on our willingness to look not only to our own interests, but also the interests of others.
When we have confidence in someone, we depend on him. We trust him to have our back.We have to put our trust where it belongs if not we end up with disappointing result caused by misplaced trust. Of course before we trust we have to know the trustee properly to avoid unnecessary suspicion which has also negative result on achieving common goals. Traitorous can occur any time in the processes of getting to the end result of any task. However, to avoid the shock caused by traitors we have to do our homework to know the trustee in advance.
As trusting without knowing the trustee is dangerous in fighting for justice, equality, human right and good governance, too much suspicion also hearts the struggle by leaving aside potential force that can speed up the intended end result. The extremes of distrust are evident in the notion of paranoia, a mental state in which one perceives other people as hostile and perhaps conspiratorial. A widespread and socially sanctioned version of paranoia is cynicism. Cynicism is a refusal to trust. It is a closed-door policy, which poisons ongoing possibilities as well as for closing new ones.
Being too suspicious living with too many what ifs to avoid risks and trying to be perfect without working for it, albeit perfection is a process not a product is not helpful. The danger not only lays on trust and suspicion it also lays on lack of coming forward, determination, honesty and dowelling in deep silence. Not saying what we mean in order to hide something, to protect ourselves or someone else, or simply because we are trying to deceive in order to gain from circumstance is also part of danger. Few of us, if not most of us, have fear of hearing opinions from other people. All of these have to be tackled if we believe that TPLF/EPDRF is dangerous for the future existence of Ethiopia as a country to avoid the unavoidable danger if we keep the way it is now.
Dialogue to know more each other in the process of building trust has to continue while keeping eyes on the big ball, TPLF/EPDRF. The notion of “Enemy of my enemy is my friend” and “you’re either with us, or against us” not always work, both are conditional especially the latter.
“…There is no compulsion in religion…” (Quran 2:256.)
Radicalization is given deferent meaning and interpretation in deferent countries and in deferent time. A process by which an individual or group comes to adopt increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideals and aspirations that reject or undermine the status quo or reject and/or undermine contemporary ideas and expressions of freedom of choice is general and simplest meaning of radicalization. It also includes forcing own ideals on others.
Ioannis Kagioglidis in one of his theses argues that increased religious diversity, misunderstandings about other peoples’ faiths and the creation of negative stereotypes have led to a heightened antagonism, which sometimes is expressed through religious extremism and violence. In contrary to this, religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence among various religious groups in our country set exemplary for the rest of the world.However since TPLF/EPDRF came to power, 85 million Ethiopians constantly being nourished by divisive propaganda for 22 years without any alternative independent source of information, of course EAST is playing a big role to change that.As John F. Kennedy once said “No matter how big the lie; repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as the truth.” That is what the regime trying to do without success. Even though the result of the divide and rule propaganda of the regime was not as planed more or less the effect of it, especially on the younger generation is undeniable.
Religious and ethnic issues are very sensitive and need deep knowledge and careful analyses. Definitely I am not, even near, of those capable of give proper analyses of present and predict the future. However, it is not helpful either if all of us are bystanders when these issues are the burning issues at this moment worldwide in general and in Ethiopia in particular.
When fear mongering of any kind, keeping poverty at high level, using diversity for division and terrorizing the society are means of survival for the regime on power and when few of religious fanatics of deferent religions lending hand to the regime due to lack of deep knowledge of their respective religions or due to their opportunistic characters ordinary citizen has ground reason to be scared. However, few educated elites, instead of helping others to understand the reality they look suspiciously the issue of Ethiopian Muslim. In my opinion the major reasons for that lack of knowledge about Islam and miss understanding Muslims.
In the past the majority of Ethiopian Muslims had no basic Islamic knowledge beyond being born from Muslim parents. The same goes to other religions, however the reason and the degree may defer. The main case for Ethiopian Muslims is that in the past the source of religious knowledge was very limited.
Due to believe that translating to, Ethiopian, local language diminishes the uniquely sacred character of the original language of the holy books and subtly change the meaning, not claimed to be the full equivalent of the original, translated in local language holy books were not available.
Although Christianity became the state religion of Ethiopia in the 4th century and the Bible was first translated into Ge’ez at about that time, only in the last two centuries have there appeared translations of the Bible into Amharic. The first fully attested complete translation of the Qur’an was completed in 884 in Alwar Sindh, Pakistan) while the first Qur’an was translated in Amharic 1961.
On top of this the expansion war of Ahmad Ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi (known as Ahamed Gragn of 16th Century) and the action of Italian fascist between 1936 and 1941 led to unnecessary discrimination of the whole Ethiopian Muslims by the past governments.When fascist Italian invaded Ethiopia, it used divide and rule policy, similar to the current government of TPLF/EPDRF, by creating animosity between deferent ethnic and religion groups by systematically fevering one at the expense of the others. Italians especially used discrimination imposed on Ethiopian Muslims by government of the time to their advantage.
Due to these and other factors Ethiopian Muslim Community did not have opportunities to establish Islamic institution compared to other Ethiopian religions especially Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity.
Few dedicated Muslim religious students used to travel from west, Keffa, to north-east, Wello, to seek religious knowledge while the majority were illiterate of their religion beyond being born from Muslim parents and follow Islam which was almost more of local tradition. All these changed in the era of information technology and relative “freedom of religion” created by TPLF/EPRDF for the purpose of survival.
In the begging 0f 90s TPLF/EPDRF promised to create new space for political, economic, and religious action, including party formation, elections, an independent press, and religious self-organization. On top of that from being strong supporters of the federalist system and subscribing to the secularist ideology of the state’s non-involvement in religious affairs, the Muslims are becoming more reluctant towards the regime as any other members of the society. However most of that space is closed again, especially since election of 2005. The broken promise of the regime for Muslims begun at 1995 Anwar Mosque massacre. For Christianity it was even earlier than this. Ethiopian Muslim youth use these opportunity to their advantage to educate themselves and others and begin practicing Islam the right way with little influence of the local tradition. However, for none Muslim ordinary Ethiopians it is new phenomenon. Praying five times a day, fasting Ramadan …etc following Sunnah (the way of live of Prophet Mohammed PBUH) doesn’t make someone radical. It doesn’t fit to any interpretation of radicalism. In general if someone follows his religion, Muslim, Christian, Jew, the way he believes doesn’t make him extremist if he respect the choice of others.
Preaching, Da’wah as it called in Arabic, for Muslims has to be considered as normal as issuing a sermons for any other religion in the country. However it has to be with kind word and in purpose of invitation only no use of force of any kind including intimidation, harassment, preventing anyone from any privileges of any kind. Forcing someone to except religion is forbidden in Islam but just conveying the message, that is why the Quran verse is there:
“…There is no compulsion in religion…” (Quran 2:256.)
Few of many factors for radicalization are social exclusion, grievances & lack of trust in political structures and civil society. There are few individuals in our society who try to promote radicalism here and there, especially on few pal talks hiding behind their computers and those shouldn’t be left unchallenged by the whole community in general and Muslims in particular. However the increasing in number of those few is imminent if TPLF/EPDRF regime continues what it is doing or if the situation left at status quo.
The way to counter religious extremism is not with religious repression but through religious freedom. It is not by manipulating outcomes in the marketplace of ideas, but supporting a marketplace that encompasses all ideas, including religious ideas. It is by trusting in the common sense of its people, believing that most will reject not just government repression but religious extremism and the totalitarian control it seeks over them and their families.
Indeed, across the world, study after study affirms that where there is religious freedom, there is stability, harmony and prosperity, and where religious liberty is lacking, so are these blessings.
Thus, the only way the radicals can win is if governments, in the name of fighting extremists, repeatedly abuse their people’s freedom.
In Ethiopia, as elsewhere, freedom, not just for the sake of human rights but for peace and security as well, is the antidote to extremism. Instead of calling educated Muslims “Terrorists” and trying to create those communities who are not capable of standing for their right, it would be better for TPLF/EPDRF to accommodate the growing Ethiopian Muslim awareness of their religion and general participation.
As associate professor Terrence Lyons of George Mason University argues, which I partially share, that many leaders in the older ethno-nationalist movements view the multiethnic nature of the movement (Muslim in Ethiopia movement) with trepidation while others view it as a vehicle to advance pan-Ethiopian political ideas. Some Muslim activists propose a strategy of sustained low-level protest that avoids confrontation and recognize that a quick victory is impossible. For me on top of fighting for religious freedom, the greater contribution of the movement to the struggle for democracy, justice and human right is that paving a path for nonviolent political activism in which can be learn a lot from.
Since the movement begun 18 month ago it is operating within the framework of the Ethiopian “constitution” which is nothing to do with political power. The government knows that Ethiopian Muslim demand is part of the big demand of all Ethiopians, respect of human right and the “constitution” which is too big and troublesome for the government of TPLF/EPRDF to react on positive way. However as citizens of the country no one can deny Ethiopian Muslims from expressing their dissatisfaction of the ruling TPLF/ERDF government and join any political party they want as any other Ethiopian citizen. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said “no one is free until we are all free”. Freedom for all Ethiopians that has to be our ultimate gall, partial freedom doesn’t exist.
Finally when it comes to “Ethiopian Muslims are for Universal Sharia law or forming Islamic government” it is just baseless TPLF/EPRDF government chip propaganda. Not only that was never been intended as agenda of Muslim community it also impractical where deferent religion followers live especially Christianity, Islam and Judaism with big majority No need more comment on this other that inviting readers to inform themselves with present and past history of those countries where the big majority are Muslims.
Ethiopia is created through rough ride as any formation of nation at the time, however was not created just by marking the boundary to be called Ethiopia. Created from coming together of people of deferent tribes, ethnics, nationalities and nations with deferent cultures, languages, religions.. Etc…..which is one of the facts that makes Ethiopia a beautiful country. We need a salad bowl instead of melting pot to maintain our identities appreciate our differences in the big house, Ethiopian. However, our deference must not used to divide us to the edge where we only care for “our people” instead of caring for others including for the entire humanity.
If we all agree that the future of Ethiopia is in danger to exist as a country we have to come together. To come together, there should be reasonable trust between us, there should be open and honest dialogue between us regarding the past, present and the future, denying facts cannot lead us anywhere.
No one predicted the military would take over when the monarchy was unable to govern in 1970’s. No one predicted either the current regime would take over when the military was unable to govern in 1990’s. It is also hard to predict who will be next to lead the suffering of our people unless we are serious in working together to avoid unpredictable.
No success if we do not come together, togetherness that sees us all with equal eyes, togetherness that respect us all no matter who we are but as human being, togetherness that offers us all equal opportunity and togetherness that make us one with our diversities in that greater land, Ethiopia. This can only be achievable if we recognize the past dole and reconcile and tolerate what is tolerable and move forward. Past history, the good, the bad and the ugly ones are ours, it is Ethiopian history.
Alah the Almighty bless Ethiopia and her people
—The writer can be reached at email@example.com