Stop the foolishness: Solve the Problems the Way Tahir and Me Solved it as Children – By Fekade Shewakena

April 1st, 2009 Print Print Email Email

Some people in Ethiopia on the religious fringes are playing with fire. I have received emails of videos and audios circulating over the internet as evidences of Christians being attacked by Moslems and Christians attacking Moslems in Ethiopia. (more…)

Some people in Ethiopia on the religious fringes are playing with fire. I have received emails of videos and audios circulating over the internet as evidences of Christians being attacked by Moslems and Christians attacking Moslems in Ethiopia. It appears these documents are being sent out by each group to garner sympathy for their cause. I cannot finger point to who started this stupidity as I have no detailed information. But I don’t think it is even important to know who started it. None of it comports with Ethiopia’s history of religious tolerance. I have also heard stories of sporadic attacks by these fringe fanatics in different parts of Ethiopia. The government also has issued incoherent statements about it, in some cases blaming it on its political opponents as it often does. Whatever its magnitude, and whoever the culprit instigating it, these developments are downright scary and extremely disturbing and they should stop.

Trying to widen it, parading ugly statements coming out of the mouths of these fringe elements, playing tit for tat and taking it out on the innocent, is plain stupidity and no one is going to benefit from it both spiritually and materially. Forming interfaith groups and having honest and intelligent discussion can help not only stop these fringe elements, but also goes a long way to find the real culprit trying to saw the seeds of discord among the two religions who have uniquely cultivated a long tradition of tolerance and living in peace in Ethiopia. The elders in the leadership of both religions should be reminded that they have a huge responsibility to stop this madness.

Yes, religions have not been treated equally throughout our history in Ethiopia. Christianity has been dominant in Ethiopia for centuries. Yes, there are historical reasons for this inequality. But our Moslem brothers and sisters have every right to demand equality now. It is their country and they deserve no less. We still have to go some length to attain religious equality in Ethiopia but this can only be done by first establishing a system under the rule of law. It has to be clear to all of us that those responsible for the unequal treatment of and inequality between religions were never once the ordinary people of Ethiopia of any faith. It was the rulers who use religion for political ends. Any religious discord in Ethiopia can directly be traced to the manipulative works of the rulers and not to any group of ordinary people. It is undeniable that there is a lot of progress toward religious equality in Ethiopia since the seventies, particularly since the coming of the dergue in 1974. But unfortunately, both Christians and Moslems ended up getting the short end of what we sought.
The dawn of our genuine demand for equality was marked by the 1974 Moslem-Christian historic demonstration in Addis Ababa in support of the demand for the equal treatment of Moslems in Ethiopia. Mengistu and the dergue answered our question by turning out to be equal opportunity killers and oppressors across religions. The Ethiopian Orthodox church lost most of its land and property and turned destitute overnight. Even the pope and many clergy were guillotined. Moslems and Christians were killed by the dergue at the same rates with equal disregard for our lives. This, of course, was not the kind of equality we wanted. But we can say we suffered equally.

The TPLF/EPRDF made a smarter choice than the dergue when it decided to control the administration and management of religious institutions and use them craftily for its political ends. They even made direct and indirect interference in the appointments of the leadership to lead both the mosque and the church. In cases where both the Christians and Moslems attempted to rebel against this meddling demanding independence, the TPLF never hesitated to desecrate the places of worship of both Islam and Christianity and used military force inside both mosques and churches spilling the blood of innocent believers. Have we forgotten? This happened not a long time ago.

I argue that the most serious problem that stands in the way of religious equality in Ethiopia now is the absence of democracy and rule of law. Religious conflicts are minimal or none existent in democracies. This is the key to forming a lasting equality. I met a Moslem Ethiopian friend who participated in a recent demonstration at the Ethiopian embassy in Washington DC. Among other questions, I asked him what they were doing at the embassy and why they did not call Christians to join them in the demonstration. He said the objective of the demonstration was to demand that the Woyane government implement the articles in the constitution as regards religious equality. I asked him the responses they got. He told me that the Ambassador and embassy staff sweet-talked them and thanked them for their peaceful demonstration and even told them that their demonstration was a model for other demonstrations. I only hope my Moslem brothers and sisters who sincerely look for the right answers to their questions have not fallen for this cheap patronization.

In fact Ethiopian Moslems have more serious issues to worry about. They may need to be a little more wary of the government’s unnecessary intervention in Moslem countries to fight so called jihadism and the rhetoric Meles and Bereket use borrowing from the West. They should be bothered by the official use of such terms as Islamists, Islamic terrorism, jihadists etc. If I were an Ethiopian Moslem I would worry more about this kind of incendiary, mercenary government literature than what a lunatic Christian monk out from a monastery speaks of Islam. Thanks to the election of President Obama, these languages are now being discarded even in US officialdom.

If our Moslem brothers and sisters think that the statements on religious equality stated in the constitution can be selectively implemented while other parts of the constitution keep being violated by the regime every day, I think they are wasting their time. It is like they are asking the lady to be half pregnant and give birth to a normal child. Either the constitution is respected as a whole or there will be no respect for any part of it. I think both Moslems and Christians should get this clearly. Only the prevalence of the rule of law can guarantee equal treatment.

Ethiopia has enough space to accommodate all religions equally if our rulers do not violate our values and the laws in the books. At different times the regime has used our differences, religious and ethnic, for political purposes. Differences are the nutrition over which the woyane thrive, can’t you see it? A Moslem who demands better for himself cannot get it if the Christian is not guaranteed of the same rights and vice versa. Our rulers, including the TPLF are not worried about giving religions equal playing field. Their preoccupation is over how to use them for their political ends.

The last time I checked the list of the 193 people murdered by Meles Zenawi after the ill fated May 2005 election, it contains an equal mix of Moslems and Christians at least as can be seen from their names.

Decrees and constitutional amendments or oral promises from powerful despots cannot guarantee equality and freedom, only a collective decision by people and an absolute guarantee of the rule of law do. Whether we like it or not we have to learn to share the space God gave us without encroaching on each other’s spaces. So the best place to spend our emotions and energy is on seeking and building democracy and the rule of law. That is the ultimate weapon that would make all of us equal. Despotic rulers have a vested interest in our division and inequality. Read history.

Or learn from me, a Christian and Tahir my Muslim childhood friend. We were about six or seven year olds then. Tahir and me, both of us were born in Debr Sina, that beautiful town at the foothills of Tarma Ber in northern Shewa. We were neighbors. Our mothers were friends. Tahir and me always play together and love soccer a lot. We eat in each other’s homes. Our mothers and everybody in our homes cares much not to mix our plates. Living in our neighborhood was also a bully named Negash. Negash is a little older and bigger than both me and Tahir. There was hardly any kid who hasn’t tested Negash’s boots on his butt (the calchio). He sometimes beats you for no reason and calls you any name he wants. Negash also loves to have us fight with one another. He often asks, “Which of you two is stronger?”- “mann yashenifal”, he would say, and goads us to wrestle and fight. Tahir and me have wrestled more than once to show him which one of us are stronger. Negash does this to many kids in the neighborhood. One day, while I and Tahir were playing “goalkeeping” with the rubber ball Tahir’s father gave us from his store that morning, Negash came. Negash grabbed our ball and kicked it hard that after making some bounces it ended up in the compound of people who had a dangerous dog. Both Me and Tahir who have not even had fifteen minutes with our new precious ball were mad as hell and demanded that Negash gets our ball back for us. Tahir and I have grown in a community where boys were not allowed to cry and run home to seek help or hide. We had to stand on our feet and fight. Going home crying will result in you getting whipped more. I picked up a few stones and demanded that Negash gets our ball back. Tahir too filled his pockets with stones and held two big ones in both hands. While Negash was taking strides to catch and beat us, we rained our stones on him and knocked him down. We frisked his head and he was full of blood. We did not want to take a chance and wanted to make sure that he doesn’t get up and beat us. Negash was crying in his pool of blood when we were all over him giving him the calchos he loves to give to others. Some adult passerby stopped us and Tahir and me went home with our heads up but without our precious ball. Negash was taken to the clinic by his family. Our family and Negash’s heard the story of what happened. Tahir and me told our story to our families as is. Negash’s family pressed charges against our families. Finally, other people in the neighborhood intervened and made peace, I hardly remember how they did it. On the day of peace the three of us were made to kiss one another’s chicks and told to never quarrel again. From that day on, Negash became a different person for us. He started respecting not only Tahir and me but also his other victims in the neighborhood.

That, my friends, is how you sometimes get your freedoms back.

Fekadeshewakena@yahoo.com

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