by Professor Alemayehu G Mariam
The Thugtatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T-TPLF) has been pursuing a systematic program of religious persecution and fomenting religious antagonisms in Ethiopia for quite some time.
After the T-TPLF seized power in 1991, it sought to ingratiate itself with the Ethiopian Muslim community by making symbolic gestures of equality and tolerance.
The patronizing outreach to Muslim communities proved to be a Trojan horse.
The T-TPLF’s hidden agenda was to co-opt and politicize Muslim leaders and institutions for its own sinister political purposes.
America’s global “war on terror” (which Meles Zenawi said was “a god sent”) changed things.
Meles’ proxy war in Somalia became the ideological foundation for the demonization of Ethiopian Muslims.
Magnifying the outrageous and inflammatory rhetoric of a few self-appointed and self-important Muslim leaders, the T-TPLF began a systematic campaign of demonization and vilification of Ethiopian Muslims.
In December 2011, the T-TPLF launched its first broadside attack by broadcasting a trash documentary (docutrash) called “Alekdama”, which I condemned and denounced as scandalous and vicious fear mongering in my commentary entitled, “Ethiopia: Land of Blood or Land of Corruption?”.
In that docutrash , the T-TPLF sought to graft the crimes against humanity committed by international terrorists in the name of Islam on Ethiopian Muslims. The T-TPLF’s aim was to create rabid public hysteria against Muslims in Ethiopia and justify violent crackdowns against them.
In June 2012, I fought back against the late Meles Zenawi’s attempts to foment religious strife between Christians and Muslims under the bogus pretext of “homegrown Muslim terrorists” in Ethiopia in my commentary entitled, “Ethiopia: Unity in Divinity!” I praised Muslim and Christian religious leaders for reaching out to build bridges of unity in the struggle against EVIL.
With a subtlety of a Black Mamba snake, Meles tried to paint all Ethiopian Muslims as “Salafist” and “Wahhabist” extremists and Al Qaeda sympathizers.
Meles, in his signature diabolical way, sought to portray the young Muslim religious activists as stooges of international radical Islamists and jihadists with terrorists designs on Ethiopia.
Meles told his kangaroo parliament:
One cannot say all Salafis are Al Qaeda. That’s a mistake, a crime. But all Al Qaeda are Salafis. For the first time, an Al Qaeda cell has been found in Ethiopia. Most of them in Bale and Arsi. All of the members of this cell are Salafis. This is not to say all Salafis in Ethiopia are Al Qaeda members. Most of them are not. But these Salafis have been observed distorting the real teachings [of Islam]. They [Salafis] say most people in Ethiopia are Muslims. They say the official statistical reports are false. They say since most Ethiopians are Muslims, there must be an Islamic government. Such agitation is currently underway on a mass scale by these fundamentalist agitators…
It was intended to be fresh “red meat”. With his alarmist rhetoric, Meles hoped to inspire fear, anxiety, suspicion, dread and panic among Christians.
In 1949, United States Secretary of Defense James Forrestal said, “The Russians are coming. The Russians are coming. They’re right around. I’ve seen Russian soldiers.”
Meles’ speech to his kangaroo parliament in was not much different. “The Ethiopian Muslim jihadists and terrorists are coming. They are right around the corner or under the next rock. I have seen them in Bale and Arsi.”
Of course, since Meles made those syllogistically conflated statements, there has been no Al Qaeda insurgency or Salafi resurgence in Ethiopia, except in the warped minds and benighted imaginations of T-TPLF leaders.
There has not been a single independently verified act of violence committed by Muslim protesters! Neither has there been any independently corroborated evidence of any “radical Muslim scholars/preachers” actually causing their members to engage in violence.
On August 15, 2012, Human Rights Watch demanded the “Ethiopian government should immediately release 17 prominent Muslim leaders arrested as part of a brutal crackdown on peaceful Muslim protesters in Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian government should address the grievances of its Muslim community through dialogue, not violence.”
In 2013, Amnesty International condemned the T-TPLF’s persecution of the protesting Ethiopian Muslims:
The government continues to respond to the grievances of the Muslim community with violence, arbitrary arrests and the use of the overly-broad Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to prosecute the movements’ leaders and other individuals. This is a violation of people’s right to peacefully protest, as protected in Ethiopia’s constitution. The Ethiopian government must end its use of repressive tactics against demonstrators.”
In March 2015, the African Union’s human rights watchdog, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights , sent a letter to the marionette prime minster of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn asking him to
to investigate allegations of torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishments in relation to the 29 [Muslim] defendants, guarantee attorney-client confidentiality privilege by allowing the defendants unhindered and unmonitored communication with their attorneys and guarantee victims right to presumption of innocence until proven guilty and prevent his government, its officials, and state media from making statements that slander and defame the victims.
On August 6, 2015, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) “strongly condemned the convictions and sentencing of 18 Muslim leaders in Ethiopia.”
USCRIF Chairman Dr. Robert P. George said, “These individuals were peaceful advocates for religious freedom. This trial was a continuation of the Ethiopian government’s use of the anti-terror law to stifle human rights advocacy and dissent.”
Demonization of Ethiopian Muslims by the T-TPLF and Meles Zenawi
In February 2013, I defended Ethiopian Muslims against another T-TPLF demonization and vilification propaganda campaign in a docutrash called “Jihadawi Harakat” (“Holy War Movement”) in my commentary entitled, “The Politics of Fear and Smear”.
That docutrash was another malicious propaganda effort by Meles and his T-TPLF gang to portray Ethiopian Muslims peacefully demanding respect for their human rights as the handmaidens of such jihadist terrorist movements as Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya), Harakat al-Jihad al-Islami al-Filastini and the Abu Sayyaf (terror group in the southern Philippines) group’s Al Harakat al-Islamiyya.
That docutrash had little propaganda traction.
The fact of the matter is that the T-TPLF itself has been sponsoring domestic terrorism by its security forces.
According to U.S. Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, a bombing that occurred in Addis Ababa on September 16, 2006 and blamed on terrorists “may have in fact been the work of the GoE [“government of Ethiopia”] security forces.”
The T-TPLF made another claim of an attempted bombing of the African Union in 2011 and convicted certain individuals in one of its monkey courts.
Over the past several years,
Meles and the T-TPLF gang have toiled to anathematize, neutralize, demoralize, stigmatize, apostatize, delegitimize, brutalize, criminalize, criticize, diabolize, disorganize, fragmentize and illegalize Ethiopian Muslims.
Meles and his T-TPLF gang have tried every trick in the book to stoke sectarian strife in Ethiopia by inciting church and mosque burnings.
Meles and his T-TPLF gang have sent their agent provocateurs to incite violence between Christians and Muslims.
Meles and his T-TPLF gang have tried to inflame passions by spreading false rumors about the desecration of the Holy Qur’an.
Meles and the T-TPLF gang have issued bogus census statistics on the number of followers of the Muslim and Christian faiths in the hope of inciting passions among adherents of both faiths.
Meles and his T-TPLF gang have done their damnedest to divide and (mis)rule Muslim communities by dividing them as “Salafists”, “Wahhabists”, Al Qaeda sympathizers, terrorist and so on.
Meles and his T-TPLF gang have tried to combine ethnicity and religion to magnify differences among Ethiopians and intensify sectarian conflict.
Meles and his T-TPLF gang have pulled all the tricks out of their bags to cause religious and ethnic strife. Thank God, none of it has turned out the way they designed it.
When Meles and his T-TPLF gang failed miserably in their propaganda efforts, they did what they know to do best: Sweep up human rights advocates, religious protesters, opposition leaders and members and hand them long prison sentences.
Why am I discussing commentaries I wrote years ago on the T-TPLF persecution of Ethiopian Muslims?
First, I want to explain why I was motivated to defend Ethiopian Muslim against persecution by the T-TPLF.
The greatest weapon in the hands of the T-TPLF to perpetuate itself in power is to divide the people of Ethiopia by religion and ethnicity.
The T-TPLF’s bogus “ethnic federalism” has sought to separate the people of Ethiopia by ethnicity, religion and region.
By pitting Christian against Muslims, the T-TPLF seeks to remain the master of all Ethiopians for all time.
The T-TPLF has achieved a modicum of “success” in its implementation of a 21stcentury apartheid-style “kilil” or “Bantustan” system in Ethiopia.
(I find it mind-boggling how a bunch of boorish thugs fresh out of the bush were able to orchestrate such a massive political fraud and institute a cancerous criminal enterprise by exploiting historic grievances between the ethnic and religious groups. Of course, the same question could be asked of Boer descendants who set up the Apartheid regime in South Africa as well. Touche!)
All of my commentaries in defense of Ethiopian Muslims have been motivated by one or more of the following factors:
1) Challenge the late Meles personally on his propaganda efforts aimed at the demonization and vilification of Ethiopian Muslims as Al Qaeda sympathizers and terrorists and demand to see proof of his allegations;
2) Defend the principle that “Religion is a private choice, country is a collective responsibility” and underscore the need for religious equality in Ethiopia;
3) Reaffirm and uphold the centuries long peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians in Ethiopia on the principle of religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence;
4) Underscore and promote the need for Christian and Muslim religious leaders to play a central role in preventing sectarian conflict and in building bridges of understanding, mutual respect and collaborative working relations within the two faith communities;
5) Speak out against any religious discrimination against Muslims by the T-TPLF or anyone else;
6) Encourage ordinary Muslims and Christians to build and organize “interfaith councils” to strengthen their brotherhood and sisterhood and keep religion out of politics; and
6) Commend Christian and Muslim leaders and followers who have stood together and locked arms to defend religious freedom and each other’s rights to freely exercise their consciences.
Second, and most importantly, I want to protest in the court of international public opinion that the long prison sentences handed out to 18 young Ethiopian Muslims in a T-TPLF monkey court is a crime against humanity and a low down dirty shame.
Last week, a T-TPLF kangaroo (monkey) court railroaded 18 young Ethiopian Muslims (which Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, USCRIF, African Human Rights Commission and so many others have deemed peaceful protest leaders and activists) to serve between 7 and 22 years in prison.
The young Ethiopians were “convicted” of trumped up charges of “attempted terrorism, conspiracy to establish an Islamic state, and public incitement.”
The T-TPLF monkey court sentenced Abubakar Ahmed, Ahmedin Jebel, Yasin Nuru and Kemal Shmsu to 22 years each.
Defendants Munir Hussien, Sabir Yirgu , Bedru Hussien, , Mohammed Abate, Abubeker Alemu were given 18 years.
Prison terms of 15 years were handed down to Ahmed Mustefa, Khalid Ibrahim, Sheik Mekete Muhe, Sheik Seid Ali and Mubarak Adem.
The T-TPLF monkey court handed out 7 years to Yusuf Getachew, Nuru Turki, Murad Shikur and Sheik Bahiru Omar and were jailed for less terms of seven years each.
What crimes did the young Muslim activists REALLY commit?
The earthshaking crime committed by the young Muslim activists is their simple demand for separation of mosque and state.
As USCRIF described it, “The Muslim leaders were arrested in July 2012, along with hundreds of other Muslims who were peacefully protesting against government interference in the Islamic community’s religious affairs.”
It is as simple as that!
The young activists demanded cessation of regime interference in the administration of Awoliya College and Secondary School and return of school administrators dismissed by the T-TPLF in December 2011.
They demanded the right to elect their own Islamic Supreme Council (Mejlis) governing body.
They demanded a stop to regime infiltration and subversion of their religious institutions.
They demanded the T-TPLF stop appointing its stooges as their leaders.
They demanded the T-TPLF stop its official sponsorship and propagation of the religious ideas of Al-Habesh.
They demanded separation of religion and state!
The T-TPLF game of divide and misrule
The practice of the strategy of divide and (mis)rule has at least four basic elements: 1) create and encourage divisions in a population to prevent unity or coalitions that will challenge those in power; 2) reach out and buy off those in the opposition who are willing to cooperate and sell out to those in power; 3) foster distrust and enmity between and among the population on economic, social, political issues and 4) create general confusion and a climate of hate, fear and loathing throughout society through the systematic use of propaganda.
A tiny number of European colonists were able to effectively control hundreds of millions of Africans on the continent using the principle of divide and (mis)rule.
The British and French exploited ethnic, linguistic, religious and regional differences to keep African peoples in perpetual conflict and to facilitate and consolidate their control.
Frederick Lugar’s “indirect rule” theory in his enormously influential work, “The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa” (Chaps. 10 & 11) is based precisely on the principle of divide and rule.
German and Belgian divide and (mis)rule in Rwanda is the most significant historical factor in the occurrence of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
As I thought about the T-TPLF’s divide and (mis)rule strategy in Ethiopia for the past nearly one-quarter century, the words of Martin Niemöller occurred to me.
Niemöller was a Protestant pastor who became a strident critic of Adolf Hitler and Nazi rule. He spent many years in concentration camps and later became widely known for his statement about the failure of Germans to speak out against Nazi rule:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—/ Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— / Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— / Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
As I see it, the vast majority of Ethiopians enveloped in fear, loathing and despair have chosen to remain silent in the face of T-TPLF crimes against humanity.
I point an accusatory finger at the “silent majority” of Ethiopians (and more particularly at the Ethiopian intelligentsia in the Diaspora), for failing to speak out strongly and often against the divide and (mis)rule policies and practices of the T-TPLF.
For their failure I say:
First the T-TPLF came for the opposition leaders and YOU did not speak out and chose to remain silent because you were not in the opposition or because you convinced yourself you were in the “silent opposition”;
Then the T-TPLF came for the people of Gambella, and YOU did not speak out, because you were not Anuak or Nuer.
Then the T-TPLF came for the people of the Ogaden, and YOU did not speak out, because you were not Ogadeni.
Then the T-TPLF came for the Christians and destroyed their monasteries and appointed their stooge patriarchs and YOU did not speak out because you were not Christian.
Then the T-TPLF came for the journalists and bloggers and YOU did not speak out because we were not journalists or bloggers.
Then the T-TPLF came for the Muslims and YOU did not speak out because you were not Muslim.
Then the T-TPLF came after YOU, your house, your business, your profession, your job, your dignity, your nationality, your humanity and your Ethiopianity.
Then YOUR conscience came after YOU at night, in the morning, noontime and night. YOU were dumbstruck, speechless, wordless, silent and guilty!
Fight T-TPLF divide and misrule with “unite to defend your right”
In a recent commentary on the “unfair trial of Muslim leaders and why it undermines counter-terrorism in Ethiopia”, Abadir M. Ibrahim argued, “The government’s response to the [protest] movement was inhumane and disproportionate to say the least. It rounded up the most prominent protest leaders, tortured them, attempted to shame and defame them on national television, and now convicted them of terrorism.”
Abadir reported extraordinary facts which most people may not know.
Abadir said he had an encounter with
an Ethiopian human rights activist and was surprised to find out that a terrorism conviction was celebrated in the activist community. The day of his conviction the activist received hundreds of phone calls and emails congratulating him. When asked how he could take such a serious matter so lightly, his response was epic: ‘I should celebrate my convictions for now I have something in common with Gandhi, Mandela, and King … Call it a depressing rite of passage if you like, but being accused of terrorism is in the resume of every successful Ethiopian activist, politician or journalist.’
It was not too surprising then that the Muslim civil society leaders were jovial when they were convicted. Every time the judge announced a guilty verdict, the defendants embraced and congratulated each other and made speeches in response to which attendees cheered. (Emphasis added.)
I believe the Muslim nonviolent protests will go down as the most important nonviolent struggle for freedom in Ethiopian history.
These young human rights activists were actually practicing Gandhi’s philosophy of “satyagraha” or nonviolent resistance to evil.
Gandhi employed his principle of “satyagraha” in the Indian struggle against British imperialism.
Gandhi’s “satyagraha” has been translated as “insistence on truth” (satya “truth”; agraha “insistence”) or holding onto truth or truth force.
Gandhi used his philosophy of satyagraha in his struggles in South Africa for Indian rights and later in the Indian independence movement. (For an absolutely fascinating account of how Gandhi first used satyagraha as a bold experiment in truth on a mass scale to challenge the British colonial administration, see Rajendraprasad’s “Satyagraga in Champaran”.)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used Gandhi’s “satyagraha” to struggle for civil rights in America.
Nelson Mandela rescued South Africa from the pestilence of apartheid using the same basic principles.
By “celebrating their unjust convictions”, the young Muslim activists are telling the world they are not afraid of the T-TPLF and its filthy vermin-ridden prisons.
By “celebrating their unjust convictions”, the young Muslim activists are telling the world they will use truth-force to fight the force of EVIL.
By “celebrating their unjust convictions”, the young Muslim activists are telling the world, “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” (Gandhi)
By “celebrating their unjust convictions”, the young Muslim activists are telling the world, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools. Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
By “celebrating their unjust convictions”, the young Muslim activists are telling the world, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” (Nelson Mandela)
I want the world to know I have the highest regard for the young Muslim activists for employing satyagraha in the struggle for freedom in Ethiopia. They have proven that peaceful struggle for freedom actually works.
I pay them the highest respect I could possibly pay to any human beings. I appreciate their sacrifices beyond my ability to express in words.
All I can say to them is thank you for teaching all Ethiopians that it is possible to defeat EVIL by being civil and peaceful.
On a “selfish” point, the 18 young Ethiopians have validated and vindicated my own personal struggle for human rights in Ethiopia and for showing me how to speak truth not only to power but also to the apotheosis of EVIL.
I do not doubt that the T-TPLF is do-se-do-ing in the false belief that they have crushed those seeking religious liberty.
I have no doubts they are high-fiving each other for breaking the backbone of those struggling for religious liberty in Ethiopia.
What the T-TPLF has done is plant the seeds of its own destruction by jailing these young activists.
Those seeds will grow like weeds and will soon consume the T-TPLF empire of corruption.
If I thought the benighted leaders of the T-TPLF had even an elementary understanding of history, I would have reminded them of the truth of President John F. Kennedy’s maxim: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
I won’t even try.
The Bodhidharma taught, “The ignorant mind, with its infinite afflictions, passions, and evils, is rooted in the three poisons. Greed, anger, and delusion.”
The T-TPLF is a vicious organization and its leaders are deeply afflicted by hate, greed, anger and delusion. They are the poison in the Ethiopian body politics.
When the history of the struggle for religious freedom is written, the names of the 18 young, peaceful and nonviolent human rights activists will occupy the top row of the honor rolls.
I wholeheartedly and without reservation condemn the T-TPLF’s efforts to demonize, scandalize, anathematize and vilify the young Muslim human rights activists.
But the highest tribute anyone can pay these young human rights activists is to make sure their peaceful nonviolent protest continues.
Time for Ethiopian Muslims and Christians to face hard facts
It is time for Ethiopians to face the hard facts! I hate to be the bearer of bad news. The fact is:
Barack Obama is against us!
China is against us!
Britain is against us!
The European Union is against us!
The World Bank and the IMF are against us!
The African Union is against us!
Everybody is against us!
The world is against us!
But it does NOT matter if the whole universe is against us!
There is a force more powerful than the mighty United States of America and all the earthly powers combined.
That force is the truth-force that binds us together in an unbreakable eternal bond.
That unbreakable truth-force is not our nationality.
It is certainly not our ethnicity.
It is not even our humanity.
Our unbreakable bond of truth-force is our divinity.
It is our divinity — the truth-force — that made the young Muslim human rights activists sacrifice their young lives and celebrate their long sentences before a T-TPLF monkey court.
It is our divinity — expressed in our mutual respect, love, compassion, forgiveness, generosity, tolerance and commitment to justice — that eternally binds us together.
It is tolerance, self-authenticity, courage, creativity, honesty, integrity and tenacity that will ensure our ultimate victory against EVIL.
In Romans 8:31 is written, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?”
In the Qu’uran, Surat ‘Āli `Imrān 3:103 is written: “And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided. And remember the favor of Allah upon you – when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favor, brothers.”
So, I say to my Ethiopian Christian and Muslim brothers and sisters, we must hold on tight on the “rope of Allah and not become divided” in the face of a vicious enemy.
We must become kindred souls and together bend the arc of justice.
After all, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”
In tribute to the enormous sacrifices of the 18 young Ethiopian human rights activists, we must all come together as the sons and daughters of one Mother Ethiopia and fight for our liberty in our divinity.
The peaceful nonviolent struggle in Ethiopia must continue!
A luta continua!
“Religion is a private choice, country is a collective responsibility.”