The Trial and the Documentary
The documentary “Jihadawi Harekat”, sponsored by the state-owned television and security forces in Ethiopia that I watched on youtube a week ago is indicative of the terrible political status of Ethiopia. Basically, the documentary aims to convince the viewer that the “terrorism” witnessed in Afghanistan, Mali and Nigeria is coming to our own backyard through the Muslim activists who are presently on trial.
In one of the unedited parts of the documentary, a frightened, harmless-looking young man sits in a chair before his torturers/interrogators. He speaks with a soft low voice. When his voice betrays him, he gestures with his head. Whenever his interrogators raise their voices, change their tone or argue with him, he just nods in agreement as if to free himself from their torture or as if to rid himself of his tormentors. The young man looks exhausted and desperate. Comparing the last picture taken of him before his arrest to the picture in the documentary shows the suffering he has undergone over the last six months since his detention in late July, 2012.
The state-owned television showed the six-part documentary on all of its channels (Channel 1, 2, 3, 4 …). The trials of over 29 muslim Ethiopians who are accused of planning to commit terrorst activities or engaging in terrorism in Ethiopia are being held in a special chamber, close to the notorious Kality prison on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. It is alleged in the documentary that Muslim activists were working day and night to establish an Islamic State of Ethiopia. That is an idea I believe even Allah-God himself does not have. It never occurred to the rebel-turned-government that if God is purposeful, he doesn’t dream of an Islamic Ethiopia. As Sheikh Muhammod Said, an 82 year-old Ethiopian resident of Toronto, said at a fundraiser in December 2012, “Ethiopian Muslims could not even dream, let alone think of forming an Islamic state.”
The Ethiopian government sees in the Believers what the Believers themeslves could never dream of. If even countries with Muslim majorities, such as Turky, vow to defend their secular statehood to the death, how could minority Muslims wish to form an Islamic State of Ethiopia where they form only one third of the nation? (Of course, I understand some Muslims do not accept this census). In any case, the idea of forming an Islamic government, as alleged by the late-dictator Zenawi and his successors, is insanity of the highest form. The sole purpose of the allegation is to generate fear and anxiety among Christian Ethiopians.
Even more insane is the government’s audacity in showing the documentary on TV. The documentary is intended to have a double impact: to frighten ordinary Christian Ethiopians into believing that terrorists are coming into their own backyards, and to thinking that the government protecting them from Islamist fanatics who were conspiring to spill blood in Ethiopia. This is a believable story for Christians who have lost their churches or loved ones because of some rowdy outlaws. It is the one-sided conclusion of a dicatator. Of course, many will heed it.
Unintended consequence and the Danger
Here is the unintended consequence of the documentary that the producers either did not have the intelligence to foresee, or wilfully chose to ignore. Ethiopian Mulims could be inspired by the acts of savagery that the detainees have suffered. Any sane Muslim would not be happy to see their fellow Muslims being tortured, humiliated, and paraded on TV in an undignified manner. Any muslim, including those who have disagreement and difference with the detainees, even those who are in the TPLF camp, will regret this acts of cruelity by the TPLFites. What the government labled as criminals or terrorists will be heroes in the heart of every muslim and rational christians. The persistence of the Muslims’ resistance in various forms despite the attacks on their leaders over the 12 months and the big demonstrations we saw in the last couple of Fridays in Addis Ababa are good illustrations.
The dangerous consequence of the video, which will be very unfortunate if it happens, is that this movement will be more of a religious issue that concerns only the Muslims than a justice issue that concerns every Ethiopian or humanity as Obang Metho says. Those Ethiopians, especially the Christians, who are vulnerable to the deceptive and sensitive narration of the Jihadists undertaking to control Ethiopia that the TPLFites are alleging, will definitely side with the government on this matter.
What shall we do?
Here is my position. The burden is on us to keep this movement a struggle for justice; not a struggle for religious dominancy. The only way all Ethiopians can become part of the Muslim’s struggle is if their struggle is a struggle for justice; for the rule of law. That is the only way to abort the governments’ effort to divide Christian and Muslim Ethiopians. As I stated earlier, the documentary aims to keep Muslims and Christians apart; to make one enemy of the other. To make one look like a threat to the other; to instill suspicion in each other’s heart. We should not surrender to that trap. That is the TPLFites’ trap; they only target their immediate success and they sacrifice whatever they control, including us, to gain short-term victory. The solution for this is very clear; we should make the Muslims’ demand a demand for civil and political rights.
The problem Muslim Ethiopians currently face stems from the absence of responsible civilized government that is elected by and accountable to its own people. The detention of innocent Ethiopians did not start with the detention Muslim activists. It was there before July 2012. Jehadawi Harekat is also a continuation of Akeldama and other pre and post-2005 documentaries produced by the government to either create fear among the public or influence the outcome of a mock trial.
The detention of the Muslim activists is also part and parcel of the violent onslaught the TPLF government unleashed over the peaceful democratic forces of Ethiopia (political parties, journalists and labour unions), over the last 22 years. What ties the detentions, abuses, including the attack on the Muslim activists, and the persecution, together is that they are all perpetrated by an illegitimate government that does not respect its own constitution. The Muslims’ question is therefore a political one whatever hard some try to avoid that label.
Other than making the movement a political one, fellow Muslim Ethiopians should refrain from any kind of action that fuels the accusations of the government and the fear of non-Muslim Ethiopians. One good example I personally disagree with and many friends confided in me is their concern about the speech by the Egyptian American Sheik at the first year anniversary of the Muslims’ protest that was held a couple of weeks ago in Washington, DC. The speech was for most part a great tribute paid to Ethiopia’s contribution to the survival of Islam. However, the speaker’s reference to the state/government of Ethiopia as a “Christian government” did not settle well with many people. That kind of reference has the power of destroying the great message the Sheikh delivered. Therefore, I advise Muslim activists to be cautious when they invite guest speakers at their events.
The remark made by the MC at the above-noted occasion also made some of us uncomfortable. The MC said that the Sheikh was so intelligent that every time the Muslim Ethiopians at the First Hijera discuss about what to do in Ethiopia to demand their rights, they turn to the Egyptian American Sheikh for advice. This is a confirmation of the government’s allegation that the Muslim protesters were supported and incited by outsiders. Knowing that Egypt and Ethiopia are long-time rivals, turning to an Egyptian Muslim, seeking an advice about what we do in Ethiopia is both misguided and dangerous.
The author, Teklemichael Abebe (LL.B, LL.M), is an intern with Mangat Law Professinoal Corporation in Toronto, Ontario. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org