Value under threat
Commenting on the current situation of Muslim-Orthodox tension, Girma Beshah, senior journalist and media personality, says the tension should not be allowed to assume a proportion any more than it has already. Here is the full text of the article taken from the February 5, 2009 edition of Ethiopian Weekly Press Digest, a publication that Girma himself edits.
Recent incidents of communal unrest in some parts of the country are hitting the front pages of the nation’s weeklies. Unmistakable signs that we are at a critical stage of our history are there for everyone to see.
Reading the papers and listening to the daily radio broadcast would hardly give one an insight into what exactly has happened in Dire Dawa or Gonder. Inevitably we have to rely on hearsay or rumors for a better grasp of the communal incident in Dire Dawa or else where. Whether we like it or not, however, significant events are unfolding in Ethiopia’s inter-religious relations. We don’t realize or perhaps we don’t want to realize that the religious landscape in Ethiopia has changed dramatically. For what ii is worth, the recently published figure of the population and housing census gave us an idea of what are in quantifiable terms. The data drove home the reality that we are after all much less than we thought we were and in cases much more than we thought we were.
Accepting a new reality, particularly if that reality is an uncomfortable one, is not easy. I recall the of the honorable member of the House of people’s representatives who startled up and said no to the census figure which slashed the estimated population size of her regional state by more than two million. Oblivious of the fact that the census was commissioned by her party and likely to be endorsed by it, the MP called that a recount be undertaken In that region. Difficult though it may be, accepting reality is an exercise we cannot do without. Accepting reality is not merely accepting the shuddering reality of figures as in the above case but also the reality of facts.
Ethiopia is a pluralistic society par excellence: think, linguistic, religious, political reality. We should never lose sight of this basic reality. It is a reality which should underpin our aspiration for a harmonious society adhering to civilized social and economic norms.
The much-vaunted religious tolerance of Ethiopians has not been a mere rhetoric after all. Orthodox, Muslim, Protestant and roam catholic Ethiopian peacefully coexisted and observed the rule of mutual tolerance. But that was in the days when tolerance as such was relatively irrelevant to the Ethiopian context. It was a society back in the forties and fifties when a situation of imbalance prevailed in which Islam and Protestantism were the faiths of the minority groups. It was situation where the government of the day recognized open and closed areas where protestant missionaries could and could not evangelize. It was a time when petty Muslim traders, main agents of the spread of Islam, did not make significant inroads into the major urban areas of the country. I believe that the religious tolerance we have prided ourselves on should be revisited. It proved its worth at a point of time when tolerance posed little or no challenge to the mainstream belief.
Tolerance proves defying in condition of socio-religious equilibrium, where rivalry for ascendancy is inevitable and that one or more groups is increasingly self-assertive.
I believe we are precisely at the stage where religious plurality has become a meaningful reality in this country. we are a t a point where enabling constitutional atmosphere facilitated the work of religious groups: Evangelization and Islamization of the society. Obviously, the scramble for followers might involve friction among and between religious protagonists. In the case of Ethiopia, we are beginning to feel the pinch of that friction, mainly between Orthodox and Muslim communities.
The friction, which manifested itself in isolated clashes, was serous enough to spur the law enforcement body into action. While chiding both parties for what it was thought acts of provocation and appealed for restraint, the state law enforcement wing did not mince its words in issuing stern warning against acts which might be viewed to be disturbing public order. No less concerned is the community at large about the religious militancy which was at the root of much of the provocative acts which, at least for some, were no different than a brazen flexing of the muscles. I am more than certain that the current situation of Muslim-orthodox tension will not be allowed to assume a proportion any more than it has already. We are certain that religious leaders will crank up their respective traditional peace-making mechanism with which first and foremost to appraise their own pattern of behavior and then their behavior vis-à-vis one another. A quest for peace and communal harmony should be conducted with the awareness that peace means development and development means riding ourselves from poverty.
Finally, I view the on-going tension as nothing more than the birth pang of a new order of religious plurality based on mutual tolerance, equality before the law and the right and freedom of each religious leaders are willing and capable of working towards communal peace should constitute the midwifery with which to render the birth of the new order relatively painless.