RISING NUMBERS GOT ME THINKING . . .

Hello Friends:

Here is a Guestpost by Rediet Yibekal on the Repression of Freedom of Speech, Lack of Moderation, and rampant Extremism in Ethiopian Politics from both the Government and the Opposition side; and why Ethiopia must provide a buffer zone for moderate voices to thrive so that to loosen the tension between two or more extreme sides or political contenders.

Rediet argues: 

I do not fully encourage ultra-liberalism, but I will fully endorse a government that can provide pragmatic approach to problems. Government must allow criticism and make a room for people’s voice to be heard. In this century, since information spreads instantly with the click of a button, controlling it is impractical. 

Citizens also must abide by the rule and act accordingly in a non-violent means. And until freedom of expression is guaranteed in the political system, we can’t really claim that democracy exists. However, freedom of expression can easily be exploited by people who wish to propagate hatred, tension, prejudice of one ethnic group over the other; and advocate for violence in order to achieve their political agenda. And this is where ‘taking responsibility’ applies.

To Summarize: Lack of Moderation + Repression of Freedom of Speech => Political Extremism. 

Enjoy! 🙂 

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RISING NUMBERS GOT ME THINKING . . .

By Rediet Yibekal

What does ‘Political Extremism’ mean and how does it come about? Why do we create a hostile environment instead of encouraging an open political debate? Why should this matter?

examiner.com

There are more blocked websites today in Ethiopia than there were 5 to 10 years ago. According to Open Net Initiative, about 73 URLs are currently blocked. Understandably, this is done to ‘protect’ the national interest of the country and to keep the majority of people from accessing ‘illegitimate’ information that criticize the current ruling party or governing body.

It is well known that any action has an equal or opposite reaction. Thus, following that theory, the more the government forbids the free flow of information, the more people will try to access them by any means necessary—just like forbidding the biblical Adam from eating the apple made him want it more, but not less.

My Experience on a Daily Basis: When I discuss Ethiopian politics with Ethiopians in and outside Ethiopia, I often observe people leaning to a one-sided argument only, whatever that side is. What I find lacking in many political debates is a splash of optimism and critical reasoning. For this, of course, one must consider Ethiopia’s political culture.

3 or 4

I shall avoid going deep into our political culture for now as I do not want to lose my focus from stressing the fact today’s Ethiopia restricts access to information, repressing independent print media and blocking websites and blogs, which has contributed to the deterioration of conducting open and progressive political debate.

My Question: How and what can one developing country benefit from a harsh environment where people cannot openly dissent (the term dissent is used here as an expression of dissatisfaction, opposition to the governing body through different nonviolent means)?

What Can Happen If There Is No Improvement: We are a multicultural society. That means the more diverse we are, the greater our differences, with less common solutions to bring us together. National consensus on core political issues will phase out slowly. Extremism will grow without a doubt to either defend or oppose the status quo. At the end, we will have more extremists and less moderates controlling the political space and preventing dialogue from taking over as the tool to resolve conflicts. Thereby, the country, instead of moving forward, will remain stuck in its usual political mess.

Left Right Center

The Danger When Extremists Control The Political Space: Extremists are not tolerant in general, whether they are government supporters or opponents. And the main problem is not just what they say about their causes or beliefs, but what they think of the other, i.e., their political opponent that they proudly label as ‘enemy.’

There are many traits that identify political extremists: They usually generalize, make claims or judgements, sometimes with little or no evidence at all. Some of them commit logical fallacies as they try to argue a point—not to mention their exaggerations.

Many political extremists will judge you for being moderate or neutral. If I hold the middle ground, I will be accused of being supportive of the other side, their enemy. Simply because political extremist tend to see the world in terms of absolute good or evil, you are either with or against them—no intermediate position (Manichaean worldview). They tend to identify themselves in terms of who their enemies are: Who they hate and who hates them; who supports and who opposes them.

Political extremists also use slogans, buzzwords to reinforce their prejudices. Advocating double standards; censoring, defaming, or repressing opponents; and distorting ideas are all embraced as weapons that can defeat the enemy.

Prejudice

Furthermore, there is more inclination toward ‘group thinking.’ Both staunch supporters and radical opponents of the government mostly talk or share ideas with only their kinds. That is exactly how they develop group thinking—shared illusions of superior morality, and those who challenge them are viewed with scepticism and hostility.

The Way Forward: I do not fully encourage ultra-liberalism but I will fully endorse a government that can provide pragmatic approach to problems. Government must allow criticism and make a room for people’s voice to be heard. In this century, since information spreads instantly with the click of a button, controlling it is impractical.

Freedom of Speech

Citizens also must abide by the rule and act accordingly in a non-violent means. And until freedom of expression is guaranteed in the political system, we can’t really claim that democracy exists. However, freedom of expression can easily be exploited by people who wish to propagate hatred, tension, prejudice of one ethnic group over the other; and advocate for violence in order to achieve their political agenda. And this is where ‘taking responsibility’ applies.

Ethiopia’s constitution clearly addresses ‘The right of thought, opinion and expression’ under Article 29, and finalizes this part by stating, ‘Any citizen who violates any legal limitations on the exercise of these rights may be held liable under the law.

Here is Article 29 in its entirety:

1. Everyone has the right to hold opinions without interference. 2. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression without any interference. This right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any media of his choice. 3. Freedom of the press and other mass media and freedom of artistic creativity is guaranteed. Freedom of the press shall specifically include the following elements: (a) Prohibition of any form of censorship. (b) Access to information of public interest. 4. In the interest of the free flow of information, ideas and opinions which are essential to the functioning of a democratic order, the press shall, as an institution, enjoy legal protection to ensure its operational independence and its capacity to entertain diverse opinions. 5. Any media financed by or under the control of the State shall be operated in a manner ensuring its capacity to entertain diversity in the expression of opinion. 6. These rights can be limited only through laws which are guided by the principle that freedom of expression and information cannot be limited on account of the content or effect of the point of view expressed. Legal limitations can be laid down in order to protect the well-being of the youth, and the honour and reputation of individuals. Any propaganda for war as well as the public expression of opinion intended to injure human dignity shall be prohibited by law. 7. Any citizen who violates any legal limitations on the exercise of these rights may be held liable under the law.

Therefore, both government and citizens must respect the constitution. The government must be accountable to the constitution without prejudice. Otherwise, by restricting freedom of speech, whenever opinions that oppose those in power arise, the government is sending the message that democracy will only be for the people who have access to authority. Citizens also have to know that freedom of speech is not to be abused, but practiced in a responsible manner.

Freedom is not free

In order to move forward together, despite our differences, we should remember that Ethiopia—our country—is what we have in common. Tolerance and mutual respect are needed from all sides, including from the media outlets and the ruling party.

We perform our citizenship duties when we critically question the information we gather from both private media outlets, local or Diaspora, and government entities. Families, schools, communities, and the media have to encourage the youth to ask question and solve problems.

Ethiopians must consider constructive criticisms or opinions as only perspectives that will help us build a strong nation that can address our 21st century and future needs. Each and every one of us should accept that positive change can come through a collective spirit and nonviolent means, but NOT by force.

My Last Message: Let us fight extremism of any kind with critical thinking, logic, and civility. Let us not commit double standard by refraining from criticizing wrong-doings or wrong-sayings by anyone, whether a politician or an activist. Let us not give blind eye for positive efforts. We must focus on ideas, but not on attacking personalities.

In short: Government must never deny us the freedom granted in our constitution; and we shall not abuse freedom when we have it, but we must enjoy it in a responsible manner.

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Quotable Quotes 

On Tolerance

‘Our greatest strength as a human race is our ability to acknowledge our differences; our greatest weakness is our failure to embrace them.’ — Judith Henderson

‘To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.’ — Frederick Douglass

‘I love my country. I love my people. I just hope we find that common ground and trust to live in peace and prosperity.’ — Natnail F. Aberra (Young Ethiopian)

On Extremism

‘Extreme positions are not succeeded by moderate ones, but by contrary extreme positions.’ — Friedrich Nietzsche

‘The true extremist is one who sees extremists everywhere except in the mirror.’ — Unknown

On The Importance of Criticism, Opinion

‘The test of democracy is freedom of criticism.’ — David Ben-Gurion

‘To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.’ — Aristotle

‘Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.’ — Winston S. Churchill

‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ — Francois Voltaire

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