“Two monks were on a pilgrimage. One day, they came to a deep river. At the edge of the river, a young woman sat weeping, because she was afraid to cross the river without help. She begged the two monks to help her. The younger monk turned his back. The members of their order were forbidden to touch a woman.
But the older monk picked up the woman without a word and carried her across the river. He put her down on the far side and continued his journey. The younger monk came after him, scolding him and berating him for breaking his vows. He went on this way for a long time.
Finally, at the end of the day the older monk turned to the younger one. “I only carried her across the river. You have been carrying her all day.”
That is exactly how I feel about Haw Alem Goitom of Meskerem.net. Not that Haw Alem is any Zen monk; I will expound on that later.
Who is a Terrorist?
Let me get recap my points of the previous rejoinder.
Do I consider EPLF fighters terrorists? A resounding no. Do I consider the admissibility law of Canada pertaining to ELF and EPLF fighters fair? Not only do I consider it unfair, I have, in person and as a member of refugee and human rights advocating group of Hidmona-Eritrean-Canadians Human Rights Group of Manitoba, pretty much explained in my previous response that the actions and advocacy we were engaged to challenge that law. Without boasting, our efforts are valued more than the shrill accusations of Meskerem.net. To my knowledge (I am ready to stand corrected) there is nothing the Meskerem publisher has practically done to challenge or change that law. He is simply using what he took as a faux-pas on my part not to really get sympathy for members of EPLF (because really who in the right mind thinks that there is an Eritrean out there who doesn’t have some family members who were part of EPLF) but to stop us from challenging PFDJ and its activities in Canada. Speaking of who is more EPLF, if we have to play this silly game, I confidently point-blank, checkmate Mr. Alem Goitom. I have more EPLF family members and relatives who paid dearly than his (yes, I know he was ELF fighter) and probably his closest family members combined. I acknowledge quickly the silliness of such line of argument. So don’t tell what Shaebia-EPLF means to me. Yet I came to see the distinction between the heroes and the zeroes, like Zemhret.
Now here is the next question?
Do I consider Zemhret Yohannes a terrorist? My answer is yes. He and his PFDJ cliques, led by the greatest terrorist of them all, Isaias Afewerki, are, for me, nothing less than terrorists. As Aboy WeldeAb would concur, “you don’t resort to foreign lingo to call ‘gogo’, ‘gogo’”. Here you can resort to UN sanctions against the regime and to our domestic or classical definitions. As long as the regime uses terror, coercion, intimidation, violence or threat of violence for political ends, it could be safely labelled as one. Reign of terrors come to pass in history; French and Ethiopian come to mind. We Eritreans are living under it every single day. Let alone back home, aren’t our communities terrorized every day by the long tentacles of the regime? I also subscribe to the emotional, value-laden meaning of the word. That is: we reserve its use to pointed targets.
Ghezae Hagos, the dish-washer
I always felt, knowing our extremely opposite views on sanctions especially, that some day I would be featured at Meskerem.net. I just didn’t know when. My time has arrived.
Just to be sure, though I knew he would not play fair, I gave it a shot anyways. I sent him a brief response to post it in par with his accusation against me; so that he can ‘level the playing field.’ He didn’t even respond. Rather he continued his ‘Chob-Hazo-Keytigedfo’ attacks. Overstepping the bounds, in my case, he asked Eritrean Canadians to take it ‘personal not even national’ which sounds like a veiled threat and incitement to attack me and my family. As some complied, he attached links: that I was false refugee claimant, that I cheated on my taxes, that I studied (which I didn’t finish) with 2% public money, that I lived on welfare, etc. I know I have many flaws, and I made many mistakes in life, if my personal biography matters to the national debate. And yes, I am not thick-skinned as many others are rather I am of the sensitive and introvert type. But knowing what other activists like Saleh Gadi, the blossoming Meron Estifanos and others were treated by PFDJ’s paparazzi, knowing that in much graver scale where my colleagues like Amanuel Asrat and Meda Haile are in, I rather chose to delve into more serious debate.
That is as much as one can get from Haw Alem’s convoluted understanding of ‘journalistic fairness’ that features endless reports on Eritrean regime human rights records with reports on Ethiopia’s human rights records in a bid to dilute the impact, and obfuscate the message; while highlights attacks on activists denying them space to respond, if he finds them contradict his version of the facts.
His M.O. is always the same. Befitting of the twitter-age, he scribbles a few sentences (mostly insults that pass for editorials), peppers them with jingoistic, ultra-nationalistic lingo, without any analysis what-so-ever, then finds the person in question guilty as he charged him and immediately passes the usual fits-them-all-sentence: “Hzbi should challenge and defeat them.” The tabloid style ‘ilomo, iloma. tebahilu’ that discourages double-(or even single) checking of facts, puts selective emphasis on presumed flawed arguments of the activists serves one mission: an aggressive onslaught to discredit the PERSONALITY of the activists which then lends itself to discredit each and every facets of their human rights activities.
Leveling the Killing Field
Most of us have read some of the names of the victims of Sinai in the caves they perished in; the bleak phrase, “this shall too pass!” For today’s activists these are our new testament and our new commandments. We face them every single day; the grim realities of today, the deaths, mangled bodies, kidney and liver harvests, proceeds of which are used to replenish Isaias’s coffers; not the glory days of EPLF. The shockers of 400 plus deaths in the Mediterranean, the hundreds more of Sinai, the Aderser underground prisons, the macabre end of innocent Eritreans bind us to challenge and fight more the devil and his minions in whatever tools are legally available to us. Thus today’s activists’ role is to know the nature of the devil’s game and starve it, a’la YG and Seyoum Tesfaye (not a penny for PFDJ), while Meskrem.net wants us to feed it with sympathy and financial succor.
When Meskerem accuses the hapless opposition of inciting Eritrean refugee crisis, it is nothing short of mocking the woes and agonies of Eritrean refugees and their families. When it attempts to downplay the suffering of the human rights victims (journalists, dissidents, Pentecostals, conscripts) by glossing over the facts, comparing and contrasting them with Ethiopia’s, it fails in its duty to become the voice of the voiceless. When it features Eritrea’s monsters (PFDJ leaders) and their enablers (the Sophias and Gedewons), it shows where its heart is at, in the camp of the regime called, the ‘North Korea of Africa.’ It clears the Eritrean mind for subjugation; unwittingly levels the Eritrean field, for killing.
In fairness, none of us can invoke a ‘deus ex machina’ to our intractable malaise. We don’t know what the future holds to our endeared nation. In my part as student of history, I read a lot, I retain the basics. I read tyrants don’t want to give citizens their rights, rather citizens demand and snatch them away. I know our role as citizens in free nations is to confront Isaias Afewerki’s apparatus. Thus, in my feeble ways, I join compatriots to oppose him. Sometimes you get lucky and successful as in last week (PFDJ staged failed festival in Winnipeg); sometimes you get by. Always, I admonish myself there should be nothing out there to drive me except the love of my people and Eritrea.
Dehan Deki Erey ezi hyna is eating only our legs
But Meskerem.net is more than that. Underestimating or benign neglect of Meskerem.net’s power is neither wise nor fair. We should strive to understand a website that calls itself and was the ‘first opposition website’ now feels a need to glamorize every road paved in that hell-hole nation of us; a need to associate everything Eritrean to everything Ethiopian, a need to punish the victims and elicit sympathy for the devil. Its underlying leitmotif is ‘as long as Ethiopia fails, it is ok if we fail too.’ Ato Alem exploits very expertly our flaws as a society, ‘GorobeitNa keyseMuNa tray’ theory or ‘Dehan Deki Erey ezi hyna is eating only our legs.’ It is not like Mr. Alem is providing us with wheelchairs for a nation he doesn’t mind and expects us to end up being paraplegics. In all probability, he would rather have us send that money to the Eritrean regime.
Expert at arranging feuds and duels, between compatriots with different political views, but yet who are way closer to each other than to him, Haw Alem was instrumental in pushing our EPDP from its compatriots at EDA. In that role he reminds one of the childhood quarrels; there is always one who goads the rather quarreling parties into full-fist fights, inciting them ‘Tub Adieka Afrisulka ewy; suq ilka keyt’reyo!’ hastily putting up a small ‘hill’ out of sand. Talk of making a mountain out of…
One can’t enumerate the myriad of missteps, dangerous allusions, pure lies of Meskrem.net (as when he accused Mr. Stewart Bell of National Post of receiving money from Woyane). The publisher has yet to take responsibility. Like a hurricane, he would blow towards (‘Nikid Tray style’) the next target. Remember when Jane Dutton of Al-Jazeera exposed Isaias? Haw Alem, in his usual ‘Sagla Bla’e, Aytikl’A style, threaded where no PFDJ did. ‘Who gave her the right to confront the head of state!’ he fumed, fully knowing any serious journalist’s easy questions would end up embarrassing the unbalanced man we call Eritrea’s leader.
It is apropos to ask why Meskrem.net’s remains such a website with enviable following, especially within the Christian highlanders. Most, like haw Naz Yemane, are genuine opposition members who fail to see the first and second roles of activists are to become the voice of the voiceless and to launch action-oriented advocacy to curb or stop the regime’s apparatus in Diaspora. Syrians, Egyptians, Libyans, Ethiopian do that. We should do it. I mean think of a dissident activist against Mubarek or Meles living in Canada who argues since we are double citizens, we should pay 2% tax to Mubarek or to the Woyane regime. Put aside the legality of it here for once. Shouldn’t activist ask fellow citizens not pay a cent to a tyrant regime until transparency and rule of law are properly instituted? Isn’t an activist perennial rallying cry ‘there is no taxation without representation?’
Meskrem.net doesn’t offer solutions, except asking us to perform our duty and wait until change comes from inside. Its crowd consists of Eritreans of varied aspirations but one common denominator. A motley crew of Eritreans who wanted change but are excessively wary of Ethiopian intervention; previous opposition members who are now leaning towards PFDJ; ELF members, mostly from Kebesa who still are feisty enough to remember Korakon-Tahday, as if it is yesterday; PFDJ members who find it a perfect tool to keep the opposition divided, etc… All have one thing in common: it is better to be ruled by PFDJ (however much it is brutal) than by the opposition. They vow: let us fight the opposition, keep them at bay until..until the PFDJ recuperates or change comes somehow. We know Isaias is the devil, they admit, but because he is the devil we know, we give him our 2% tax and yes our sympathy too.
Meskrem’s power lies deeper than many readily acknowledge. For us the Christian highlanders it successfully touches upon our inner soul, magnifying our (real or imagined) fears of the other, be it the Eritrean Muslims or Ethiopians, especially, ‘Tegaru’; our legitimate fear of losing our independence and sovereignty. In times of confusion and paranoia, (which we are all guilty of), when we would rather cling to our parochial self, it finds a comfortable niche. Thus, Meskrem’s appeal is not without grounds; in its extreme, it appeals to some dark recesses of our psyche and freezes us there.
Ethiopia. Woyane. Ethiopia. Woyane.
Meskrem’s sharpest harpoon is directed against the activists and opposition members who happened to visit Ethiopia. Haw Alem’s Ethiopian obsession can’t be adequately discussed here. “Ethiopia-funded, Woyane-organized”, are catch-words of his site. Many of us, in the opposition, are duly cognizant of organic nature of cause and Ethiopia’s proper place. We put the responsibility for the mess we are in squarely on Isaias Afewerki. Period. There is no justification for having more than 5,000 political prisoners, hundreds of underground detention centers, no constitution, no press, no parliament, no vice-president, no independent judiciary or civic space, no justification for paying 20,000 dollars inside Asmara to release your brother in Sinai, etc. Ethiopia has got nothing to do with this; it is our own making.
I return to the two zen-monks and a woman story. One held her for awhile just to cross the river. One who never touched her physically, yet held her for many hours, or days. Who is more Ethiopian, metaphorically speaking? As Haw Alem harbors excessive obsession of everything Ethiopian, berates and scolds Eritreans in their quest for better Eritrea by labeling them Ethiopia’s lackey’s, hyperventilates when discrediting Ethiopia than focusing on the main culprit to the human rights violation in Eritrea, it borders on something deeper that can’t fail to make one wonder who is holding Ethiopia (the woman): the activists (older monk) who physically visit it or Haw Alem Goitom (the younger monk) on whom Ethiopia has left an indelible mark.
A Voice for the Christian Highlanders
We, the Christian highlanders, look around desperately for guideposts, for a voice. The void is undeniable; it is real. Meskerem.net readily fills that void; feeding our genuine hunger with unhealthy doses of jingoistic nationalism, and cynically manipulated bathos used for cinematic effect. Though it appears to harken back to preserve the age-old customs of the Kebesa values, it falls short of the glory-rather glorifies our flawed nature which was distorted expertly by the devil who defiled our culture and our soul. I wish we had an opposition media or forum that truly celebrates our glorious customs, our Tigrigna language, our folklores, our common destiny. We should constantly remember we predate Isaias’s reign and we will live together forever. Only when we find our own soul, do we embark on honest and genuine journey of reconciliation with the other counterpart of Eritrea, our Eritreans Moslems. The ultimate lesson is to find each other, to carry the burden of History, as citizens of a beautiful nation that we all paid dearly, ‘to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield’ in the quest for discovering the better angels of our nature, “as we are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.” We have only one enemy, one devil; who killed, lied, and wreaked enough havoc on generations of Eritreans.