“Justice is conscience, not personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity. Those who clearly recognize the voice of their own conscience usually recognize also the voice of justice.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Grievances and Resentment at its peak
The purpose of this essay is to emphasize that the general assumption of ethnic neutrality in contemporary Eritrea is false and dichotomous assumptions which prevent us from achieving the goal of equality and justice. While ethnicity is a difficult and painful to discuss in Eritrea today, it is equally clear without dialogue we will not achieve the democratic values and principles we dream for our people. So far Eritreans have neither definable goals nor objectives for equality and justice. And even more shocking is the dismal ability to debate intellectually with respect to each other. The avalanche of non-ideological combat, misinformation, partisan positioning, shows that we have far to go to realize justice and equality to our people. For sure, the offensive nature of our debate and the toxic rejectionist rhetoric echoes always, day after day sets a new low bar in our communication. In short we became the virtual captives of our demons – the wild uncontrollable emotions of psychoneurotic origin. And yes, hysteria is after all contagious and has a cascading effect.
Right from the outset, the foci of my argument will be that ethnicity still matters in Eritrea. Eritrean society past and present is not ethnic blind society, especially for one who watches the nature of our current debate. The ideology of highland supremacy and highland privilege continue to conspire and deny equal opportunity for the other ethnic diversity of our nation under the current regime (please refer to Ahmed Raji’s report “The lost Rainbow Part-I, II, III). And of course no one will be sure whether the current circumstances will continue to exist or be reversed after the demise of the current regime. This reality makes the issue of equality and justice to become a matter of debate to have a clear understanding about the concept and prepare for the resolution of it. The interpretation of the concepts (equality and justice) in our debate so far is fraught with or contaminated by our human frailties, and fall short of objective realities. It seems even the most thoughtful people have hard time reacting rationally to improbable events. Indeed, interpretations are often colored by our perceptions, experiences, stereotypes, biases, and assumptions. But the truth should always be remained factual and consistent with reality based. The truth that we seek in our debate about our societies should be in conformity with principles of equality, freedom, and social justice for all Eritreans.
Just for our general comprehension, let us see the American politics and ask some comparative and relative questions. Why race still matters in American politics? Why racial politics is so sensitive and became crucial in every election cycle? The answer for sure is: there is still racial inequality and racial segregation if not open subtle. Why do they have the Red states and Blue states in their election, run their polls and tabulate by race, religion, gender, and even regions (south, north, east, and west)? It is because; they are important political variables that influence the outcome of their political elections. As a matter of fact, this dittographic political process is practiced everywhere in the world. Why is then the issue of ethnicity, religion (Christian/Islam), region (highland/lowland) irritates particularly for the highlanders in our political debate? Are they really free from sentimental belonging? I don’t think so. In any case, if politics is the art of governing, isn’t it to govern issues that matters to our diversity (ethnic grievances), regional grievances (highland/lowland), religious grievances…etc. Isn’t it my ethnicity and my religion among others that define my identity? Can’t I defend my identity that defines who I am? Can our brothers from the lowland defend their identity-right and their right to their property at any time they felt it is abrogated? Don’t they have the right to defend collectively when they deemed it necessary? Why do we call them unnecessary adjectives (jihadist, Taliban) when we need them badly for unity to enhance the fabric of our society? It is high time, we the highlanders; stop this “dog whistle politics” and avoid our “status of anxiety” to work with our Muslim brothers. I believe balancing the stability of our diversity and progress of understanding to each other is the needed “ideology of insurrection” at this time.
Now let me share my view on the issue of language which is highly debated at our major websites. I have never seen a society who fears to language other than the Eritrean pretending psycho-analyst. It looks like Angels fear to tread into discussions of the immortality of the soul. Isn’t it? And yes, they are rather hit-and-miss and just add to the uneven tone of their argument.
Changing the wind of History
In the word of Oscar Wild, “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked.”Few weeks ago a writer (Mr. Bereketeab Habtemariam) has called for ducking the debate. Mr. Bereketeab asked for time out, but then what? He didn’t offer an alternative to the on going debate. Does he mean we should not talk about the hot issues that matters most? Or does he want us to keep aside for the next generation to deal with it? Despite it sounds a “counsel of retreat” I will leave the answers for him. But let me give my own perspective.
History’s demand can be seen inconvenient, unfair or unreasonable. But they can’t be ignored. Also, defusing social bomb is not much fun unless we are a political geek with no preferable ways of spending time (and yes we have plenty of them). Despite we will never see anything tangible with so many unknown variables put before us and set with e-free debate by “pen names” on virtual audience to resolve our problems, I still believe to continue our debate. I abhor e-free debate by pen names on virtual audience, because it is destructive, irresponsible ideas detached from the real person, and most importantly fear masked individuals can in no way bring solutions. What I consider real productive debate is making a kind of live town hall meeting, seminars, and conferences at different cities to frame our issues. In debates, eye contacts, reading facial emotions and controlling the direction of the debate is very important to come with some understanding. I urge to every one of us to look for such kind of medium of communications. The issue at stake is very crucial to our unity and we have to deal with it to have a common understanding before it goes out of our hand. As Ali Salim noted it, yes the solution is “within Arms reach.”
As expected, the issues of “land” and “language” in our current debate burst so many hot heads. I haven’t seen cool head approach other than Ahmed Raji so far. My acquaintance to him and Yusuf Mohamed Ali (Editor of Tesgenai one of the independent news paper), who were Camboni school students and member of the students union goes back in 1978 at Port Sudan. As sad as it is, Yusuf’s life is taken away by the regime; may God bless his soul.
Ahmed’s unique perspective to the nature of discrimination to our lowland brothers by the regime is an eye opening. Thanks for all the compiled documentation as linked in his essay “the lost rainbow”. What makes me laugh – a laugh out of anguish and a smile with Ahhh, is the comment of Mr. G.Ande who uses to be a contributor of awate.com, now in Asmarino.com, had said this in his article “united we stand” dated Aug. 25,2009: “Ahmed Raji has mad it his business to present irrelevant, outdated, and inconclusive report.” First of all these are the documents of the regime (whom by the way Mr. Ande defend the policy of the regime) and the international organizations as the attached report indicates. Second they are not outdated report. To his embarrassment the reports and dates are the following:
(a) AREAS/ESAPP/SLM joint report March 2006, by Asrat Gebru/Taddesse Mehari
(b) Mission report to UNFPA Nov.2006, by George Groenewold
(c) EHP (environmental health proj.) Oct.2004, by Patricia M. Groves
(d) HISA: Eritrea Report Jan.2007, by UNICEF/UNFPH/World Bank/Ministry of Health of Eritrea.
For G. Ande I say to him no bull no biases, and for those who are interested for the resolution to our intractable problems that took generations, revisit and glean some truth from “The lost rainbow” (Part-I, Part-II, and Part-III) at awate.com. G.Ande failed to confront Ahmed with citable facts backed by research, but he showed us his crude arrogance and disrespectful attitude. While he is riding his argument on the policy of the regime, he denies the documents that are generated from the archive of the Government. What inconvenience of truth it is for him and his elks. It sounds they don’t know how to handle their knowledge to solve problems. Truth is the most inconvenient thing when anyone suffers from various errors. Truth is unforgiving as it confronts those errors with objective reality.
Reversing the gear, first there is fear with the aggrieved section of our population. Fear of loosing their rights to preserve their culture. Then fear leads to anger, the engine of intolerance and hatred, easily exploitable by those with a political agenda of land expropriation, by those who claim “it is all about me, the power and the resource.” We heard enough echoes, enough about them. When you are about me, you dismiss the concern of others as unimportant or irrelevant. Then there are the unpredictable additives of ethnic hatred views anonymously and with impunity aimed to distort the course of our debate. As absurd as their argument sounds they are successful to entangle to the candid and fair level field solutions of our problem.
Language and Religion are Interwoven Part of a Culture
Since the last few weeks, the Eritrean languages have been a matter of debate in our internet media. The issue of languages and the quest of equitable power within the landscape of Eritrean politics can be traced back to late 40s. The short lived constitution of the Federal Government of Eritrea somehow found a solution how the Christian and Muslim Eritrean (a) share the Executive and the legislative power (b) determine the status of Arabic and Tigrigna language to be as official language. But, since the inception of the Army struggle and particularly after the split of Selfi nasenet, the issue of language came back again to the surface. The anti-Arabic language sentiment becomes vivid and to some extent contributes to the friction between the two social divide. To be frank in my early political life in the field, I was in the echo-chamber of anti-Arabic language, until I learn my self about the culture-politics. Before I come to the anti-Arabic language movement, I would like to give a general glimpse about culture (religion and language) and its influence in Eritrean multi-ethnic life, thereby its impact into Eritrean body politics.
Culture is a significant selection made by groups of society and the particular manner in which the society expresses all experiences. Language serves to the purpose of culture, and here it goes without saying that the mere content of language is intimately related to culture. In that sense language is more or less faithfully reflects the culture whose purposes it serves, and it is perfectly true that the history of language and the history of culture moves along parallel lines. “Culture is, therefore, an inextricable part of the complex notion of sustainability. It can be seen as an arbiter in the difficult trade-offs between conflicting ends with regard to development goals. As pointed out in the report of the World Commission on Culture and Development set up jointly by UNESCO and the United Nations, culture is not only the ‘servant of ends but (..) the social basis of the ends themselves’, a factor of development but also the ‘fountain of our progress and creativity”.  All these means that culture influence our worldview and the ways in which we view our relationships within our multi-cultural groups.
Equally, religious beliefs are components of culture that has strong influence on the culture of community. Indeed for Christian and Muslims in Eritrea, religious beliefs are central to their culture and provide the moral code by which they live. Eritrea is in large part defined by its language and religion which strongly influence its culture. Tigrigna and Arabic which serves the two major Religions have a great role in unifying the two cultural divide. Donald P. Goodman to explain the power and virtue of culture had said the following: “Culture is the set of virtues necessary to be good member of a given group; that is to attain the common ends which that group values” . If language and religion which are the major component of culture are the virtues necessary to unite certain groups, it is that common end which any given groups values [Remember the word “values” in our argument]. By the same token if Arabic language and Islam religion as part of cultural virtues become the common ends by some Eritrean ethnics, they will strive to attain that group values. Their culture can not be taken away from them – their faith, heritage of language (Arabic), custom, and the very essentials which made their family life. Surely, their culture cultivates their family in certain mold and helps them grow in certain ways. Arabic language is enormously important factor in binding them together to their members currently living, to their ancestors, and to their descendants. As Tigrigna is the language that serves to the Christian culture, so is true Arabic language do serve the Muslim culture. Imagine our Muslim brothers if they hold the power and deny our cultural-heritage Tigrigna, we wouldn’t stop to resist with all our power to restore Tigrigna language to have an equal status with the Arabic in the national stage. If that is true for us it is true for them to resist and restore their Arabic-culture (Arabic language) in the national stage. Arabic language is not only a means of communication to them, but it is also the soul of their culture. Let us not prescribe what is good for them, for they know themselves what is good for them. What we have to know if we don’t know it yet is, that cultural opposition and choosing sides gives a sense of belonging and identity; and this is something that is evident in Eritrean culture in which cultural opposition flows into conflict. A good example of this is how the ELF and EPLF were perceived by our population during the army struggle and how political culture particularly religion had involved into the dynamic of Eritrean political life.
Incidentally, I would like to share my personal history and by extension my colleagues in the department of social affairs (ELF) in 1975 during the army struggle. It was our early stage to evolve and to mature in the Eritrean politics, and as the same time to know practically to the socio-atomic structure of Eritrean diversity (our unity and diversity). As complex as it is, the urge to “higher social transformation” and the “Eritrean social reality” was at conflict at every juncture for the new comers. It was also a conflict of “freedom” and “democratic centralization” for the leadership of the organization to equilibrate and find the momentum. And yes, it was at this political atmosphere that, in contravene to the principles of the organization, we were advocating against Arabic not to be as a working language along Tigrigna in the organizational operations. With time and a scoop of history and above all with a grip of understanding the nature of our societal contradictions, the issue of language subsides with understanding that we can not deny the desire of half of our population as long as it hold us together. It was a process of maturity and a principle of justice and equality evolving slowly within the base of the organization. Any social change that does not come by its natural evolutionary process could be at any time reversed and even more so delays the needed change that time and space could generate that fits with its reality. When I see the cacophony against Arabic language in our internet media, it reminds me those days when I was acting like them back in the 70s. Nothing could I regret about it, because it was a process of learning for me and many others. I realize even more so for our young at this time, to learn cautiously about their society and their demands and how they will adjudicate justice and fairness. From the get go we must realized that justice devised by an advantaged few will not be justice. Indeed justice as fairness requires that power positions are equally accessible by both sections of our society.
Justice as Fairness
The forces of justice neither will be discouraged nor will they be weary and by the way, they always find true purposes to fight. All in our debates whether it is intellectually or pseudo-intellectually, the arguments made on the issue of language, land, and constitution are mired with biases. For those of us who have not the procedure of reasoning without personal biases, I will urge you to tap from Rawlsian Justice, “a theory of justice” to glean a sense of fairness from his approach. Rawls created a theory “The veil of ignorance” to describe justice as fairness. Rawls described the veil of ignorance as the procedure of reasoning without personal biases. The veil of ignorance conceals all self-knowledge from the wearer of the veil. The veil is as something behind which no one knows his place. In his theory of justice, he reflected his concern about those who acts in self-interest, and he said I quote “someone who acts in self interest and is given the power to formulate founding principles for a society will choose an unfair society based on principles which will be to his own advantage, rather than to the advantage of everyone.” 
So what would a fair procedure be? Fair procedure needs to take every body’s interest into account, and treat them equally. Let us examine Rawlsian fairness instead to individuals to different groups, ethnic or religious sects, or regional groups as it fits to our reality. Can we wear the veil of ignorance to give a fair and judicious argument to the interest of our diversity? Are we really taking the interest of our diversity into accounts and treating them equally in our debate? Is it talking about the interest of minority sects makes you sectarian? Aren’t we talking about justice and fairness and addressing the concern of various groups whether they are religious or ethnic or regional issues however they come to our debate? Don’t we need a reflective equilibrium in our judgments? Although I am making a testing judgment about some arguments against theories, I am also sharing my take on justice and fairness. Let us engage on reflective equilibrium for it is necessary for our societal stability as rawl outlines in his two principles of justice (Rawls, 53).
Eid mubarek to all our Muslim brothers
 UNESCO (1997) educating for sustainable future
What is culture? By Donald P. Goodman, version 1.2, 14 June, 2009
 A theory of justice, by john Rawls, Belknap press of Harvard University, revised edition, 1999