To start by getting this out of the way and for those who may care to know, my real name, if there is anything real about names, is Younis Hossein (for details, I would be glad to have an autobiography ready for you and we can always negotiate the price). I have in the few times that I managed to write anything been using the Pen Name “Ali Salim”. My apologies to anyone to whom this might have caused any inconvenience – above all the Awate Team and especially my good friend Saleh “Gadi” Johar (for taking some good knocks). For some reason, I seem to like the Pen Name better and if you all do not mind, I will keep using it. However, that is not what I am writing about, and please do not ask any more questions. Excuse me – here is a New Born and a total Amnesia.
Disclaimer: This is not an academic journal written for the esoteric value of intellectual consumption – it is a blog written on personal initiative to promote a specific ideological point of view of the PFDJ paradigm. SENSITIVE READERS – PLEASE, STAY OUT.
I have become an evangelist and I am on a mission to convince you to join me in taking the detour and making a U-Turn. It took me a few years to understand that we are heading the wrong way and to gather some courage, stand up and say, “I am sorry” – tetallile antum metalelti. I am serious by the way! “Metaleli” is always the case when you follow the policy: “Zib’ee, siga ms’belwo, nabey keybele goyu”. I might, in my “Zib’ee” state, have done some biting, but it was all with the intention of forcing people to talk about what I considered to be “of critical urgency”. Once, “what I considered critical” had been settled (by almost all taking note of the seriousness of the subject and many of those who took an initiative in response shooting it out or flashing it down) I had nothing to say and very few to listen (a point of saturation was reached). Therefore, I quit.
My primary argument has always been this: if you take the “land grabbers” (and, hence, all competing ethno-religious interests) out of the equation of Eritrean politics, the best alternative that Eritrean politics can ever offer (given the circumstances and the “opposition” that you don’t need me to tell you more about) is the PFDJ (defined in terms of a one-man-show). In whatever I will be writing from now on, I have in response to the wish of the majority of readers taken “the land grabbers” out of the equation (and with them of course their governance structure: the “neo-Nazi” dimension). I have simply assumed them out: we have never seen or heard of them, they have never existed and “indi’elom”.
Hence what I will write is nothing but what a good PFDJ should be writing at his or her best. I am expecting this to be a reasonably long set of articles hoping that it would contribute renewed energy to our political debates. This article is “dah’sas” (a survey of points of resistance) to why so many people are insisting on heading the wrong way even when they know it is a no-go. Why did I do that myself? One reason why any two of us would disagree, on virtually everything (such as whether that thing that just took off flying is “abagumbaH”), is partly because we do not have shared tools of arriving at conclusions. I am hereby sharing how I ended up on the U-Turn. Anyone may Google any of the terminologies and concepts and so I have not added any references in order not to restrict their definitions to standard academic interpretations. All the words used here mean what I have said they mean. If there is any conflict with how a certain concept is usually used in academic literature, please use their conception as used in this article. The arguments, here and forward, rest on one assumption: that “ALL OTHER THINGS REMAIN EQUAL”. This is to say that whatever we may imply in our writings (or the writings of any human being), is pure speculation – not reality – because reality is so complex that it can never be written, described, represented or even known by mortal humans, who are themselves part of the things they claim to know. Nothing has confused philosophers, old and new, more than the challenge of proving that we actually know what we claim to know. That is why Muslims add after every claim of knowledge the profound statement: “Allahu-A’elem” (God is the Knowing).
My hope is that we try to rationalize possible ideological underpinnings of the PFDJ paradigm and to invite all Eritreans irrespective of their positions on the PFDJ or the Opposition to come over. Here, I will try to promote the idea that there is no credible opposition (that you can trust) to the PFDJ regime (“regime” defined as system of rules that govern) and that whatever the opposition organizations as we have known them for years have been doing so far was “selling out” on Eritrea. I need to say a few words to show that, what I mean is not pointing fingers to specific “sell outs”.
The claim rests on a consequentialist point of view, where our struggles are judged by the consequence of what we do, not by our intentions or material inputs into the production process. Given what you know about the history and practice of Eritrean politics, your starting point (I am sure) is that “the PFDJ is good intentions with bad consequences – the opposition is bad intentions with potentially good consequences”. Of course we may argue endlessly about who has better intentions and “how do we know” – but that is the subject of the debate that this “zereba Hareg” is supposed to introduce. However, I do not think there is much argument (especially in an extreme opposition website hosting our debates) about the second part of the claims: that the PFDJ is bad consequences – the opposition is potentially good “unintended” consequences.
Assuming basic rationality in most of us, you would expect ordinary Eritreans to apply the logic of “nifelTo sheyTan – kab’zeynifelTo mel’akh” and vote for the PFDJ. If you are of the kind that believes “the PFDJ is good intentions with bad consequences – the opposition is bad intentions with potentially good consequences”, the logic you would be applying is actually: “nifelTo mel’akh – kab’zeynifelTo sheyTan”. In theological terms (I assume in all the religious inspirations that I believe structure the way we reason) the proposition is that an angel (mel’akh) is innocent and always with good intentions. It cannot be assumed, that all the consequences of the deeds of angels produce good things. On the other hand, a devil (sheyTan) is inherently with evil intentions, and by the same logic, we cannot claim, that all the deeds of devils always (without exception) produce bad things. You probably have your own reflection of things you did and are sure were the motivations of “sheyTan” but nevertheless would not argue that the experience itself (judged categorically as an end independent of the means) was a net plus on your “utility function”. You also have many counter examples to the contrary of the claim above, where you got in trouble (bad outcome) for trying to help someone (good intention). However, because religion is about the purity of means, not ends, we are always advised to side with angels against devils not only because in repeated trials good intentions are more likely to produce good results but also because good intentions are ends in themselves.
You go to the grave with your means (intentions) not with the ends that those intentions achieved in this world. In the next world you will be deprived of all capabilities, (you will not need to dream if you are in heaven, where all dreams are true – you would not be able to dream if you are in hell). Ends are of this world and this world alone. If you jump into a river to save a drowning person, it does not matter whether you actually saved that person or whether he/she died in the process – you still get the same credit. We call martyrs all those who died in battles that we won as well as those who died in battles that were lost. In the case of the drowning person, for instance, the outcome of your action is irrelevant as it is what you do that matters – not what others do to you. Based on your intentions, you decide whether your action was good. You are the only one who can do that because you are the only one who can possibly know the goodness of your intentions. Based on the outcome of your action, the other (second) person decides whether your action was good. Only that person can know and hence decide if you did a good job. God as we all know judges each individual on his/her own and that implies two things: (1) there is no “Class Action” in the next world, (2) there is no good-intention charity that flows from one person to the next. Even in those stories where whole populations are stomped for transgression, God’s actions are never arbitrary and indiscriminate. Similarly, even the Prophet could not save his own father with his own good intentions.
Say if we had only two criteria (and in fact there are only two criteria that make sense in cases of responsible evaluation of action): (1) intention as means, (2) outcome as end. Which criteria would we (responsible and prudent citizens) be applying to judge whether the PFDJ regime is good and hence deserves our support or bad and hence deserves our blind condemnation? Having seen the horrific stories of “slave labor”, refugees and horrors at sea, I have no doubt that even the PFDJ people would not argue that applying the “outcome” criteria is the way to go. In fact, that is what classic PFDJ supporters actually do and that, I believe, is why they keep losing supporters. They keep stubbornly defending the construction of micro-dams and achievements in education, health care, and above all the border and cross-border conspiracies with the neighbors trying to play down the horrific costs of those achievements. Applying the logic described in the preceding paragraphs, only the first-person can make any legitimate claim on intention and only on intention (nothing more than intention). The actual fruits of those intentions are the exclusive domain of the second-person (those employed as means to those intentions as well as those final consumers of the fruits).
You may have made the conclusion that the outcome from PFDJ’s action is terrible; and hence either the intention is irrelevant to you deciding on whether to support the PFDJ; or you have drawn your decision backwards from the statement that “bad intentions lead to bad results”. Applying the reverse logic, you would say, if the outcome is bad it is more likely than not that the intention was bad. “Intention” here is broadly defined to include and reflect all ideological, institutional and policy expressions of the means that one employs to deliver outcomes. Say the PFDJ has a dictatorial regime as a means to achieving its ends, then the intention we are talking about is the expression that finds itself in the dictatorial regime and everything about the PFDJ is nothing but “intention”. One way I believe (the only way) to know you have made the right choice is to check the consistency of your choice process. How about applying your choice process to post-Saddam Iraq where there is a relatively much more democratic regime with elections and freedoms. If you were an ordinary Iraqi citizen, would you say what you have now is better than what you had under Saddam? I am not trying to pick a bad example and feel free to pick any other country where change did occur such as Egypt, or Syria or Libya (just stay close to the region for fair comparability).
Of course, you would turn the table on me and say “intention” as expressed in the “democratic” institutions of these countries is perfect (at least much better than a dictatorial regime), even if the outcome (just as the PFDJ’s) is horrible. If we ended up justifying the PFDJ on consideration of “intention” irrespective of the catastrophic ends, we should have no problem justifying other regimes on the same grounds. However, what you would effectively be saying is that intention, whether it is expressed in democratic or dictatorial regimes, is irrelevant. Or at least, you would be admitting that intention is at its best only one factor that may or may not lead to predetermined ends. If you have a TV at home and are able to see for yourself and entertain the possibility that the damage that the “democratic intention” caused in Iraq, Libya and Syria at least is much more immediate and horrific than that caused by the “dictatorial intention”, you would be able to entertain this fact: where intentions go wrong in translating into coherent institutional means, the destructiveness of the “democratic intention” is actually much larger than that of the “dictatorial intention”.
Most Eritreans and many peoples under dictatorships know this fact and that I believe is why every call for the so-called “democratic alternative” comes crumbling under one question: when something does go wrong, under which regime would it be possible to restore order more easily than in the other? I don’t think you would even try to convince people who have known nothing other than disasters that nothing would ever go wrong. Moreover, this I believe is because democracy empowers individuals and groups at the expense of the totalizing power of the state. Dictatorship empowers the totalizing power of states at the expense of intention of individual liberties. And the state is nothing but a totalizing intention.
It is your responsibility and that of any political entity to define the “Categorical Imperative” of good intention. Intention, as you know, is not a straight line that can go either way – it is a vector with direction. For instance, if you say “I have an intention to buy a car”, there are a few things that you are saying without saying (basic economics). At the very least you are saying: (a) “I have a gap in my utility, that I want to fill with what the car will offer to me”; (b) “I have an idea of what the car is capable of offering to me”; and (c) “I know how my state of utility will be transformed when I actually buy the car”. The reason we do not say all these things is that, “they are known” and therefore internalized in the definition of the word “intention”. Every intention (means) necessarily has more than just an end built into it. The end need not be unique to the means, and there might be ends without means (such as those ends in dreams) but there can never be means without ends predetermined.
Anything that is “predetermined” then necessarily rests on the assumption that “ALL THINGS REMAIN EQUAL” because it involves a process of knowing. As defined or presumed in this article and subsequent ones, you do not apply a process of knowing to something that is known just like you did not bother to say all those things just to say you intend to buy a car. Knowing is beyond known and hence is prediction and prediction is probability that, in every single trial, has a much greater chance of turning wrong than right. Known is the situation where ALL THINGS WERE NOT EQUAL. It is what you get after everything that could possibly go wrong, in every iteration of your intention processing, did actually go wrong. A baby stumbling between the coffee table and a chair is in the process of knowing how to walk. Walking for you is known, and you probably appreciate that, learning actual walking, required more than hoping that ALL THINGS REMAIN EQUAL except for the teacher’s input that you hoped would work. Hence, you cannot even explain if you know how to walk or describe if your walking is different from any other way of walking (of comparable creatures). You just stand and do it. You can help babies to stand on their feet and walk but you can certainly not teach babies to know how to walk. Known things are internalized into reflexive action – and reflexive action is the exclusive intransitive function of the self. Known things become part of you and you cannot isolate a part of you and know it independent from the rest of you.
I know it sounds crazy but it is an important premise when later we try to challenge those who fall into the temptation to “democratize” Eritreans – i.e. those who would apply a process of knowing to connect Eritreans to predetermined end of specific forms of democratic institutionalism. We will come to this in later articles but just think of the following for illustration. Once you have determined that the intention of Eritrea should be to set up a well-defined and specific form of democracy (say elections), then just like the example above: (a) Eritrea has a gap in its utility that can be filled with democracy (say election, for simplicity); (b) you know what democracy will offer to Eritrea; and (c) you know the state transformation that will take place when a democratic regime has been implemented in Eritrea. Mind you: you are not talking about something as trivial as an individual deciding to buy a car, where if something does go wrong with the car it is very unlikely that it would usher-in a national catastrophe. The magnitude of the implicit claim in something as simple as “Eritrea should implement this or that democratic system”, should be understood in light of the discussion above. Presumably, for both the claimant and his/her object of analysis, Eritrea, the answers to those questions are known. This of course means that both parties has so internalized the prerequisites of democratic practice into their reflexive action they do not even think of the answers to those questions as implicit in their claims.
Now compare these grand claims with the PFDJ’s version of what Eritrea should intend to do. The PFDJ’s philosophy starts from the proposition that Eritrea is not a baby, where we may presume a clean slate that would sponge and absorb spoon-fed new knowledge completely replacing existing internalized knowledge. I do not think you would disagree with that simple proposition that Eritrea did not fall from the sky. Hence, you would agree that Eritrea is a culmination of a system of historical dynamics. You cannot imply any history to thinking human beings without also implying at least two things: (a) presuming existing internalized knowledge (stored in some form of collective reflexive impulse); and (b) some system of accumulation and internalization of that knowledge. If you agree that once something is known (and hence internalized into some reflexive system), it would be reasonable to expect limitations to forms of intentions that would be compatible with the bounds of expectations that may be presumed on the capabilities of the reflexivity of the system as a whole. Even if you assume zero reflexivity (i.e. no subconscious resistance to change), people do not live in vacuums and they will still be bound by some resistant reflexivity introduced by material circumstances in their environment.
You may shoot this argument down by simply pointing out that it is the PFDJ, which is assuming Eritrea was born in 1991. It is the PFDJ, which is trying to download all kinds of spam-software on Eritreans. Your challenge would then be to propose an alternative premised on the same logic that recognized the restrictions imposed by stored knowledge.
You may also point to the inherent flaw in the argument: the assumption that Eritrea’s collective reflexive impulse is incompatible with election-centered democratic change. If you do that, you would be caught-up in the chicken and egg question: do elections bring democracy or does democracy bring elections? The PFDJ as you know views democracy as a set of guiding principles, whose compatibility, to what we have described as collective reflexive impulse, must be proven through a protracted process of trial and error. The difference between the two views is a difference of degree in that while one side holds the intention of a “top-down radical change to democracy”, the other envisions a gradual and “bottom-up piece-by-piece process of transformation”.
The only material difference between the two views lies in that: while one party views elections as the starting point of democratic transformation, the other (PFDJ) views elections as the culmination of a process of democratic transformation. The first view of course has been tried in the “democratizations” of Palestinian Authority, Iraq, Egypt and Libya to say a few. There are very few who would argue that what followed the elections in each of those cases was the start of the anticipated democratic transformation that the election were supposed to trigger in the first place. These potential counter-examples to the rosiness of election-centered democratization initiatives do imply that those who promoted these ideas made unfounded claims in answering the three questions implicit in the statement of intentions (described above). For convenience, we may say, they did not have a sufficient specification of intentions. Now here is your question: if there is any chance our intention may be under-specified (by admitting that we do not know what will come out of it), would you not think the one who is raising the red flag on democracy has an equal chance of being right as the one raising the green?
Say you are someone who believes that elections do not create democracies, but democracies create elections. Here you would be defining elections as a “mechanism for administering existing democracies”. You would of course be suspicious of those who call on employing elections where no democracies pre-exist those elections and there is a good chance that the intention might be under-specified. If you assume that those promoting this kind of change are intelligent and rational people, and that as defined above you believe that every intention necessarily has a predetermined end built-into it, what kind of outcomes would you think they would be expecting out of elections? My guess is that, if you are extremely decent and have a bit of respect for the intelligence of the promoters, you would say they want elections for the least of what elections are supposed to achieve – regime change. That I believe is part of the logic behind the PFDJ’s fixation with the CIA. If you know of other alternative entities, other than the CIA, that are running around changing regimes on this planet, please feel free to suggest.
Neither this article nor those that will follow is intended to bleach the sins of the PFDJ. Horrible things did take place and do continue to take place. However, it is one thing to say that horrible things have happened in Eritrea and we need to talk and find remedies so that they do not happen again. It is another thing to say that everything that happened in Eritrea was horror and terror. It is one thing to point out that the regime is responsible for some of those horrors and even most of the horrors that happened to Eritreans. It is another thing to think that every tornado in the Diaspora was caused by a conspiracy in Asmara and it is another thing to hold the regime responsible for every fever that befalls an Eritrean across the planet. Shame on us for exploiting and abusing such horrible tragedies as those that Eritreans continue to face in the Sinai and the Mediterranean for cheap political ends and trivial PR campaigns.
Contrary to the mainstream of our opposition, the suggestion here is that the horrors did not happen because of the “one-man-show” (the Nsuness of the regime), but in spite of it. Let us assume that we entertain your view that the “one-man” is responsible for all the horrors and hence must go. What alternative are you suggesting, now that he has decided not to go? Don’t you think it is a little dumb and irresponsible to suggest we follow the Syrian example and torch the green and yellow in the process?
The hope here is to try to reverse the way we see Eritrea and interact with its developments towards the optimistic point of view that THE GLASS IS HALF-FULL – NOT EMPTY. There is much more that Eritrea and its people can gain by all of us doing our parts in defending its interests. No decent person would go to bed in peace having lobbied and kissed to restrict the possibilities of thousands of people who are literally digging the grounds with bare hands in search of a better future. If you are one of those who do that – Please do it during the night and in the dark – as a decent Eritrean, you make me sick. I am of the conviction that we can do better.