Ethiopia, Oromia, and that Seattle Video…

People have sent me the clips and ask me about the video in Seattle, showing the clash between Diaspora protesters for Oromo nationalism versus those who still believe in a united Ethiopia. Jeez, as if I have answers.

No, I won’t link it here. It’s ugly, uglier than the video of the clash in Calgary. If you’re going to ask me, okay, I’ll give you my thoughts, but you may not like them.

First: the labeling. It is incredibly counter-productive and dangerous to label the protesters, even those in this incident as Islamist. Yeah, yeah, yeah — please save it. I realize the context. Still not good enough.

Muslim does not = Islamist and when you throw that grenade around, you make life so much harder for other African Muslims who may get blowback over this crap who have nothing to do with this.

Yes, you can talk about how Christian Oromos were attacked in Shashamane, and how you think the label’s accurate. No, it’s not, and you know what you’re doing.

You’re already calling them “terrorists, thugs, etc.” Yes, I understand the associations with the flag they were using. It’s already inflammatory enough that we got the label Qerro in tweets over a fight in Seattle, and pairing Oromo with “extremist” means someone who’s Oromo who’s minding their own business could get caught up in this shit and be targeted for abuse or worse.

Let’s try to remember that — at least from the reports that I’ve seen — the ones who made the attacks in Shashamane were not locals, they were mostly outside provocateurs. The same goes for Seattle. A core of extremists or those who are fanatical does not represent the whole. But when you fling around these incendiary labels, you risk endangering others.

The enemy is hate. The enemy is NOT a faith or an ethnic group.

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“But Jeff, you’re letting them off the hook.” No, I’m not. I’m suggesting please, keep some perspective. A bunch of protesters swarmed and beat a guy up. It’s awful, yes. And it’s cowardly. But someone wrote on Twitter they “beat a white guy to death.” Well, no, they didn’t! For crying out loud, he’s alive, he’s talking, he’s breathing — there are photos of him with his cuts in the aftermath. He’s walking around. It’s ridiculous writing that the guy was beaten to death. (Especially when half those guys who punched him can’t hit worth a damn.)

It’s quite possible you can have young Oromo Americans who sincerely believe in their cause and they’re just pissed off. I’m not suggesting they’re right. We’re not debating that here. I’m saying they honestly believe what’s coming out of their own mouths, and that doesn’t mean they’re “organized thugs,” even if they’re flying a flag that makes your blood boil. Does this mean they have the right to go thump a guy? Of course, not.

But they do have a right to protest. Just as Ethiopian Americans have the right to counter-protest, etc. So what happened was shitty impulse control, stupidity and intolerance.

You going to label everyone on their side Qerro? You’re then basically tarring them as terrorists which these days could get them fast tracked to a Supermax in the U.S., and no one’s earned that in the States yet over this, not yet.

Why doesn’t anyone learn anything?

If you know there’s going to be a protest as such, doesn’t it occur to you that if you go counter-protest, you should make some tactical arrangements to protect yourselves and your own people to keep all of you safe and do your best to avoid violence?

And no, I am not victim-blaming here. I’m suggesting: Be smart for the next time, for the future. Think of safety first.

Is this backing down? Is this failing to stand up for yourself? Bull. It’s doing the right thing. One of the first principles of self defense that you will learn in any (good) martial arts dojo is de-escalate.

Walk away if you can or at least break distance. Do not engage with those who taunt you, who hurl verbal abuse, because guess what, you’ll live. You’ll still be alive tomorrow. Those who do this kind of thing, throwing schoolyard insults, are just itching for a pretext to throw a punch or start something. Don’t. If your cause is just, park your ego and make your point without resorting to insults, abuse, catcalls, violence. Be bigger.

And be smarter and look deeper. It’s easy to see an inflammatory image and tweet and try to send it around to media. Here’s your next problem. While I can’t speak for Seattle and I don’t want to insult its fine and hardworking journalists out of my ignorance, in my experience most (notice I wrote most) Western North American TV and newspaper outlets do a damn poor job of reporting on African affairs, let alone stuff having to do with the African diaspora.

What the more superficial and downright stupid reporters (and gawd knows, I’ve worked with a few) like is conflict. They love that. They eat this shit up.

And you are certainly not going to get far with the national Fox News operation, given its white supremacist agenda. For crying out loud, they air Tucker Carlson, who might as well do his show in a Klan hood. Do you really think you’ll get a fair hearing from the network that runs his show?

Do you really think that racist idiot can parse the difference between decent Muslim and Christian Ethiopian Oromos who may have no opinion on this stuff whatsoever and those who are a mix of Amhara-Oromo ancestry and those who live in Addis but aren’t Oromo, even though Addis is in Oromia, and those who trace their roots specifically to Harar, with its own unique history and what else have you got? Really? Are you kidding? I have trouble trying to follow all this, and I love all of you.

So how do you educate the media that there are deeper issues here? Show them balanced and fair reportage of the issue that are already out there. Like this:

Go send them to journalists like Zecharias Zelalem (this is NOT a suggestion to inundate and bug the hell out of Zecharias — please leave him alone personally, he’s a reporter and trying to do his job). What I’m saying is that media operations, especially broadcasters love putting experts on. They love filling airtime. So get them someone who knows what he or she’s talking about in terms of Ethiopia’s current affairs, what the government’s doing and not doing, etc. and who doesn’t have an ax to grind. Yeah, he and other good reporters like him are not going to say exactly what you want either. He’s a reporter. He’ll give the most impartial analysis he can. Suggest they talk to Ayantu Ayana. Don’t go and personally bother her either.

Yeah, I see your comments that Ilhan Omar “doesn’t get it.” Or maybe she does but doesn’t agree with you. Instead of insulting her and hurling abuse at her on Twitter, entertain the notion that all other things considered, she’s probably the best thing to happen in general for that state in a long time, and maybe if a delegation can arrange a sit-down to explain your side, she’ll change her mind. Maybe not, but give it a try. Because that’s what adults are supposed to do: adjust their viewpoint according to the facts.

Last… Someone got snippy with me on Twitter after Shashamene, and posted grisly photos and commented sarcastically, “I’ll go talk to them” — because I suggested talking things out. This is a rather stupid and reductionist way of parsing what I wrote. I never suggested people hold a peace conference while they’re getting the crap kicked out of them. I never wrote that they shouldn’t defend themselves, especially when someone’s trying to burn them to death inside their own house. Context and timing is everything.

But something toxic is spreading across Ethiopia and diaspora communities, which doesn’t invalidate legitimate grievances, but it does make it so much harder to achieve reconciliation. Just how exactly Ethiopia heals its wounds on these issues isn’t the purpose of this little rant. That’s up to those in the homeland.

But let me leave you with some food for thought. I’m Canadian. We’re enjoying a pretty good international rep these days, and we like to pat ourselves on the back and sometimes get too smug for our oh-so-liberal values. Well, we treated French Quebecois in my country some pretty shitty ways for ages. I used to have a friend who told me how as a kid, he walked into the once-famous Eaton’s department store in Montreal, where the salesclerks humiliated him because they insisted he speak English. That was common. The province once had a Quebecois premier who kept his own people uneducated, without decent roads, while the Anglos robbed the province blind — the whole corruption package with bells and whistles until the son of a bitch died and good riddance.

Well, then we had what was called the “Quiet Revolution” where things changed and reforms were brought in. Then we had terrorism with bombs, and the most famous incident, a group of fanatics who kidnapped a provincial minister and strangled him to death, while they also kidnapped a British diplomat, who fortunately, was later released. We call the whole historical episode “The October Crisis.”

Oh, and by the way, up until the provincial minister was found dead in the trunk of a car, there was a substantial amount of support and some protests in sympathy for the FLQ, which was considered a terrorist group by the Canadian government. When they murdered the guy, many weekend radicals realized (because they hadn’t before with the bombs going off, go figure) that this was not a children’s crusade, that this was not fun and games, there were lives in the balance.

And Justin Trudeau’s dad, Pierre, put armored cars on the streets of Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto, while army soldiers yanked dozens of people off the streets and arrested them for no cause (fortunately, many were later financially compensated, but it hardly makes up for getting tossed in cells, does it?). My friend who as a kid couldn’t go to Eaton’s? He was arrested because he was carrying a political science textbook. No kidding. That was Canada. They asked Pierre Trudeau on the steps of our Parliament how far he’d go, and he famously replied, “Just watch me.”

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Now we got through it. We had two referendums over Quebec possibly leaving and becoming its own country. The second time, Canada won, and Quebec’s still with us. In part, because Canadians learned to appreciate Quebec better. Am I recommending a separatist referendum? No. Ethiopia and Oromia have to figure this stuff out for themselves and find their own solutions, stay or go, find a new way to live with each other, whatever. I’m saying you talk first.

Before someone gets stupid and beats a guy up on the street in a city thousands of miles from the place where this nonsense matters. Or burns more people out of their homes. Or plants bombs.

Because damn it, you just know someone out there is stupid enough to do something like that in either Canada or the States, or pick up a rifle, and then where will we all be?

Worse, what do you think the rest of the U.S. — clueless about all this — will do if this gets out of hand?

Do you honestly think they’ll know the difference between Amhara and Oromo? We have racist morons attacking Asian people because of Coronavirus.

Restraint. Non-violence. Peaceful protest, and damn it, staying peaceful. Reaching out to discuss, reconcile, figure it out.

Ethiopia— however you define or want to re-define its borders, whether you identify as Amhara, Oromo, Tigrayan, etc. or as having a mixed ancestry of these — is the reservoir of some of the oldest, greatest cultures in the world. Instead of starting a fire, light a candle.


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