|By Kiflu Hussain|
"Like many of my countrymen who tasted the brunt of brutal suppression in the most cynical Machiavellian style rule under Meles Zenawi, I do know that what he touches or where treads will not be peaceful.
On the contrary, what he does in collusion with the big powers of the world, may turn Somalia into Africa's Lebanon, and Ethiopia into Africa's Syria. So, I am afraid the bombs will go on to wreak much havoc." (Kiflu Hussain, letter to the Editor, New Vision, May 22, 2007)
What's quoted above from my own letter was written while I was a four month novice in Kampala. It was prompted by a high ranking Ugandan officer's remark wherein he belittled the action of the Islamists that consumed five lives who went down as the first Ugandan army casualties deployed in Somalia.
The General dismissed the explosion that killed these soldiers as "a kick of a dying horse." To my utter disappointment, the public which enjoys a free flow of information that is unthinkable in my country Ethiopia didn't react at all over the loss of fellow citizens.
No one seemed to have lost any sleep as to whether these young servicemen died in vain or not. Also, those supposed to be opinion makers by influencing situations for the better simply spouted on the Somali issue by regurgitating what they have been fed by the powers of the "New World Order."
Despite the immense disappointment, I wasn't daunted by this. So, I continued for some time to show the flip side of the coin to the best of my abilities. Accordingly, Daily Monitor graced me with a column by publishing "Is it peace mission or war business?" August 24, 2007, then "The bleeding Horn of Africa" October 1, 2007 to name but a few.
As it became crystal clear that the Government of Uganda has committed itself in Somalia to a point of no return against the backdrop of its indifferent constituents, I gave up belaboring the point. Unfortunately, the intractable problem of the Somali issue itself didn't give up. Rather, on the evening of July 11, 2010, it jostled me with a rude awakening.
On that fateful night, after watching the first half of the football World Cup match for about fifteen minutes, I retired to my bedroom, dead sure that the Dutch team would never make it to the Cup. Around 11; 30 P.M, my cell phone shrilled. It was Arne Doornebal, a Dutch friend of mine who happens to be a freelance journalist based in Uganda. I thought he called to tell me that his national team won the trophy. Instead, he asked me in a somewhat agitated voice "Where're you?"
When I told him that I was asleep in my place at Nakulabye, he said "there's a rumor of a bomb blast—a big one—at the Ethiopian Village. Have you heard about it? Do you know anyone there?"
In my half awake and hazy state, I only grasped two words; Ethiopia and bomb! I replied while coming out of the haze "sure I know many people" whereupon he asked me to get back to him as soon as I got detailed information.
Then, I did the funniest thing; I sent text messages to my folks in Addis Ababa: "hope Zenawi will still be gracious enough not to disable SMS again after debriefing one of his goons who reads this/."
Anyway, the reply I got assured me nothing of the kind happened in the area where my folks live; nor have they heard anything to that effect about other areas. When I relayed this message to Arne, he called again and after making sure that I was wide awake, which I was by that time, told me that the explosion happened right here in Kampala at the Ethiopian Village Restaurant.
That time, I have already abandoned my sweet dream. Thus, I went to the living room and turned on the TV set. UBC was still televising the victory of the Spaniards. The other channels were either playing music or showing movie. However, the 11 O'clock news on NTV was still on, albeit with no news about the explosion.
Dying to know the truth, I sent SMS to a Ugandan journalist friend of mine, Timothy Kalyegira, who replied immediately with scary breaking news. He informed me that the explosion didn't only take place at the Ethiopian Village but also at a rugby club called Kyadondo which was established to inculcate a culture of rugger-buggers in Uganda according to Charles Onyango-Obbo, a renowned journalist.
As the saying goes that blood is thicker than water, my first concern was for fellow Ethiopians, particularly my friends who are football fans and also frequent the Ethiopian Village where the first bomb went off.
Upon the insistence of these friends, I myself watched the match between Ghana and Australia there enjoying a cold Club under a big tree in front of the big screen. Miraculously that night almost all of them changed venue and watched the finals at Pickles.
The few who were there survived without a scratch.Tragically, however, I learned the next morning that some acquaintances of mine perished in the blast; one from Ethiopia, one from Eritrea.
My wife too learned that two of her Ugandan acquaintances from the Seventh Day Adventist Church she goes to every Saturday lost their lives at the Kyadondo Rugby blast.
Terrorism vis-à-vis Islamic extremism
Whenever the need arises, I hasten to explain that I know nothing about the religion of Islam despite being born from a Muslim family on the paternal side. My father himself (RIP) was no better than me in spite of the fact that both his parents were devout Muslims. I think his induction into modern education and later his exposure to the outside world through the Ethiopian Air force that took him for further training to the United States and other countries on various missions, combined to make him the most liberal man.
Education in the good old days had that kind of effect on one who goes through it. If not enlightening completely, at least, it was capable of freeing one from parochialism. However, this is not to mean that those who were not educated were less tolerant of other people.
It's not to imply either that those devout Muslims were fanatic to the point of harboring ill will to others of a different faith. In fact, throughout my upbringing in a mixed culture both ethnically and religiously, I witnessed and enjoyed a higher degree of tolerance from my Muslim grandparents than my Orthodox Christian grandparents on the maternal side.
I am proud to say that I saw this peace loving nature on other Ethiopian Muslims too. For this reason, Christians and Muslims coexisted peacefully in Ethiopia for many centuries. I don't think one can tell a different story about other Muslims anywhere in the world.
When one makes a cursory research on history, one is likely to come up with the persecution of Muslims and Jews more than any other sect in this world. In Ethiopia, for instance, Emperor Yohannes IV accompanied his decree for a compulsory baptism to Orthodox Christianity with his infamous epithet: "The sky has no horizon; nor a Muslim any land in his possession."
However, this in no way will diminish the fact that Ethiopia was the first African country whereby followers of Islam sought refuge under the edict of Prophet Mohammed when persecuted in Arabia. Save for periodic minor frictions, perhaps that's the reason Christians and Muslims are able to coexist in perfect harmony.
Of course, some incidents were recorded in history here and there whereby Islam also enjoyed a field day by forcing people to convert. Notable among them was the rise of Ahmed Ibin Ibrahim, aka Gragn/left handed/Mohammed. Gragn rose to power with an Operation code-named Habasha Al-fatwa or conquering Habasha to the will of Allah.
Apart from this exception in Ethiopian history, the official show has always been Christian. With all its unsavory characteristics, it was Derg, the military rule of Mengistu Hailemariam that gave recognition to the religion of Islam by proclaiming Muslim holidays as national holidays. In so doing, Derg effectively stamped out the notion that Ethiopia is an enclave of Christianity thereby introducing genuine secularism.
The history of Islam elsewhere in the world is not that different either. One of the people who were forcibly converted into Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition was followers of Islam. When one delves into history books, one learns that those who refused to be converted were condemned to be burnt at stake.
Even books supposed to be heretic used to be burned just like Al-Shabab bans people in Somalia from listening to music or watching football in this era of 21st century.
Before venturing my opinion on the reason that caused such a regression into egregious fanaticism, I would like to deal with the brand of terrorism that's linked with Islam.
On October 14, 2008, I saw the interview of an eighteen year old Palestinian girl trained as suicide bomber for Hamas on BBC television. She was married to a young man who was twenty three, also a suicidal Hamas fighter. Because what she said fascinated me to this day, I jotted it down in my diary.
She said "Chances to become a martyr is a gift from God." When asked whether she has any concern for innocent civilians, among them could be women and children, she replied coolly "that's not important because the children would become soldiers when they grow up."
We could easily have dismissed this as a warped mentality of an individual.Yet, the number of individuals who believe or brainwashed like this seem to be on the rise all over the world. Why? Is Islam, the religion to be blamed for such heinous fanaticism?
Ironically, this type of firebrand fanatics for the most part have been educated or trained in the West or have some kind of exposure to the so-called liberal societies.
Even during the cold war, most third world revolutionaries hell bent to change the system in their respective countries by badmouthing American imperialism with a slogan "Yankee go home!" were often the byproducts of Western liberalism. At least, that's how it was in my country.
At any rate, the young and beautiful Palestinian suicide bomber set me to thinking for a long time. And guess what I came across one day while searching on Google?
Prophet Mohammed's quip! Apparently, he said at one time that "The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr." This profound and insightful utterance not only renounces violent and bloody martyrdom. But also highlights the importance of respect for freedom of thought and expression.
The author is an Ethiopian refugee in Uganda. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org