BY Yohannes Gebresellasie (Ph.D) Canada
Amongst the many and varied characteristics that make this nation unique is its long history of religious tolerance and the generational brotherly/sisterly relationship and mutual coexistence between and among the multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-linguistic and other related backgrounds of its people. This rather unique and perhaps un-matched phenomenon by any other nations alike has made this country a symbol of religious tolerance envied by many countries around the world. Religious tolerance within the Ethiopian context is part and parcel of the holistic Ethiopian culture and way of life †intended to maintain unity in diversity or in other words to integrate the various ethno-religious and linguistic nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia into a societal framework while at the same time preserve their unique identity. In that regard, the religious, linguistic and other differences amongst them are beyond dispute. Consequently, this important domain has passed from generation to generation as an important cultural heritage of the Ethiopian people.
†This cultural heritage has been an effective mechanism in enhancing and reinforcing the interpersonal inter-communal relationships of the Ethiopian people on the one hand and reinforcing national pride and citizenship responsibility on the other. As a result, within the Ethiopian social fabrique, religious tolerance just like linguistic, tribal and/or ethnic tolerance can be identified as a sub-set of the manifestation of the holistic Ethiopian tradition and Ethiopian culture.
†This holistic Ethiopian culture within which religious, linguistic and other characteristics are personified and embodied has been a symbol and trademark of the Ethiopian cultural heritage and that trademark has been instrumental in overcoming religious and other differences that may rise from time to time initiated by individuals and/or groups from within and abroad. These individuals and/or groups from within and abroad have time and again tried to use religious cover-ups in order to advance their personal and/ or groupís hidden agendas. They have tried time and again to infiltrate and jeopardize this solid interpersonal and inter religious harmony that lasted for generations between and among the Ethiopian people and that was instrumental in maintaining the national stability and peaceful coexistence amongst this nation. However, this inter personal inter religious and other relationships between and among the Ethiopian people is deeply rooted, highly intertwined and profoundly entrenched within the blood and sole of the Ethiopian people. Therefore, they did not succeed in advancing their divisive and menacing agendas before and they can not and will not be able to succeed in the 21st century with this generation either.
†Religious extremism, terrorism and advancement of hate propaganda using religious cover up is a thing of the past, an obsolete, archaic, uncivilized and backward phenomenon that this dynamic and vibrant generation of the 21st century can not and will not accept. However, few rreligious extremists take advantage of the many different interpretations of religion in order to appropriate the function of religious interpretation. For example, In Islam, the term Jihad can be interpreted as the struggle to be a good Muslim, to be moral, to be virtuous. It can also be used to mean defending oneís faith and community. Today, militant religious leaders are using this second meaning of jihad to justify what are in fact terrorist offensive wars. Even when extremists do that, they never say that they are engaging in an offensive or terrorist action; they always say that they are victims fighting the oppressor. This is also true with other militant religious leaders. Religious fundamentalists often use religious extremism in order to divert the overtly racist imagery assumptions that classify certain groups of people on the basis of religious differences into a discourse of assimilation. It is through the shift from a belief in religious determinism to assimilation that racist assumptions became prevalent. As a result, cultural analogies are replaced by ideas about fixed differences on the basis of religion. The problem occurs when religious fundamentalism fails to recognize the dynamic, fluid nature of culture, especially where other religions are concerned.
The implication for a static perception of religion is dangerous; "stereotyping" and "othering" are processes that occur as a consequence. It is through these processes that racist assumptions become "common sense" by using notions of "religion". As a result, discourse begins to centre on religious differences and one hears: "They are all like that", "they can't help doing that", "it is part of their religion..." etc. Racist discourse then becomes legitimized because of religious fundamentalism. As a result, followers of other religion are viewed as "others" and negative perceptions abound because of the very religious differences that religious extremism has sought to validate. However, this new generation knows how to identify the good from the evil. Further, this young generation is busy focussing on building and re-building this nation because young Ethiopians are recipients and future leaders of this nation; therefore, they can not afford to be mislead by those individuals and groups who spread hate propaganda. Further, young Ethiopians can not spend their precious time on divisive, unproductive and malevolence agenda: a manifestation of the enemy of their country and their people.
†Religious tolerance as part and parcel of the Ethiopian culture has been instrumental to and a binding factor of the Ethiopian social and/or communal relationships. In other words, religious tolerance is a symbol of Ethiopianess. This binding factor has helped Ethiopians to share joy and jubilation together as a people during good times and console each other as a people during difficult times and that, despite their religious, linguistic or any other differences. It further helped Ethiopians fulfil their citizenship rights and responsibilities jointly and helped create a sense of belongingness and love and respect for fellow Ethiopians on the one hand and for the motherland on the other.
It can be argued that within the Ethiopian context, tolerance, love and respect for a fellow citizen takes precedence and is given a paramount importance despite religious, linguistic or any other differences. This cultural trait that has been transcended from generation to generation is a solid expression of the Ethiopian way of life. Anyone, individual or group that may try to bring to this country the real problem of extremism under the banner of religious fundamentalism to infiltrate this highly embedded culture and to create a division amongst the Ethiopian people simply to advance their hidden agenda better read the history of the Ethiopian people. Those who tried failed time and again rather deficiently and those who have a propensity to try are doomed to fail.