For many, it could be strange to talk about the concept of Jihad of the Pen and its impact in Eritrean politics. I will not be surprised if I receive some condemnation too. But, this is my understanding and opinion which I came to grasp through my consistent and close engagement in the Eritrean politics since 2013.
In the beginning, all I had was resentment against the oppressor in Asmara. I started to fight the regime which is controlling Eritrea with a merciless dictatorship based on my life experience and with a damaged understanding I had about politics. I had no idea about the politics of the opposition camp and how they operate apart from being happy to have Eritreans who opposed the regime.
As an amateur to Eritrean politics, I started to write about PFDJ ideology and its institutions. At the same time, I started to engage in discussions which were going on at Awate Forum among well experienced political elites. It is on this website that I learned there is some power that can not be challenged easily. In 2017, I came to conclude that liberal democracy is the best ideology (according to my understanding) to my political thinking and possibly to solve Eritrean problems.
The time I declared my ideology, I distanced myself from Awate Forum. I started to campaign via my own facebook private profile and my personal blog(from which you are reading this material) what I believe in while reading and contemplating about world affairs in general and Eritrean politics in particular. It is at this time of contemplation that something revealed to me about “Fighters of Jihad of the Pen”
Jihad of the Pen is an acceptable form of jihad by all religious groups. If it is mishandled and went abnormally from what is it actually ought to promote for, it can be a cause for violence. Otherwise, all about for a greater cause. Jihad of the Pen is what any “able” religious person is called to do for his/her own religious beliefs.
The complexity of Jihad of the pen mainly arises when the practitioners interfere in political matters and compete with world politicians who are much interested in world affairs apart from the greater cause. Not only this, when the practitioners of jihad of the pen are not transparent and get rigged into political affairs without full consciousness of the people with whom they are dealing with, it can have unprecedented collateral damage to the society. It is with this premise that I wanted to share my opinion about Eritrean fighters of Jihad of the Pen whom I have sensed their presence during my active engagement.
Contextualizing The notion of Jihad According to Eritrean Politics
The notion “Jihad” is the most sensitive subject in Eritrean politics. This is not without a reason. First, right after independence(1991), the ruling regime of Asmara (PFDJ) campaigned jihad to be perceived as killing innocent people By doing so an Eritreans jihad is associated with terrorism.
This kind of misconception is hindering meaningful and trustworthy discussions and cooperation among Eritreans. In fact, it has been a dividing wall among different social groups by putting the true meaning of Jihad at jeopardy among Eritreans. This has created a passive state of mistrust which is quite observable in every political debate and social gatherings.
It is true that Eritreans are predominantly Christians, Muslims with few Traditionalists or Animists. Their religious affiliations are expected to have a negative impact on the way they live and think politically. However, their common ancestral background and history for thousands of years have a positive contribution for being together. The major changes within the religious demography and political thinking came after the 19thC when Eritrea became the victim of geopolitics.
The rise of the new Ethiopian empire and arrival of western colonizers created a political schism by expanding their own interest. To accomplish their mission, religion was used as a playing card. Nevertheless, the strategy followed had a nonsignificant contribution on the way Eritreans think politically. This is because the outsiders were an equal threat for their existence. This led them to unity by keeping their religious difference aside.
It is true that every religion has its own system of beliefs and practices. This affects the way people lead their private and social life. When there are challenges, what they believe can contribute the way they overcome these challenges. This basic means to survive leads them to jihad.
Every religious person or community performs jihad (struggle) in different forms. By performing jihad, one fulfills the missing elements of a spiritual journey or safeguarding security of the religious community.
For centuries, both Christians and Muslims applied jihad for their spiritual growth and protection. Although jihad is now becoming anything about Islam and terrorism, n its original form, Jihad is the basic theological concept and practice among these two Abrahamic religions(also called People of the Book), the notion of Jihad has evolved to as a connotation which is only related to Islam practiced by Muslims only. This is not true. In fact, medieval period Christians have applied the concept of Jihad in its extreme form but with a different terminology, “Crusade”.
In the mindset of Eritrean political context, any person who utters Jihad in any form is considered either as a terrorist, or a religious fanatic. This is not without a reason. The PFDJ regime brainwashed Eritreans since its birth (1994) to control the mind of Eritreans and crush any opposition that may challenge its power.
The truth is, Jihad, jihād is an Arabic word which means striving or struggling, especially with a praiseworthy aim. Broadly speaking, Jihad is classified into two: (i) Inner (“greater”) jihad and (ii) external (“lesser”) jihad. External Jihad is subdivided into jihad of the pen/tongue (debate or persuasion) and jihad of the sword. From this classification, what we can understand is Jihad is part of the belief system. Accordingly, any believer performers Jihad in different forms.
Not forgetting the existence of all kinds of Jihad around the world in general and in Eritrea in particular and the disinformation campaign about Jihad coming from the ruling regime and some movement within the opposition camp, my focus for this article will be one of the acceptable forms of JIhad – “Jihad of the Pen” and its application in Eritrean politics.
Eritreans for Fighters of Jihad of the Pen
Eritrean fighters of Jihad of the Pen use friendly, non-violent and apply a sophisticated approach to accomplish their pre-defined mission. They work in parallel with those who are fighting against the oppressive regime in Asmara. However, their mission is quite clear to differentiate by observing critically what they actually glorify while demonizing the other. The demonization campaign is mainly targeting the Tigrigna speaking social groups of Eritrea under the cover of historical incidences.
To accomplish their mission, they are exploiting Eritrean politics of the 1940s by focusing on the Unionist Party. Although the Unionist Party were against Eritrean full independence. Although the Unionist Party were predominantly Christians, there were also Muslims who stood firm in favor of the Union with Ethiopia. Not only this, the Unionist camp had members from all social groups. Therefore, it is misleading and wrong to conclude the Unionist Party were Tigrigna speaking Christians. However, revisionists are using selective approach to attack a certain group of people and individuals coming from certain geographical location to attain their mission.
Campaign Against Tigrigna, aka Christians
Since 2008, the smear campaign has become intense. At first, it was started at an elite level. These elites started writing which targets core Eritrean values. They introduced revisionism approach to re-define Eritrean history through reflective interpretations to fit into an ideological tool to serve a specific agenda. These sophisticated articles generated debates that later expanded into bitter arguments. As a result, Eritrean elites were mainly divided into different camps.
These days Eritrean political atmosphere is full of chaotic smear campaigns and labeling is in the course of intensification which specifically targets the so-called Tigrigna speaking communities of Eritrea(the Highlanders) on one side, and the Muslim Eritreans on the other side. The use of “Tigrigna” is a carefully chosen metaphor which targets a specific group of people who are accused of being the rulers of today’s Eritrea since the independence(1991).
Though my understanding of Eritrean politics is progressing, depending on the nature of the these debates and arguments, generally I categorize them into five camps: (1) Pro – Eritrean Struggle for Independence, (2) Bashers of the Armed Struggle(Revolution) and (3) Guardians of Revolutionary legacies and defenders of Eritrean core values (4) Pro – Unionism with Ethiopia (5) Opportunists. Among these leading thinkers and writers, we have Saleh Younis (Camp 1) and Yosief Ghebrehiwet from Asmarino website (camp 3). These two great writers were the leading figures in these early debates. In between, there were opportunists who exploited the ideas generated to suit their crooked agenda. As a result relational transgression started to develop among Eritrean communities.
These relational transgressions developed when the Ghedli bashers started to undermine the history of Eritrean struggle for independence and demonize prominent Eritreans who played leading role during the early days of Eritrean struggle. The writers went far to attack individuals which are highly regarded by Eritreans. This race of demonization led to exposing the history of the 1940s, 1950s and revolution era to scholarly critics. This led political schism among the elites. It is during these chaotic debates that some opportunists tried to exploit it for their cause.
these opportunities camouflaged their true motive as it was a counter-reaction. However, after careful analysis, their objective is much deeper. It is combined with revenge and hatred towards a specific group of communities.
Jelal Yassin Abera: The Opportunist
Opportunists are politicians who exploit an existing situation for their own advantage by camouflaging themselves within the existing political environment. Since my presence in the political atmosphere of Eritrea, I have observed many opportunities. They have played the card of the victims but works on their own greater agenda. Some of the typical opportunists I encountered during my five years stay include Unionists, Religious terrorists, sectarian, regionalists, ethnic nationalists, religious nationalists, etc.
Jelal Yassin Aberra an ardent ethnic nationalist for the cause of Jeberti Ethnic Rights movement comes in the forefront. Jelal Yassin Abera, born in 1957, educated in Information Technology (BSc) and Social Anthropology, is living in Norway as a refugee since 1984. He was a former EPLF member(1975 – 1983), trained to be a Political Cadre, is one of the leading Jeberti Ethnic Rights advocators.
His advocacy work is deeply rooted in his family. His late father, Dr. Abera Yassin, who was Professor of Economic at the Asmara University (Eritrea) was killed by EPLF in January 1991 for his activities for the cause of Jeberti ethnic rights during Ethiopian annexation(1961 – 1991).
Dr. Yassin Abera was one of the leading delegates in the struggle for the recognition of Jeberti Ethnic Group by the Ethiopian ruling regime before Eritrean independence. He was calling all the Jeberti to be united and call for their rights as a separate ethnic group. A Committee of delegates from the Derg ruling regime came to Asmara to discuss with Jeberti representatives. Unfortunately, the Committee rejected their demand by passing several recommendations that need to be considered at great care.
I think EPLF was not happy with Dr. Yassin Abera’s activities. Before his assassination, he was receiving warning messages to stop his activities. Dr. Yassin Abera was fully aware that EPLF will not respect the rights of Jeberti to be recognized as a separate ethnic group. Derg started to fail as a ruling regime in Ethiopia and just four months before independence, Dr. Yassin Abera was killed by EPLF in front of his house. This is a painful experience that will definitely have a never lasting impact on Jelal Yassin Abera.
Derg rejected Jeberti People to be recognized as a separate ethnic group. The reason given was the ethnic classification system introduced in Ethiopia(including Eritrea) was not based on religion but on common language and cultures. The special delegation Committee wrote a serious recommendation not to fully ignore the case(see the link provided below).
Some of the arguments presented and the response given Committee for the case of Jeberti Ethnic Rights during Ethiopian occupation in Eritrea include:
After independence, the case of Jeberti Ethnic Rights was brought to the then transitional government of Eritrea, EPLF. Unlike the Derg regime, EPLF categorically rejected without any hearing. This led to a new era to the Jeberti Ethnic Rights movement.
As a grown up and well-educated person, after the killing of his father, there is no doubt for Jelal Yassin Abera to take two responsibilities. First, as a Jeberti, a son of Jeberti he is supposed to fight for his right. Second, to continue the struggle his father started by representing the Jeberti Ethnic Rights.
This dual responsibility can have a contribution to his thinking and determination for the struggle that could lead him to be a radical ethnic-nationalists. This radical sentiment can be observed in many of his works.