Long live Areopagitica!
“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”
…just about survived my Copernicus moment, and am here to tell the tale…
Once again I am going against sound advice of very well meaning friends… but I have paid very dearly for the right to have and express an opinion and I think I am too old for peer pressure…
When my children were little, but not too little to finally get themselves ready for bed all by themselves (and before I adjusted to the reality that that meant 7:30 and not 7:00 pm was infact bed time), there used to be a family joke, where by still going by the old bedtime, I would phone one or the other of my sisters to unwind and catch up on gossip to only find that all three are running riots upstairs declaring their newly gained 30 mins of wild merriment… anyone who has been there knows the drill right? Children who were too tired to finish dinner or tidy up a minute ago suddenly come to life as never before and start bouncing off walls… and so every evening with the phone balanced between on my shoulder I would shout instructions ‘its bedtime you lot! Pyjamas under the pillow, don’t forget to brush teeth and switch the lights off…’ pause for good effect and then finish with an authoritative ‘NOW!’ … once one of my sisters said that I should consider recording those instructions and playing it every evening to give my vocal chords a break!
I feel a bit like that about conversations on freedom of expression with the various peole who keep telling me why I was wrong to have a say about this or that then… it started way back when those with a PFDJ bent discovered that ordinary people have a voice too and it could say something different to the dictate of hade libi…
Below is an extract from a conversation at the place they usesd to call Dehai.org (just before it became a playground for people of few words a great majority of them unrepeatable by sane adults!):
From: Simon Stefanos
Reply-To: Simon Stefanos
Subject: [DEHAI] Who is Selam Kidane?
Date: Mon, 24 Jun 2002 19:38:25 -0400
Although I have no problem tolerating individual's right to self expression I do take a stand against individuals who tends to be opportunistic and vague with issues. Lately an individual by the name of Selam Kidane just cropped up out of the blues trying to impress upon us that the GOE is about to close churches and a big danger is about to befall our Eritrea as a result of this action.
[read at Asmarino.com:
* Give me back to Eritrea -Selam Kidane June 18, 2002 http://news.asmarino.com/Comments/June2002/SelamKidane_18.asp
* Lament for Eritrea -Selam KidaneJune20,2002
* ... The Problems with Being Pente -Selam Kidane June 24, 2002
What I am having a problem with this statement is that first and foremost where was this prolific writer all this time when the rights of our people as a whole was in grave danger?
Did she take a time off to plea on behalf of our people both during and post liberation Eritrea. Was she actively participating with Eritreans in her area during the 1998-2000 Weyane invasion of our country in their effort to fund raise for the defense of the mother land and the sleepless days and nights they passed challenging Ethiopian propaganda machine? If the answer to the above questions is no does she really believe we are going to take her grievance seriously. Furthermore, since she seem to be very much in touch with her
fellow parishioners back in Eritrea, how about instead of waiting for the GOE to tell its part of the story behind the alleged closer of some of the denominational churches partially or altogether tell us what her friends told her is the problem? This way we will know who is telling the truth. Our fellow Dehai members from the UK. would you please enlighten us about this character without invading her privacy. From the bit of information I have she is affiliated with or works for an Adoption & Fostering agency known as BAAF somewhere in the UK.
May transparency rein!!!
Responses came faster than my ability to keep up with things back then… here is one:
Sent: 26 June 2002 13:38
Subject: Re: [DEHAI] Who is Selam Kidane?
The political arena where the in-fighting among Eritreans to slug it out in the cyber space is now empty. There are no more spectators left. They lost interest when they watched the uneven contest. The contestants --- the G-numeric have ended up being the G-flunkies. The G-game, using "democracy", "free press", "human rights" etc. eetc. has been played. The results were: People of Eritrea 10, the G-flunkies zero. I just hope that, having failed in all the games played, the G-flunkies have not opened a new front, and are trying to use the religion game with Selam Kidane leading the frontal attack. However, if she is sincere about her faith and religion, I wish she takes her spiritual struggle to the church leaders in Eritrea and not bother our temporal life in the cyber world.
What Aya Fissehaye probably never realised is the fact that he single handedly made me so resolute in my determination to never ever ever flinch when it comes to my rights and the rights of others! Not to foes or friends!
In response I wrote one of my very first articles on Asmarino (other than the short poems and prose that offended Simon above) … it was called: ‘I am Selam Kidane’… in the days of pen names and against the background of friends and family telling me that this wasn’t advisable (eid sewra newaH eya and much nonsense!) I told anyone who thought they needed to know that I was an ordinary Eritrean woman with a very ordinary concerns…I told my name the place of my residence and other similar details that everyone thought should never be disclosed in such manner…
Over the years I was to repeat that conversation… much like the conversation with my children every evening!... when the regime shut our churches my pastors wanted me to look the other way and I told them what was coming…
When EDA folk wanted me to stop criticising the opposition because they were doing their best and because criticising them only helps PFDJ I told them the same… I am an ordinary citizen with ordinary concerns and you say you are fighting for my rights to be heard so please start by hearing me out! NOW!
It is a question of principles you see…
I have come to consider freedom of expression as one of the most fundamental of all freedoms. Whilst rather hesitant to rate one freedom over another, but I really think there will be no democracy where there is no freedom of expression it simply is a core freedom, without which democracy could not exist. The term encompasses freedom of thought, culture, and intellectual inquiry. Where there is no freedom to think different, to express that difference and to develop the culture where that expression is seen as strength not a detriment or distraction is the ideal that we would probably never attain but we should never give up striving for…
Freedom of expression guarantees the right to criticize injustices, illegal activities, and incompetences as well as the right to inform the public and to offer opinions of any kind, to advocate change, to give the minority the opportunity to be heard and become the majority, and to challenge the rise of tyranny.
…so every time I am challenged about expressing the opinion I freely and openly express (ie every time people advocate for censorship), I am forced to have the same conversation… it is a right, it is a God given right that is not bestowed and should never be taken away… it is one of the most fundamental rights that me and my colleagues are fighting for… when the challenge comes from people that say they are fighting for liberty… I might add… let us start by allowing me my liberty to tell you what I see and show me you respect that by challenging my perception… let’s be the change we want to see….
Folks I am disappointed… by my own friends and colleagues who not dissimilar to Simon in 2002 keep telling me why I shouldn’t criticise… not in public anyway…I believe it is always the time… in our case it is way past the time to live the principles and develop the culture we say we are fighting for…
You see apparently even Goebbels was in favour of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin (so says Noam Chomsky) …our commitment to freedom of expression will not be measured by our ability to tolerate the views we approve of but those we actually despise…
To my friends at EYSC who felt put out by my criticism of the work that we are doing… to those who thought I shouldn’t have gone public with my views to those who thought my criticism wasn’t ‘constructive’ (when we are done here we can write a new dictionary)… and finally to those who feel that people who are working as hard as we are (voluntarily) shouldn’t be criticised…I say watch it or you might end up in the company of : the good men of Vatican who banned Copernicus and punished Galileo for expressing a thought… and those who declared fatwa on Salmon Rushdie… and I am sure that isn’t where you want to be!
I will stop writing what I see only when I stop seeing and as the stakes go up so will my watch and hence possibly my criticism…(‘that skirt makes you look real fat’ is about the only unconstructive criticism I have ever received!)
One of EYSC’s bold objectives is to ensure that the change that comes to Eritrea becomes a sustainable positive change for a democratic and just Eritrea… well let us show everyone what we mean by such an Eritrea… Otherwise they will sing ‘lam alegn besemay wetetwan yemalay’… for us (inbox me for translations!)