Hate under Suppression

Apr 13 , 2019
By Tsion Fisseha

Hate is a strong emotion, often manifested through actions or words. It is a popular opinion that hate, if not a completely factual one, is the most unnatural of emotions for living things. It is something we learn through time, perhaps beginning on the playground. It grows bigger, sometimes bigger than ourselves, and gets passed on to generations in its various incarnations like wildfire.

In the past year this particular emotion has been felt across the country. It has spread through many platforms and has continued to increase. It has taken the form of political, cultural and, most worryingly, religious dimensions.

The government is clearly worried about this phenomenon. But government being government, its answer to the problem is not taking the hardest but most practical path, which would be addressing underlying social, economic and political problems. Instead, it is working on a law that criminalises hate speech.

The bill is being drafted by the Attorney General and is currently undergoing public discussion. The articles stipulated in this bill are subject to change, sometimes even on a daily basis.

The draft legislation explained why the need arose to come up with laws to criminalize false information and hate speech. And while there is a general agreement that such views are not helpful, it has been hard for many to see how it can be addressed by a law that will, in the end, be interpreted subjectively. Neither in the bill or through international experience has there ever been a clear parameter on what constitutes hate speech - it has a broad and open interpretation.

Following the announcement of the bill, the public has seized on the idea of the legislation contradicting the freedom of expression. What was fascinating to notice was the degree of hate the hate speech legislation was met with on social media.

One can see where they are coming from. Most people are not extremists - at the most, they are misguided – and would prefer not to see the daily escalation in rhetoric in Ethiopia. But the problem is that there is doubt such a law can eradicate these problems. What most are afraid of is how such laws can easily be abused, as was the case with the anti-terrorism law currently under review.

Hate is rarely encouraged by society. It is something that, even as little children, one has been told to shy away from. Ideally, this world would be a wonderful place with the absence of hate.

But if there is a true willingness to curb this scourge, the most fruitful way to go about it is to start on a grassroots level. This is a problem that requires vaccinations not cures.

Hate speech is a symptom of the hatred and distrust citizens have come to feel about their fellow citizens because of political and economic inequality. No amount of rules and regulations can address this problem. In fact, by banning them, all we would succeed in doing is pushing important discussions that we may not like - but have to have - into the underground.

What we have to strive for is creating a democratic country where citizens are informed. We need movements that enlighten people about the dangers of hate speech, educating the community with the need to channel the hate toward something productive, and showing citizens that ideas should fight but not people.

This would be a hard battle to win given political opportunists, who thrive on hatred and division, who will put up a very strong fight. But with a determined government and civil society, this is indeed a battle that can be won and has been won before.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 13,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 989]

Tsion Fisseha is a writer and head of foreign languages in the news department at a local TV station. She has been a part of a pan African poetry slam competition representing Ethiopia and is a member of a rock band entitled the Green Manalishi. She can be reached at tsion.f.terefe@gmail.com.

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