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Words Matter: Double Standards in Mainstream Media

By Afabet Gebretinsae

Opinion and Analysis

In the past few weeks, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans throughout the diaspora came together for the Annual Eritrean Cultural Festival, held at various metropolitan hubs across Europe and North America. This year, the festival—which dates back half a century—was hosted in Seattle, Stockholm, Toronto, Edmonton, and Giessen.

In order to fully comprehend the ethos of the Eritrean Cultural Festival, it is critical to first examine the circumstances behind its inception. Eritreans are a communal people. It is an essential thread in the elaborate and colorful labyrinth that is our cultural fabric. Communalism -. i.e. culture and ethos of reconciling individual interests and aspirations with that of the large community – is how Eritreans were able to—against all odds—mobilize against and prevail over a much larger and well-resourced aggressor. In short, to separate an Eritrean from his community is the equivalent of cutting a branch from a tree; a slow metaphysical death.

In the early 1970s, pioneering Eritrean immigrants – those who escaped from the atrocities and persecution of the occupationist Ethiopian regime recognized a desperate need for cultural reconnection and community among the diaspora. Many Eritreans who had settled in Europe and North America in hopes of broader economic opportunity were facing xenophobia, racism, language barriers, socioeconomic marginalization, and a substantial education gap. To exacerbate these precarious conditions, many Eritrean immigrants were now—for the first time ever—separated from their families, their land, and their community. As such, members of the diaspora began organizing festivals as way for Eritreans to reconnect, and experience the warmth of their people in an otherwise foreign and in hospitable land as well as to follow events and establish bridges with the liberation struggle back home. While the Eritrean festival has evolved over the years to include cultural exhibits, musical performances, and dancing, the spirit of the festival remains unchanged.

This year, the festival was hit by a violent wave of attacks, carried out by an obscure rogue group bent on acts of vandalism and terror. This group—which claims to oppose the Eritrean government—has preponderant membership of non-Eritreans politically affiliated with the TPLF and uses violence and intimidation against unarmed, and peaceful festival goers. This rogue group destroyed tents housing cultural and historical exhibits; gruesomely beat citizens with metal poles—leaving one elderly gentleman with his head bashed open; mercilessly stabbed festival participants; and recklessly set attendees’ vehicles ablaze.

If the universal definition of terrorism is “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims,” why then are the gangs who terrorized our cultural festival not classified as such? Why are they being hailed as “activists” and “defenders of human rights?” This is not human rights.This is textbook terrorism.

It is quite hypocritical for news outlets, including Agence France Presse (AFP) and France24, to dub these actors “activists” and “defenders of human rights.”

For example,when French citizens took to the streets to protest higher fuel taxes in 2019, the AFP derided the Yellow Vest protests as “rebellion.” France24 characterized the movement as an “insurgency,” that was “largely shapeless, leaderless, and with no clear ideological bent.” When protests shook the United States following the tragic murder of George Floyd, news outlets called the demonstrators—a large contingent of which were African Americans—“thugs.”

The instances cited above do not in fact have moral or legal equivalence with the acts of vandalism and terror perpetrated against peaceful Eritrean Festivals by the rogue group in question.  The latter is bereft of economic or civil rights issues.

The non-symmetrical comparison has been invoked so as to amplify the hypocrisy of certain mainstream media outlets. The unfathomable fact is protesters who oppose police brutality and economic inequality are labeled “thugs” and “insurgents”, while ruthless, anti-Eritrean hooligans are championed as heroes.

Regrettably, it appears that this selective nomenclature used to classify various “protest activities” is rooted in shifting political agendas rather than grounded, objective reporting. Furthermore, it appears that any display of dissent regardless of constitutionality or legality, that poses a perceived threat to the stability of Western nations is swiftly condemned. Yet brutal attacks that pose a very clear and existential threat to our community are hailed as heroic.

Additionally, several outlets have audaciously referred to the assault as “clashes.” This is a gross misrepresentation of what actually occurred. “Clashes” imply that the other party fought back, but this could not be further from the truth. In all instances, the rogue group violently attacked unsuspecting Festival goers.

Words matter and the media have a grave responsibility to report ethically and accurately, devoid of political or ideological bias.

Let one thing be known: the recent violent acts by rogue groups have nothing to do with dissident views or the expression of such through nonviolent protests. In this perspective, Eritrean communities will not tolerate bullying, intimidation, or acts of terrorism against peaceful and defenseless festival-goers. Justice will be served.

Awet n’ Hafash!

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