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An Open Letter to Ethiopians At Home and Abroad

The following letter was written by Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action, Dr. Ephraim Isaac. You can read more about his work here.


Dear Beloved Brothers/Sisters,

“We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters]
or perish together as fools” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Our beloved country Ethiopia has been known since ancient times as a land of peace and tolerance. The Greeks, the Hebrews, the Persians, the Prophet Muhammed, famous Renaissance scholars, (and maybe even Luther, the founder of Protestantism) all hailed Ethiopia as a home of a tolerant and peaceful people.

Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action Dr. Ephraim Isaac at an interfaith meeting in India with Ella Gandhi, grand-daughter of Gandhi, and Dr. Ephraim Isaac’s doctoral student from Sri Lanka.

The past year I was a member of a doctoral dissertation committee for a Sri Lankan university student of psychology on the tragic Sri Lankan Civil War of 1987-2009. An estimated 100,000 civilians (according to one statistic), not counting military deaths, perished during that conflict. I learnt from reading the thesis that the root of that conflict was bitter ethnic hate among the Tamils, Sinhalese, and Moors. Unfortunately, what was originally and rightly meant to promote ethnic pride was turned into a philosophy of ethnic superiority and hatred by some politicians. The discrimination that occurred in state sector employment practices and demand for separate states over time turned into a potent and bitter hatred and generated fear that escalated into inter-ethnic hate and death and destruction.

So, today, when I hear abusive or strong words of hate from some of my compatriots, maligning one or another of our beautiful people, be it the Tigre, the Oromo, the Amhara, or any of our many other linguistics communities, it pains me very much. If I were a person capable of anger, which I am not, I would say I am madly angry. When we hate our fellow Ethiopians, we empower external forces that wish to do us harm.

Right now, I am at the famous Mayo Clinic retreat as a keynote speaker on the value of cultural diversity in the health services. Many of the doctors I meet agree with me that hate is a psychological disease that is as bad as cancer. It is a miserable illness that needs to be treated. Otherwise, it will destroy the person who harbors it. It affects the brain and heart of the hater and boils the nervous system. It can actually shorten the life of a person who is afflicted by a hateful mind. In short, we do more harm to ourselves than to others through hate.

On the contrary, love and respect of others calm the brain and nervous system. Some psychologists I know say that the positive reinforcement of others rather than their punishment gives people more positive life options. To work for the good of others and reach across lines and look to the future rather than to attack people indeed bring joy and happiness, and rich personal fulfillment.

Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action Dr. Ephraim Isaac with inter-religious leaders from Bahrain and the USA at the Museum of Tolerance in LA.

All of the religions of our country teach love and compassion. The great prophets of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam taught love and compassion. They said love not only your neighbor but even the stranger. Jesus even taught “love your enemy as yourself.” Hating people and considering them enemy should be abhorrent to any decent Ethiopian.

I have travelled through western Ethiopia when I was at Haile Selassie Secondary School in the early 1950’s on foot or mule back in Wallaga, through southern and eastern Ethiopia as Executive Director of the National Literacy Campaign of Ethiopia (succeeding General Tadesse Biru) in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, and in northern Ethiopia, Axum, Lalibela, and Gondar when I was doing my Harvard doctoral research in the mid-1960’s. Every Ethiopian in the country side and villages I met all over the country was a humble, loving, and kind person. I do not remember meeting any arrogant, hateful, and disrespectful village person. On the contrary all imbue kindness patience and love. I do not remember being asked whether I was an Oromo, Amhara, Tigray, or other linguistic group. Their first question was “are you tired, are you hungry, do you want to come in and drink coffee?” Most of the people I encountered were poor but far richer in soul and spirit than some of us today who harbor anger and are hateful in heart.

Nobody denies that there are political differences among us. We have serious problems that we have to deal with. Those of us who are now ardently working for peace, plan to work with the Government and all political Opposition parties to find a resolution of all problems and conflicts. I think we should focus on the dangerous problem – that I called “hate” – to wash it away from our minds so that we can sit down together calmly as brothers and sisters to solve our national problems.

Nobody denies that we need in our country strong and genuine democracy. But the road to genuine democracy and political agreements is not paved by hate and anger, but through calm dialogue and respectful discourse. Then, we can form “a covenant” of timeless co-existence.

Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action Dr. Ephraim Isaac officiating at an Ethiopian Jewish festival in NYC.

Brothers and sisters, please forgive me if I sound too accusatory. I love you also who send the hateful messages over the air waves. I pray for you so that G-d can open your heart and mind so you can repent and turn your energy from the way of anger and hate to the highway of love and kindness. We must free ourselves from the fault line of linguistic group antagonism and form instead active coalition of women, men of different communities in order to bring genuine democracy. Moreover, we all can build together our beloved homeland and fight together against our true enemies – poverty, disease and illiteracy.

Let us become an exemplary people to all of Africa as a people who love and respect each other. May G-d’s light shine upon you and give you and guide you in the way of peace.

– Dr. Ephraim Isaac, Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action

Tanenbaum Peacemaker Dr. Ephraim Isaac speaks at the United Nation’s Church Center Chapel

Tanenbaum was honored to be a part of the United Nation’s seminal event, Faith for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), held at the Church Center Chapel. Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action Dr. Ephraim Isaac (Ethiopia) spoke eloquently to a diverse crowd; attendees from diverse religious backgrounds and beliefs gathered to discuss how religion can further the quest to eliminate poverty.

EphraimIsaac-UN-Chapel2015

TANENBAUM Peacemaker Dr. Ephraim Isaac (left) with Karin Achtelstetter – Credit: @KarinWaltraut

“I am here of behalf of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding and as one of its Peacemakers in Action.

First let me congratulate you on your good efforts to deal with the critical question of poverty through the power of religion.

I used to be an incorrigible optimist. I am still, but a corrigible one. My remaining optimism is to see people like you here in this room that have the good will to do the good.

But, let us be realistic. In a greedy world where about 1% of the world’s population owns the wealth of the world and does not want to part with it, how do you propose to eliminate poverty in 15 years as you say? In a world where one American person would rather pay one million to travel to Africa to kill one elephant, or, where the King of Saudi Arabia would rent every room of the most expensive American hotel for several days and have a parade of over one hundred cars parked in a garage all of it decorated with red carpets…. especially at a time when thousands of Middle East refuges are seeking dire shelter, how do you convince the world to do what is right?

I am Jewish and yesterday, on Yom Kippur day, I chanted the Prophet Isaiah who said three thousand years ago (to paraphrase): You fast, you put ashes on yourselves, you exhibit your piety, and say to me “why do you not see our piety, how we humble ourselves with ashes on our heads?“  The Almighty responds, “Down with your piety, what I want is free the prisoners and those you oppress, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, help the poor…” If the great prophet has had so shouted about 3000 years ago, in other words, saying as we say today use your faith to help the poor, and that is what the Almighty G-d wants, and nothing has happened for 3000 years, how do you propose to abolish poverty in 15 years?

I know the World Bank has a lot of money, even if not as much as the 1% of the richest people in the world, and I know the religious people have all good intentions. Still how do we propose concretely to change the world?


Click here to learn more about Dr. Ephraim Isaac and Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action.

FBI Releases 2010 Hate Crimes Data; Numbers Hold Steady

The FBI released hate crimes data for 2010 earlier today, and the numbers of hate crimes
reported has held steady since 2009.

Religion-based hate crimes accounted for 20% of the total (a slight uptick from 2009’s
19.7%), behind racially motivated crimes.

As in past years, however, religiously motivated crimes led the pack in some states, including
New York.

 
Numerically, religiously motivated crimes accounted for 1,409 reported offenses, broken down
as follows:
  • 65.4 percent anti-Jewish.
  • 13.2 percent anti-Islamic.
  • 9.5 percent anti-other religion, i.e., those not specified.
  • 4.3 percent anti-Catholic.
  • 3.8 percent anti-multiple religions, group.
  • 3.3 percent anti-Protestant. 
  • 0.5 percent anti-Atheism/Agnosticism/etc.
Anti-Semitic crimes remain the most prevalent of those reported. However, there is a slight
shift from 2009, where 70% of religiously motivated crimes were anti-Jewish and only 9%
were anti-Islamic.