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 Aberjhani's Paradigm Dancing

Thursday, July 5, 2012 8:29PM
Dancing to the Paradigm Rhythms...
Posted By: * Aberjhani

Tags: PEN International, PEN American Center, Eskinder Nega, C.A. Dawson Scott, John Galsworthy, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Aberhani, Change, Paradigm Dancing, 2012 presidential election campaign, Barack Obama, U.S. Supreme Court

Ethiopian journalist and publisher Eskinkder Nega. (World News photo)

Change is one of the scariest things in the world and yet it is also one of those variables of human existence that no one can avoid. One may literally find the lessons of that simple observation all over the map at this halfway point in the year 2012–– and only a few months before Americans take their collective political fate into their own hands during one of the most intense presidential elections on historical record. 

From such a perspective, it matters less whether you look at the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions to skillfully dissect Arizona’s (and by extension similar states’) Illegal Immigration Law, and then largely uphold President Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as victories for one group over another. What is clear in either case is that the paradigm rhythms of change are very much in progress in this second decade of the 21st century.

Freedom of Expression and Eskinder Nega
Stepping outside the United States into the larger global village, the nature of change has caused government officials in Ethiopia to place themselves in a precarious position where the court of public opinion is concerned. Specifically, officials there recently convicted some half a dozen journalists (plus 18 other individuals) of terrorism based primarily­­­­––so far as observers have been able to tell––on blogs and editorials.

The main offenses committed through these writings was that the authors: addressed the events of the Arab Spring, questioned the accuracy of election outcomes, and examined governmental criteria for classifying individuals as terrorists. Among those convicted on June 27 was publisher and journalist Eskinder Nega, recipient of the 2012 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.

The PEN American Center, part of PEN International, has long been an advocate for freedom of written expression. Upon learning of Nega’s conviction, the organization joined with the following to protest of the ruling: Amnesty International, Committee to Free Eskinder Nega, Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom Now, Human Rights Watch, International Press Institute, Media Legal Defence Initiative, National Press Club, and the World Association of Newspapers and Newspaper Publishers. 

Their statement read in part: The conviction represents the criminalization of peaceful dissent in Ethiopia and is a clear violation of the rights to freedom of the press and freedom of expression.”

At present, Eskinder Nega is set to receive his sentence on July 13. At least one prosecutor has requested he receive a life sentence. It is a sad twist of bitter irony that Nega’s son was actually born in prison while his wife, fellow journalist Serkalem Fasil, was previously under arrest for her writings.

Nega’s case in fact, by nearly all accounts, is not atypical in Ethiopia. It nevertheless is one which disturbs many in the international community because of the country’s status as a major recipient of public service provisions and humanitarian aid. In short, it is painfully difficult to reconcile images of people dying from starvation and illness in Ethiopia with that of journalists undergoing persecution for blogging truthfully about their lives. In one such blog, Nega noted the following:
“This being Ethiopia, though, leaders seldom enjoy the privilege of honest advice from subordinates... By the power tradition, leaders are told what they want to hear not what they should… The rule in this world is simple: Thrive with opportunism and sophistry. Perish with honesty and integrity.” 

The One Constant
As history has demonstrated many times over, change may arrive slowly or quickly but it is the one constant, in one form or another, on which we can all count. One shining example of positive change in action is one of Eskinder Nega’s steadfast champions, the PEN American Center itself.

In her biography of PEN co-founder C.A. Dawson Scott, Marjorie Watts (who just happened to be her daughter) observed that both Dawson Scott and PEN president John Galsworthy had a “dislike” of “racial prejudice.” Yet the PEN American Center in 1943 was all of two decades old when Harlem Renaissance authors Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps exchanged letters about the absence of any African-Americans in the organization.

Responding to Hughes’ query, Bontemps wrote the following on September 24, 1943:
 “…You are right. No Negroes are members. I know of two attempts. It was rumored in Chicago that Dick (Richard Wright) was suggested for membership in N.Y. shortly after Native Son became a best seller but something came up and the idea was dropped.”

Still, three years later Wright was a guest at PEN centers throughout Europe. Ten years after that, Ralph Ellison, esteemed author of Invisible Man, was invited to join the American Center. And the rest, as “they say,” is now an unparalleled portrait of triumphant diversity.

However, the more important point in 2012 is that because it chose to embrace change for the betterment of all humanity, PEN American Center can now celebrate 90 years as part of the world’s oldest human rights and literary advocacy organization. In other words, someone had to embrace positive beginnings before anyone could celebrate successful conclusions or continuations.

The Challenge of Making Change Work
Two of the most interesting comments regarding the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act came from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. himself when he stated: “It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”  And: “…it is not our role to forbid it or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness."

Some commentators have extended interpretations of those statements, plus additional comments, as Chief Justice Roberts’ way of saying his job in this ruling “was to find a way to make the Affordable Care Act work.” How unprecedented and extraordinary is that?

It is fully possible that the Affordable Care Act and the movement toward humane applications of immigration laws are the beginnings of a potentially golden age for democracy. It is possible that Eskinder Nega and the other journalists calling for greater freedom of expression in Ethiopia are heroes whose courage eventually will help elevate even more than concepts of freedom in their homeland. First steps are always the hardest but until they are taken the notion of progress remains only a notion and not an achievement.

by Aberjhani
co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
and ELEMENTAL, The Power of Illuminated Love
 More on Eskinder Nega and the Paradigm Rhythms of Change
Open Letter to MP Meles Zenawi Message from the People by Eskinder Nega
Debebe Eshetu’s Arrest and New Year by Eskinder Nega
World Voices Festival Celebrates Literary Diplomacy Part 1
World Voices Festival Celebrates Literary Diplomacy Part 2
Paradigm Dancing An Introduction
The Nature of this Paradigm Dancing
Approaching the 100th Anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance
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