The “Banality of Evil”: Abiy Ahmed, Adolph Eichmann and the Ethiopian People
By Elias Dawit 03-25-21
In a speech to the Ethiopian parliament this week, Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed admitted his brazen lie about the presence of foreign troops (Eritrean) in Tigray. That statement, however, took a backseat to his stunningly craven admission of gang raped as a weapon of war against the people of Tigray. According to Abiy Ahmed, women were indeed raped in Tigray by soldiers, but his soldiers had been attacked from behind with machetes.
He said, “What is it that makes so many concerned about rape on Tigray women ignoring the fact that our soldiers were attached by machetes!? At least these women were raped by men!!”.
In a pique of tone-deaf outrage, he elevated the act of a proactive self-defense attack by the TPLF on the Northern Command as being “stabbed in the back with machetes”. In other words, the violent and de-humanizing crime of gang rape was less of a concern.
The leader of Ethiopia’s expired government (junta) has clearly and unabashedly equated the gang rape of girls and women with an act of war between combatants. The fact that Abiy has very publicly admitted to a war crime is overshadowed by the so-called winner of the Nobel Peace Prize’s callous dismissal of the humanity of Tigray’s girls and women. It is striking that he cannot understand the sheer depravity of his actions or even the impact his words will have on external audiences.
Aby Ahmed is a sociopath—not in the name-calling sense but in the clinical sense. His lack of empathy for the crime of gang rape against women girls and women in Tigray is a clear symptom of a man without morals or value for human life. It is clear and simple.
And while sociopathic tendencies are oftentimes the mark of a ruthless leader who shows no remorse in the many deaths and ruinous injuries caused by his actions, the question before us is about the muted reaction of Ethiopians and the international community.
Abiy Ahmed has denied the humanity of all Tigrayan people by his genocidal actions. His denial of women’s humanity—so telling in his depraved comments to the parliament—seems to have passed under the radar of Ethiopian women and, frankly, women everywhere.
Is it because the sheer brutality and barbarism of the whole picture of crimes against humanity in Tigray simply overwhelms the details?
Hanna Arendt, a twentieth century philosopher who survived the horrors of the nearly successful Nazi extermination of the Jewish people, wrote this about Adolph Eichmann, one of the architects of the German “Final Solution” :
What he [Eichmann] said was always the same, expressed in the same words. The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words and the presence of others, and hence against reality as such.
This, the concept of the “banality of evil” was explained as a disengagement of the evil doer from the evil acts committed. This disconnect is the “thought-defying” acceptance of evil acts divorced from the reality of the evil doer himself.
In other words, Ethiopians listened to what Abiy said about the atrocities committed in Tigray, including the gang rape of girls and women, and were able to separate these acts from the man himself.
And so, the man who plants trees, wears ridiculous clothes and does calisthenics with the soldiers he accuses of trying overthrow him is somehow separated in peoples’ minds from the craven despot who commits heinous atrocities against the people of Tigray.
Hannah Arendt tells us that that evil comes from a failure to think. For three years, Abiy Ahmed “normalized’ the de-humanization of Tigrayans. He blamed, scapegoated and pointed his finger at the Tigrayan people as the root cause of all that was wrong with Ethiopia. The Ethiopian people acquiesced to this process and, in effect, became inured to the increasingly hostile tone against the Tigrayan people. They stopped thinking about what he said.
Today, the Ethiopian people have accepted Abiy’s statement that raping Tigrayan girls and women is justified by the attack on his soldiers at the Northern Command. Tigrayan girls and women are not human while Ethiopian soldiers symbolize the glory of Abiy Ahmed. It is no secret that Abiy began his tenure repeating the prediction told to him by his mother that he will one day lead Ethiopia. This has become a new mythology within Ethiopia—Abiy Ahmed’s divine destiny to lead.
The people of Ethiopia have stopped thinking about what Abiy Ahmed is saying—whether it is about trees, textiles or raping girls and women. Franz Fanon, the Algerian psychiatrist who wrote about the oppressed and the oppressor during the period of French colonialism, summed it up by saying:
people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are
presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new
evidence cannot be accepted it would create a feeling that is
extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it
is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize,
ignore and even deny anything that doesn't fit in with the core belief.”
The tragedy of Tigray is in front of us. Death, mutilation, gang rape, and displacement have ravaged what was just a few months ago the most peaceful region in all of Ethiopia. The Tigrayan people have shown the world their courage, their dignity, their resilience and their humanity in the face of unfathomable evil. They will re-build. They will move forward. They will never forget.
For the Ethiopian people, however, the future is not so bright. The banality of evil has permeated their worldview. They have stopped thinking. By denying the humanity of the Tigrayan people, they have denied their own humanity. To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it. Abiy Ahmed is guilty of genocide. The Ethiopian people, by ignoring the genocide, have become accomplices to it.