By Prof. Alemayehu G. Mariam
More than two months after Herman Cohen made his unprovoked, depravedly hateful and arrogantly insulting comments about the Amhara people, he has finally issued a twitter apology “about the pain and discomfort he caused in the Amhara community”.
On June 26. 2019, I wrote a commentary entitled “Herman (Harm Man) Cohen’s Second “Coup” in Ethiopia? We Demand an Apology!”
In that commentary I lambasted Cohen for his insensitive and downright hateful comments about Amharas in Ethiopia.
In concluding my commentary I observed:
The teachable moment for Herman Cohen is this: Should he continue in his defamation, demonization and persecution campaign against Amharas or any Ethiopians, I am ready, willing and able to defend and wage a vigorous and unrelenting anti-defamation campaign against him and his ilk. We demand an apology from Herman Cohen for his defamation of Amhara people. Apology not forthcoming, NOTICE SERVED.
To me, what Herman Cohen tweeted in June was pure and simple hate speech.
He demonized an entire group as ethnic hegemons in exactly the same way others have demonized Jews over the centuries.
If Cohen had said what he said about Amharas about a religious or ethnic group in the United States, there would have been hell to pay.
But Cohen undeterred, expanded on his comments in a BBC interview.
Over two months later, Cohen now issues an apology.
Is that a “crocodile apology” or a genuine act of contrition?
In my June commentary, I noted, “Herman Cohen will be held accountable in the court of world public opinion!”
Cohen may be willfully ignorant but there is a massive anti-Cohen grassroots movement coalescing among Ethiopians globally to hold him accountable.
To be perfectly frank, I do not know if Cohen is apologizing now out of genuine remorse or because he sees a global gathering storm of grassroots campaign to hold him accountable and expose him as a racist and a bigot.
I understand some Ethiopians have even taken their protest to his office door in Washington, DC.
Is it true contrition or damage control that has impelled Cohen to issue his apology?
Following my commentary in June, Cohen was unrepentant. He ignored much of the outcry against his outrageous remarks.
Even when Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister H.E. Demeke Mekonen condemned his remarks publicly, Cohen remained tone deaf, dismissive and defiant.
What brought about the sudden change of heart?
Regardless, Cohen has apologized and as the first Ethiopian to respond to him following his outrageous remarks and demand an apology, I accept his words of contrition in good faith.
One of the most important lessons I have learned from observing H.E. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in action over the past year is the fact that we must forgive even in the absence of apology.
We must forgive because it is in our self-interest.
I do not want to carry with me anger and antipathy every time Herman Cohen’s name is mentioned. I don’t want to preface his name with a few choice expletives every time someone mentions his name.
That would be giving Cohen enormous power over my mental state.
Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
I am one strong Ethiopian.
By accepting his apology unconditionally, Herman Cohen to me becomes a figment of my imagination.
In other words, Cohen becomes one of those brain dead windbags and empty barrels in my book. I treat such people with my long standing policy of mind over matter. I don’t mind and they don’t matter.
I have buried the hatchet with respect to Cohen and have moved on to more important things.
But I offer Cohen free advice.
In the movie Magnum Force, Harry Callahan says, “A good man’s got to know his limitations.”
So should an 87 year-old man.
I urge all who have been offended by Herman Cohen to follow my policy of mind over matter.