MURANG'A CHAOS

No saints in Kenya’s political chaos

Why do we mete out violence online to strangers who have opinions contrary to our own?

In Summary

• We delude ourselves into thinking we are civilised and morally upright simply because we do not engage in physical political violence.

• What we conveniently forget is that we are just as guilty, violent and hurtful. The only difference is our violence field.

AIPCA Church in Kenol where chaos erupted on Sunday, October 4.
HOUSE OF PEACE: AIPCA Church in Kenol where chaos erupted on Sunday, October 4.
Image: ALICE WAITHERA

“Let him who is without sin among you, be the first to cast a stone at her."

Jesus had spent the night on the Mount of Olives and when morning came, he went down to the temple where he began teaching the crowd. Shortly after, the scribes and the Pharisees frog-marched a woman before Him and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. In the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

Jesus then bent down and wrote with His finger on the ground. When they kept questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her."

 

They slowly walked away, one by one.

This has been a week of accusations and counter-accusations of instigators of the violence witnessed in Muranga county, Kenol, that left two people dead and many others injured.

The violence erupted during a church fundraising visit by Deputy President William Ruto, when his supporters clashed with those opposition his political ambitions.

And as has become the norm, politicos were very quick to hold press conferences and release press statements to condemn the violence.

They openly accused their rivals of being the instigators and misusing the youth as political militia.

Never mind, that unlike the scribes and Pharisees, who caught the adulteress in the act, none of the accusers caught those they were accusing in the act of planning, recruiting the rioters or monetising the violence.

They were simply capitalising on the incident to gain political mileage.

For those of us who do not have the wherewithal to hold pressers or issue press statements, we extended the accusations on cyberspace based on our political preferences.

We smudged our touch screens with thunder and lightning keyboard strokes. 

We pontificated on the sanctity of life, condemned the politicos who fundraise in churches and castigated the clergy that allows the politicos to ‘defile’ their lecterns.

We chest-thumped that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men and women to tweet nothing. So, we became the e-scribes and the e-Pharisees.

Begs the question, if Jesus was here, what would He do?

 

I submit that He would bend and write with His finger on the ground. And as the accusations escalate, He would straighten up, look directly into our eyes, and state, “Let him who is without sin among you, be the first to cast a stone."

At this point, you are probably confused because you were neither at Kenol partaking of the violence, nor were you among those who allegedly planned the violence. And that is a fact.

But how often, have you meted out violence to others simply because they held a contrary view from yours?

Expressing ourselves on social media has become a religion. The Latin root for religion means “to bind together”.

This binding together is achieved in two ways: creative responsibility or destructive scapegoating. We either abuse or accuse others of all the problems in the world, or we form alliances based on our mutual hatred of those who do not share our opinions.

We delude ourselves into thinking that we are civilised and morally upright simply because we do not engage in physical political violence.

We deem the physical violence to be passé, to be beneath our social and intellectual status, and bait for the gullible unemployed youth.

What we conveniently forget is that we are just as guilty, violent and hurtful. The only difference is our violence field. While the political violence was fought in Kenol, ours is fought daily on social media, in our living rooms, in our drinking circles and in our solitary minds.

Begs another question, why do we mete out such violence to strangers who hold opinions contrary to ours?

I posit that in this day and age, one of our greatest influencers in the media because it is often the way in which we acquire information about issues outside of our immediate living space.

This is particularly in areas where we do not possess direct knowledge or experience of what is happening.

There are three ways in which the media assigns to us our opinions. One is agenda-setting. As readers and viewers, we perceive how much importance to attach to an issue based on the emphasis the media gives it.

The media does this by providing differential levels of coverage on specific issues or through cues such as large bold headlines, the opening story on the newscast and the length of time devoted to it.

Second is priming. Priming provides basic perception and relative comparison, which makes judgement easier and quicker.

For instance, the media can prime us on what a credible person or a charlatan looks like.

And finally, framing. Stories do not write themselves. They are written by people who are also partakers of the political socialisation.

The writers decide how to present or convey information.

They influence us on how and why to think about an issue. They communicate in a manner that leads us to see something from a certain perspective. Effective framing reinforces our pre-existing beliefs and attitudes.

The gravitas of this is evident in the difference between knowledge and opinion and confirmed through a study conducted by neuroscientists at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of South California.

This study found that people are hardheaded about their political opinions even when provided with new counter-evidence.

The findings were that political opinions are like religious beliefs and when challenged or questioned, our brains become active in the areas that govern our personal identity and emotional responses to threats.

These opinions become a part of who we are and are important for the social circles to which we belong.

Therefore, to consider an alternative view, we would have to consider an alternative version of ourselves.

The latter exposes our vulnerability, and so the natural tendency is to defend our opinions in every which way, including being violent to others, physically or electronically, in an effort to counter any threat.

Knowledge, on the other hand, invites questions. What one claims to know can be verified and justified because it is based on credible information and sufficient evidence.

In a court of law, there is a famous rule called the opinion rule. It is an exclusionary rule of evidence that states a witness should testify to facts not opinions.

It states that when a witness is giving testimony, he or she must report only on what she or he saw or heard, not what he or she thinks happened because that would be giving an opinion, rather than facts.

Finally, my unsolicited advice is to all the e-scribes and e-Pharisees.

Jesus did the unthinkable: he drank water from a sinful Samaritan woman; the inconceivable: he touched the leper; the irrational: he forgave the thief on the cross; the illogical:, he dined with the tax collector; and the paradoxica:, he espoused the Beatitudes.

So, the next time you feel compelled to mete out e-violence, through physical or verbal violence, because of a view that is contrary to the one assigned to you by the media or other influencers, ask yourself, what would Jesus do?

Opinions are like onions. They spell similarly, both usually have many layers, and they always tend to make people cry - Caitlyn Paige