Our Imperative For Coexistence: Countering Looming Distrust And Tensions

By: Emmanuel Dolo

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
April 17, 2013

Liberia is a deeply divided society: politically, socially, economically, religiously, and even culturally. We have yet not learned the necessary and essential craft of taking optimal advantage of its diversity. Discrimination and inequality are serious and pervasive problems when large segments of the population still live in abject poverty. Common courtesies are quite scarce in daily life.

These are not surprising, since we are just emerging from a prolonged civil war that crystallized our divisions along many superficial lines, ethnicity being most prominent. We have now normalized difference, denigration of difference, disagreements, anger, and conflicts in our way of life. The tension from unspoken hurt that people feel is still latent. Tremendous energy is being spent holding onto wounds from the past. Unfortunately, our political discourse has become mired by repeated disagreements across various aisles: the executive, the legislative, within political parties, religious entities, etc. And with an abounding number of vulnerable populations (ranging from illiterate to mis-educated people), those Liberians who enjoy and benefit from conflicts have easy preys to exploit. The call-in shows have a tendency to provide listeners a good gauge, although not exclusively. In many quarters, our national conversation seems short on substantive content.

After nearly two decades of bloodshed, distrust, and uneasy coexistence, we have realized peace, although fragile. How can we atone for the injustices that we meted out at one another so that we can bring about a Liberian sense of nationhood? How can we sustain the emerging peace that we have managed to build; and avoid the steps that rendered our country a failed state; and made us second class citizens around the world clamoring for livelihood?

In recent times, the theme that has grasped the popular imagination is the debate whether or not Liberia is a Christian nation. Zealots on one side or the other (Christians and Moslems alike) have tended to scuffle over the question – Should Liberia remain a secular state or not? Time has come for keen observers to sit up and notice. Time has come to add sensible voice to this national debate of grave concern.

In my mind, there is no greater offence to our peaceful sensibilities than when we want to falsely implicate religion in our country’s quest to overcome its divided past. Adding a religious dimension to our social and political problems will fan the fires without end. Recall that our conflict had a regional dimension. Most of all, were we Christians (this writer being one), to invite a religious quarrel, we will not be able to sustain it until the end. There are more Moslems in the region than there are Christians, and the experience of our colleagues in Nigeria should teach us a serious lesson not to engage in any diatribe that will divide us further and even instigate religious violence.

I have come to realize that inequality and fear, married together are the most important underlying reasons for the intractable distrust that keeps fanning the division amongst us. You see, Christians cherish their image as the moral conscience of society just as their Moslem compatriots do. If it is true that each faith is the moral conscience of society, why would we not let this mutual perception drive us toward peaceful coexistence, but rather a feeling of superiority to the other? Any attempt to demonize or delegitimize the other out of fear that coexistence will detract from the other will certainly result in a disaster of the kind in places were conflict has become a way of life with no end in sight.

No Liberian, Christian or Muslim should ever feel the need to raise a generation of Liberians on narratives that Christians or Muslim are determined to destroy them individually and collectively. If they do, generations of Liberians will grow up generalizing enmity toward the other, and peace will not prevail in our country. This is a scary prospect, and no one in their right mind should plant such a seed of cowardice and vengeance in our society. When religious sentiments are raised as a basis of conflict, it becomes the issue of rights versus rites and at that point, it becomes a process of simply seeking to delegitimize the other side. And no one is able to draw on their empathy for the other.

Preventing one’s own side from acknowledging the rights of the other side to their rites and vice versa, is what sustains religious conflicts because no one wants to feel as if their rights and rites are illegitimate. Christian and Moslem leaders alike should understand by now that continuing down this path has dangerous consequences – perilous to the morale of the society and its national unity. Most importantly, if your rights and rites diminish that of others, it ultimately reduces the rightness of your advocacy and your cause even more fatally.

The more powerful one faith or group of people become over others, the more they stand to lose and more insecure they will become. If you deny another person their worth, no doubt, you will find yourself incapable of maintaining your dignity. Our own history teaches this lesson well. The insecurity of one group has never been resolved in Liberian history without inviting brutal conflict. Let’s not work to go back to this gruesome period in our life. We all should be guided by the imperative of coexistence to make genuine efforts to mitigate our distrust of one another.

Distrust has been insidious and has undercut our capacity to coexist. Let’s not let those who manipulate our fears and distrust lead us astray once again. Building trust amongst Moslems and Christians will be a crucial resource for bringing about social cohesion and lasting peace. We all must not rest easy for a moment unless there is distinct change in our bigoted attitude toward one another. We have an imperative to coexist or perish together. The former is certainly the most feasible option.

The Author: Emmanuel Dolo lives in Duazon, Margibi County. He can be reached at emmanueldolo80@yahoo.com.

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