Tolerance and respect must always be maintained in our national
By Paul Jeebah Albert
In referring to the alleged statements made by the police director of Liberia, Ms. Munnah Sieh, about Liberian women wearing veils and the possible threats to national security, Dr. Emmanuel Dolo, confuses the readers as to his position on this matter. I regard Dr. Dolo with high esteem, but with all due respect, Liberians in many circles find it difficult to believe that the article was written in good faith, in that it is fraught with ambiguities, unsubstantiated accusations and vilification. It leaves one to wonder now whether this is the tolerance and civil discourse he often alludes to.
To begin with, in the second paragraph of his paper, Dr. Dolo tends to be objective and tries to stay within the borderline of his theme. He says, “Let’s consider this an allegation or a misinterpretation of sorts and give her the benefit of the doubt. But whatever the case, if she insinuated or drew a line of causality between people’s dress codes and possible crimes, such hint is spurious at best and bigoted at worse.” In similar fashion, he clearly states in the last paragraph that he hopes there is no truth to the alleged statements. This stance is seeing by some readers to be in sync with his theme, which is, “The Danger of Arming a Possible Bigot: Allegations or Fact.” The phrase, “Allegations or Fact” re-enforces to the reader that Dr. Dolo does not have enough proof or evidence, and therefore will stay away from making personal remarks and bias statements, or projecting any prepossession or predilection on this matter. Nevertheless as one reads through his article, one would discover that he makes dramatic turns and compromises his stance for “innuendos, personal attacks and hear-says”.
In the third paragraph, objectivity begins to fade out. Although he states that he is giving the benefit of the doubt to the police director, but yet he hurls tirades at her. According to him, “This development is alarming because, although alleged, it needs to claim the attention of every rights advocate in the homeland and the Diaspora. It portends a dangerous trend, especially considering the possible source. Imagine! Arming a bigot and inviting the bigot to protect our security. Bigotry thrives in climates where people are willing to let the first hint go without strong condemnation.”
A case in point: What is an allegation? An allegation is simply an unsupported statement. And if the rumors surrounding the statement made by the police director are considered as allegations, does she then deserve being called a bigot? Again, is this the civil discourse that he talks about?
In the fourth paragraph, Dr. Dolo calls for Christians to join their Moslem brothers and sisters who are under attack to thwart the alleged verbal assaults from the police director. In his words, “Christians should be up in arms about the prospect that their fellow siblings of faith are under attack and rebuff this diatribe with every fiber of their being. Liberians should be clear about the fact that it was our apathy, when one group of Liberians was under attack by another, that caused the politicization of ethnic difference to grow into a menacing condition, leading to cascades of revenge, hence, bringing our country to a complete collapse.”
The latter statement of Dr. Dolo appears to have some fervor of “militant theology”. To throw in a few points: The Bible, the Koran, the Torah, the Talmud and all the great books written by God’s prophets teach love, compassion and forgiveness. This does not mean that believers should not standup against injustices, because where God’s spirit exists, there is liberty. If it is not so, then the Bible would not mention about the great battles that the Children of Israel fought and won in defense of their sovereignty. Nevertheless, the Children of Israel went to war with an articulated imperative, or when there were grave and pervasive social issues that threatened their nation. God also appointed great leaders like Moses, Aaron, Joshua, etc., to champion their causes. Relating this to modern times, the non-violent Civil Rights Movement of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was also a religious figure and a social activist, owed its credit to Satyagraha, a doctrine, meaning the conquest of the enemy by suffering in one’s body or through non-cooperation. This doctrine was first developed, coined and successfully experimented against the British colonial occupation of India, by the late Mahatma Gandhi, his mentor and also a religious and social activist. But there were certain key ingredients which made these great social movements popular. First there was the presence of ethos (a moral force) and then pathos (the spirit or strong feelings) prevailing among the masses. The issues were not namby pamby neither isolated ones, for they affected large segments of the population. Moreover, the two leaders were charismatic and they capitalized on their charisma by infusing the burning issues of injustice into the broad masses. And they were able to gain a groundswell of public opinion.
Back to our topic: I interjected the remarks above in order to make a point. None of the key factors that are mentioned above are present on this issue, and therefore it does not rise up to the level of calling on Christians, to stage an uprising in Liberia. Frankly speaking, I am in no way challenging Dr. Dolo’s integrity. I do admire his dazzling abilities to parlay events that transpire in Liberia. On the contrary his articulation on this issue makes it seem like he is far removed from what is happening in Liberia vis-à-vis realpolitik and its debilitating effects on the life of the average Liberian. If he truly loves his family members and friends like he says, then he should visit Liberia to fathom the depths of the indelible scars that the civil war has made on the national psyche. May be he would have a change of heart, and would be very cautious in trying to incite the public.
In the sixth paragraph of his essay, he emphatically states that he is breaking the tradition of ‘value-free’ social science to become personal. In Dr. Dolo’s words, “In this paper, I have broken the tradition of ‘value-free’ social science because the issue at hand is personal. It affects the lives of my relatives, and a host of people whose lives mean the world to me. I do not pretend to be neutral on this matter because the future of Liberia is of immense importance to me. When I stand against bigotry, I do so as a Liberian who has seen the devastation that embedding hatred and prejudice into ethnic difference cost all Liberians.”
Taking a critical look at these remarks, many of us still have relatives and friends living in Liberia. Notwithstanding, an individual who is poised for exposing the social evils of society, should always have the quest for truth and objectivity at the core of his being. In Latin the phrase, “voir dire”, means to speak the truth. It was used in ancient days and even today to determine the competency of a witness, because what he/she says in court may jeopardize the welfare of an innocent person, or may acquit the one against whom injustice has been done. But how can one speak the truth in the first place, if he was not there, nor have any verifiable, circumstantial evidence? Let us look at it the other way. What would it have been like, if it were Dr. Dolo’s relatives and friends against whom the allegations were made? Would it be right for the police director, Christians and Moslems alike to sensationalize the issues, without ascertaining the truth or falsehood? To go even further, what if the allegations were true? Would the police director not be presumed innocent until she is proven guilty? I would imagine if I were Dr. Dolo, and I truly love my relatives and friends like he professes, I would go to Liberia, conduct an intrusive investigation to ferret the truth, and bring the case before a criminal assize. Would it not be the right thing to do?
In continuing his tirade of the police director, Dr. Dolo goes on to say, “In plain English, this alleged statement is harmful even just by the mere thought. The utterance has the potential to chill the free movement of women wearing veil. It is irresponsible and despicable. One wonders now about the judgment of the Director of Police and her psychosocial and cultural sensibilities.”
How can he wonder about her psychosocial and cultural sensibilities, when in fact not even a scintilla of truth about the allegation has been established? If her utterances are just allegations even as Dr. Dolo, himself admits, then their validity must be proven to regard them as plausible. Other than that, it becomes a case of putting the cart before the horse, or an indirect way of saying that the reading public should based its conclusion prematurely on hear-say. I do not imply that Dr. Dolo is not credible, but he must back his assertions with proof.
As one approach the concluding paragraphs of his essay, Dr. Dolo takes another dramatic turn. He beckons President Johnson-Sirleaf’s attention on this matter, while at the same time harshly repudiates and accuses her of corruption. In his words, “Silence on this matter or backsliding as she has done about the plague of corruption ravaging our society, would mean only one thing. She is too preoccupied with self to the disadvantage of the citizenry and to the peril of her political future.” He further calls on President Johnson-Sirleaf to place the police director on an administrative leave until the investigation is over.
Let us be real. Liberia’s ails transcend President Johnson-Sirleaf. Rebuilding Liberia is not for the faint-hearted. It would take the concerted efforts of all Liberians at home and abroad. We must avoid the temptation of mantling a personality cult around the presidency. President Johnson-Sirleaf is not the panacea (cure all) for all the age-old problems that beset our society. Our country needs individuals with specializations who can give life and hope to its ravaged economy. Standing by like being in a spectator-sport jeering and criticizing is counterproductive to all its intent and purposes. For in the end, we all become victims either directly or indirectly!
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