The Calm After the Storm
By Theodore T. Hodge
The poem above is attributed to Pastor Martin Niemoller. German intellectuals are said to have stood by while the Nazis strategically targeted and victimized various segments of the German society. Those words are now memorialized.
Over the last two weeks, we Liberians have found ourselves in a vigorous debate over the actions of Mr. Willis Knuckles who was exposed in a sex scandal. Willis Knuckles has been tried in the court of public opinion and he has summarily been found guilty of immoral and indecent acts. The public has screamed, “Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!” The pressure has been so enormous Mr. Knuckles was forced to tender his resignation. President Ellen Johnson has accepted the resignation, though with some regret, and deservedly so.
But was the uproar to crucify Mr. Knuckles justifiable? Was there a moment of quiet reflection in examining other aspects of this tragic episode? Now, in retrospect, we are forced to take a deeper analysis --- to examine the issue rather than the personality.
Willis Knuckles was a Minister of Presidential Affairs and arguably the president’s closest advisor. He’s the sort of man most of us would wish to be --- rich, powerful and well connected to the center of power. That also makes him the kind of person we love to hate because of our inability to enjoy such a coveted status. Such men are natural villains, hence the ease with which we’ve cried, “Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Okay, now that we have crucified Knuckles, who’s next? Today the mob has come to persecute him and many sit by humming that same old tone:
Since I’m not a rich man, I’ll say nothing.
Since I’m not a presidential advisor, I’ll say nothing.
Since I‘m not accused, I’ll say nothing.
But who will speak up for you when your legal rights are trampled? Who will speak up for you when your privacy is invaded? Such questions must be pondered. Liberia is not a society in a vacuum. What happened in Nazi Germany must be our guide as we move forward; it has its relevance upon us. It was the late US President Harry Truman who once said, “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.” Let history be our guide as we deliberate in this national dialogue.
Again, we must try to dissect the issues instead of the personalities. We must ask ourselves: Who took the photos? What was their intention? Were the photos used as a means of extortion? Did some powerful person attempt to blackmail Knuckles before the pictures were published? Is there any credence to Knuckles’ allegation that Representative Snowe and his wife were involved in this treacherous act? If so, how do they respond? These questions are much more important than the claim that the photos embarrassed the nation. If Mr. Knuckles’ allegations have any validity, then if left uninvestigated such actions could set a much more dangerous precedent than Mr. Knuckles’ bare act of personal indiscretion.
It is now obvious that I have taken an unpopular position in this case. I have chosen to be more balanced and objective than most people care to be. Unfortunately, charges have been levied against me that I am a mercenary writer in the employ of Mr. Knuckles. I have heretofore refuted this claim and find it an exercise in futility to continue the defense against such a baseless charge.
I am also vilified for stating a contrary point of view. In a matter in which the majority has chosen to take a certain position, how dare I differ? Well, because it is my right to do so. I pride my individual right to speak the truth as I see it. I am nobody’s clone, physically or intellectually. I am under no compulsion to express a uniformed opinion. If I want to give up the right to express my individual opinions, I might as well move to China or Cuba and take my marching orders from the Communist Party. Until then, whether my view conforms to the majority or whether it represents the minority view, I must speak and write my conscience.
As a social critic, I consider it my responsibility to raise these issues as the dialogue continues. I have never downplayed the importance of Mr. Knuckles’ actions, given his position in government. However, until we are ready to consider the full implications of this case and all its possible legal and social ramifications, we will do ourselves a disservice. Silence, indifference or political expediency do not suffice.
Pastor Niemoller uttered the immortal words at the
top of this piece. He did so only in sober retrospection
in the calm after the storm --- after he himself had
become a concentration camp prisoner. His words demonstrate
the danger of silence or indifference. We must learn
from history or become its victims. Today, it is Willis
Knuckles’ turn, but are your legal rights under
assault? Could you be a victim of privacy invasion one
day? Could you be a victim of blackmail or extortion?
If you do not speak up now, who will speak for you? Will anybody be left to speak up? Think about it.