A response to: The Knuckles Saga: Who defines morality?
Saa M. McCarthy
Let me firstly thank Ms. Dorliae for making public her views regarding the Knuckles issue. Also, expressing her support for President Sirleaf was well noted. In like manner, I also would like to make it clear that I am not a supporter of Madam Sirleaf for reasons ranging from her yet-to-be-explained role in the formation of the NPFL, which ushered in the Charles Taylor era where tens of thousands of defenseless men, women, and children were slaughtered, as well as mass displacement of Liberians and destruction of the country’s infrastructure. Her equivocal positions on a number of key issues since ascending to the presidency, such as prioritizing the rule of law, dealing with rape, and now the Knuckles’ incident is of great concern. Let me further state that although I do not know Mr. Knuckles personally, as a husband and father, I empathize with his disgraceful fall and pray that he and his family will be healed of this traumatic experience. I do believe, however, that everyone deserves a second chance.
I deliberately chose to remain silent on the Knuckles’ issue when it initially appeared in the news media primarily because it was unconfirmed. And after Mr. Knuckles himself confirmed the reports, there were so many commentaries that I thought it best to hold my peace. Liberians in the Diaspora generally are expert reactionaries, but not known to be problem solvers.
A friend of mine asked if he could email me the photo of Mr. Knuckles in the act, but I said no. The description was quite despicable and I did not want to get caught up in the frenzy. However, when I read the article by Ms. Dorliae - a highly educated, independent Liberian female – I could no longer hold back. My views on this subject are contrary to that of the respected educator. As an expert in the field of psychology and a human rights advocate, Ms. Dorliae’s opinions regarding this issue are somewhat disturbing. They appear to be a compilation of irrational thoughts and flawed conclusions.
In the opening paragraph, Ms. Dorliae wrote: “As a female Liberian citizen, I regretfully accepted Mr. Knuckles’ resignation. Unlike, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who I deeply admire, my regret is not because of holding public officials to “high moral standards”, rather it is because of my strong opposition to intermingling government and morality. When a nation attempts to out rightly define morality for its leaders and citizens and holds one moral truth for all its citizens, it activates the process of diminishing human rights under disguises such as “upholding high moral standards.”
Ms. Dorliae wants us to accept the idea that in order to be effective, government must be separated from the moral culture. Who is the government in a democratic society? Is it not a collection of men and women of and from the society? Government is not some alien being that exists without any connection to the people. It is in large part a representation of the people and a reflection of the collective ideals. Officials of government make decisions on a daily basis that shape the national psyche. So whether they realize it or not, government officials are role models. Hence, they must be held to higher standards.
The manner in which these officials conduct themselves is largely a function of how they individually perceive their roles and responsibilities, which is directly linked to a personal belief system. An immoral belief system can have a damaging impact on the society at large. An example of this is when members of society believe it is ok for one in authority to take things (money or other items) that do not belong to them, or engaging in despicable acts are acceptable because “everyone else is dong it”. Without moral standards upheld by the leaders how else will the people realize such practices are harmful? Perhaps this distorted sense of morality is at the root of corruption in Liberia, contributing to the prevailing culture of impunity and lack of accountability. Mr. Knuckles has yet to take personal responsibility for his shameful actions; rather he continually blames those who published evidence of his indiscretion and the breaking of his marital vows.
Considering Ms. Dorliae’s argument, we would have to conclude that decrying Mr. Knuckles’ indecent exposure diminishes human rights. Clearly, this argument is flawed and baseless. A photograph of the Minister of Presidential Affairs engaging in sexual intercourse with two women is not a personal issue, especially when rape is now the highest violent crime in Liberia. In the prevailing atmosphere sexual misconduct involving persons in such a high position, quite frankly, is a national and an international issue. It is important we let our children and the world know in the strongest of terms that Mr. Knuckles’ behavior is unacceptable and intolerable. Such a clear message can only help as we strive to rebuild the image of our country.
Let there be no mistaking it, I am not advocating policing the sexual practices of citizens. Whatever one does in the privacy of the bedroom is his/her business. However, when a person’s belief system or sexual indiscretion affects the majority, or hurts the image of the nation, they must be held accountable.
In her third and fourth paragraph, Ms. Chenoweth wrote: “In support of human rights, when a heterogeneous nation such as Liberia begins to intertwine “high moral standards” and job performance or the role of public servant, we run the risk of implying that moral and ethical propositions are the same for all Liberians regardless of cultural, religion, ethical, and socio-economic differences. We also allow for the Liberian government to be the overseer of morality. Allowing governments to set moral standards entertains the shifting of morality according to who is in power. A case in point, today, Liberia has allowed Human Rights groups, the media, and others in power to blackmail Mr. Knuckles and to call for his resignation in the name of immorality. Tomorrow, another group in power might say some tribal practices or cultural practices such as female genital circumcision, polygamy, and animism are immoral and anyone engaging in those acts should not hold public office.”
Ms. Dorliae now shifts the blame of the resignation of Mr. Knuckles squarely on the Liberian people and the media. How ludicrous! In the second paragraph she says it’s immoral for anyone to have sex outside of marriage while in the same breath suggesting that if one is caught and exposed in an indecent sexual act, the critics and those who make public such information should be blamed. Ms. Dorliae’s deep admiration for President Sirleaf is understandable; they both are equivocal one the issues - speaking from both sides of the mouth. Like Ms. Dorliae, the President has empathically stated that she supports the rights of women and will do her utmost to hold her cabinet to the highest code of ethics. But when the opportunity presented itself for the president to back up this statement, she did not only act indecisively, but rather “regretted” that Mr. Knuckles was resigning on account of his immoral behavior. The President has already demonstrated that she would say anything to keep up the so-called “Iron Lady” image that is anything but iron. Thus far she seems to be doing a fine job projecting this façade to the outside world. But the Liberian people are not fooled.
Madam Sirleaf wears a two-faced mask. One day she pledges to uphold and defend the Constitution. The next day, she ignores the decision of the Supreme Court, for example, in its ruling against the renegade legislators. As to the claims of bribery in the Legislature, which Mr. Snowe has alleged is the work of the Executive Mansion; the President has been extremely quiet. This serious accusation is being ignored, giving the appearance of a calculated move by the Executive Branch to get rid of a nuisance speaker and bring him to disgrace.
It also appears that the President has been very selective in executing justice, going only after those individuals seen as easy prey, or scapegoats in what seems to be an attempt to impress the international partners that the administration is serious about corruption. Is this really the case? The UN, as a result of an extensive investigation, has called for the freezing of assets of individuals close to ex-president Charles Taylor. This is yet to be carried out—the Justice Ministry continues to make excuses regarding the legal constraints impeding the process. However, the government sees no legal constraints in executing justice based on an UN and ECOWAS audit in which members of the Transitional Government headed by Gyude Bryant are charged with embezzling millions of dollars. Don’t get me wrong; anyone accused of corruption or fiduciary mistrust must be prosecuted. I am a fan of neither Mr. Bryant nor Mr. Snowe. But if the Sirleaf government wants to hold corrupt officials accountable, it has a duty and a responsibility to do this without partiality or selectivity for its own selfish ends. The fight against corruption must be open, just and transparent. Let the government layout its plan and tell the Liberian people how it decides who ought to be prosecuted and who ought not.
In conclusion, the Liberian society is exhibiting all the signs of immorality and dysfunctionality largely because of an identity crisis. The country is suffering from the lack of visionary leadership. By and large, there is no logical order or systems to teach and guide the people. This has resulted in a highly indisciplined society, where everyone is an expert in every subject and dong whatever seems right in his or her own eyes. As a people, we don’t seem to know who we are, or where we are going. Now, this administration has yet to articulate a vision and is leading without clearly defined goals and objectives. This is yet another example of the blind leading the blind.
I believe, without a shadow of doubt, that no nation can become prosperous without setting ethical and moral standards. Even the United States - a country Liberians often strive to emulate – has excelled mainly because of its embrace of moral and ethical values founded upon Judeo-Christian principles of the HOLY BIBLE. America’s Founding Fathers knew full well the importance of morality in nation building. Their convictions were grounded in faith and belief in the God of Israel whose definition of right and wrong they adopted. However, In the case of Liberia, our Founding Fathers – not having a clearly defined mission – copied the United States Constitution, believing America’s success could be duplicated by simply inscribing on paper the ideals of a people in a far away land. Hence, the Liberian Constitution has not worked in 160 years, because it does not reflect the dreams and aspirations of the Liberian people. Perhaps it is time we, as a people, come to grips with who we are and what we believe, define our purpose, goals, and objectives; then reconcile the law and morality. Because there is no excuse for immoral leadership in a democracy!
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