Information reaching our Issues Desk indicates that some in society are determined to forbid or discourage the exercise of free speech. It is this misplaced and nefarious determination on the part of some Liberians, especially in view of what has been said and done concerning the gay rights debates and discussions, which has prompted the re-publication of this article.
Note: What you are going to read below is an excerpt of Chapter One of my second book, Pinpointing the Points, published in 2009.
As almost everyone talks about the dawn of a new Liberia, one of the areas of importance for that new Liberia is the promotion of free speech; however, there are two problems associated with its flourish. Firstly, some Liberians are determined to suppress it. They use violence, intimidation and other tactics to forbid people to participate in the process, or to discourage them from getting involved. Such people do not know, or simply choose to ignore the fact, that there is a country called the Republic of Free Speech. Secondly, experience has proven that many of our compatriots who decide to discuss or debate issues are either unwilling or unable to do so civilly. A lot of Liberians who decide to participate in a discussion or a debate – I mean, an exercise that requires the free, candid and mature exchange of ideas – are not willing, ready and able to conform to its norms.
In this country – that is, the Republic of Free Speech – the President is Dr. Logic, the Chief Justice is Counselor Evidence, and the Speaker of the House is Honorable Diction. The Senior Advisor to the government is Sir Decorous. Unlike what happens in the ordinary world, these four individuals, besides working together on all issues, do everything to help the citizens perform their single most important activity, which is the exchange of ideas. This is the foundation upon which the country exists, and all human beings and, yea, all Liberians can become citizens of this unique nation.
Whether the views are spoken or written, the point to remember is that other people’s views must be respected, irrespective of our like or dislike for the views expressed, or the people expressing them. This is where tolerance replaces intolerance, maturity subdues immaturity, professionalism displaces mediocrity, vindictiveness and personal attacks give way to intellectual interplay that is devoid of the use of physical force or insults.
A quote usually attributed to Voltaire is this: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
A similar quote by another French citizen reads: “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”
The fact is that other people do not usually act or think the way we do – this is called individual differences. This simple, but often ignored or forgotten, fact is engendered by, according to psychologists, three basic factors: confinement to those functions within the range of the human species, nature of the inheritance from the family line, and the influences of environmental experiences. Let people be free to think and express their views. Voltaire writes in his Essay on Tolerance: “Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too.”
This does not in any form, manner or shape suggest that people should not be held responsible for what they say, or for how they say it; neither does it imply that people should be irresponsible or reckless in what they say, or how they say it. The point being made is that everyone should be free not only to form his opinion, but also to express it, and this right must not be proscribed by any individual or institution.
If I may turn to Christina theology a bit, I believe the Republic of Free Speech was begun by Jehovah God in the Garden of Eden, when He gave man what is known as “free moral agency,” which includes the right to freely think and choose, which, too, has been stamped by Article 15 of the Liberian Constitution.
Concerning free speech, especially in relation to the new Liberia, people should not be gunned down, witch-hunted, threatened, secretly eliminated, insulted and physically assaulted, considered enemies, etc., all because they have a different opinion on a topic or an issue. We all cannot always think or act the same way; hence, no one should be forced to agree with, or accept, another person’s idea. The exchange of ideas must be welcomed, encouraged and protected. Doing the opposite would, for sure, destroy the country and, by extension, the co-existence of its citizens, and this must not be allowed.
It must also be remembered that in the Republic of Free Speech, people disagree agreeably. This is one of the rudimentary principles of this nation, and all those who desire to be its citizens must observe it. One may disagree with another person without going against him personally. There are some who think that if a person disagrees with them, then it must mean that that person hates them. This is a dangerous mentality, and those thinking in such a fashion are simply wrong.
We must learn to accept, or rather understand, that our ideas may be misleading or false and, because of this fact, our ideas and opinions may be challenged. And we should be ready to challenge others’ ideas, if need be. It is man’s nature to challenge the status quo. The books and beliefs of almost all religions have been challenged. The policies, works and utterances of individuals and institutions have been challenged, and this trend will continue as long as mankind exists.
One of the factors that have brought about man’s advancement is his nature to challenge, investigate and question different ideas, events and laws. Hence, not only it is wrong to think that the opinion we hold about a certain subject or topic is absolute, but it is also detrimental to the survival of humanity.
Indeed, we must allow free speech to survive in the new Liberia. This is the challenge for all Liberians, especially the intellectuals, the academics, policy-makers, lawmakers, opinion leaders, politicians, newspaper publishers, journalists, online magazine owners, online chat room organizers and operators, writers, speakers, activists, government officials and so forth. What’s worth remembering in the Liberian scenario, however, is that while we all may think and act differently, we must remember to be united in our diversity for the common good of our country and people.
Let free speech survive, Liberians. Let it flourish from Grand Cape Mount to Maryland, and from Montserrado to Lofa. I mean, let it flourish like the flowers of the Hanging Garden of Babylon. Let its influence go as high as the Towel of Babel. Let its impact be as huge and as extensive as the Great Pyramid of Egypt. Let its visibility be as glaring as the Statue of Zeus at Olympia. Let its light shine like that of the Great Lighthouse at Alexandria. Let it shower our souls and minds, just as the North Atlantic Ocean does the sandy beaches and coastline of Mama Liberia. Let free speech flourish, my compatriots. Let it survive, fellow Liberians.
To conclude, let me leave you with the words of President William V. S. Tubman, as they were spoken in 1954, when he addressed Howard University in the United States: “If we must conquer the forces of nature, of ignorance and backwardness, if we must break the shackles of selfishness, greed, graft and discrimination, man must be free to think and act. He must be free to investigate the vastness and variousness of his environment and to change it, develop it and improve it.”
Believe me, my people. We will never stop following the issues.