My name is Nvasekie Konneh, a Liberian writer, social justice advocate and cultural diversity promoter. I am the author of two books, Going to War for America, and The Land of My Father’s Birth. My first book is a collection of poems about my experiences of the Liberian civil war, my 9-year of service in the US Navy and the second book, The Land of My Father’s Birth, is a memoir of the Liberian civil war. My next work,The Love of Liberty Brought Us Together is scheduled for publication sometime this year.
As a product and believer in cultural diversity, I am at the moment working on a documentary which celebrates ethnic and cultural diversity in Liberia. Though I am a Muslim, I have some family members who are Christians. I continue to enjoy the friendship and admiration of countless confidantes who are Christians. Some of those relationships were formed as a result of schools and employments in various places.
“Your current campaign to turn Liberia into a Christian State is only rekindling the fear and genocide Muslims experienced during that ugly chapter of our nation’s history.”
Senator Jewel Howard Taylor, I am writing you this open letter regarding the current campaign to declare Liberia a Christian State or Christian Nation, of which you are a part. For the past one year I have been engaged in vigorous debate with many people on this issue on various Liberian email listings. I have also shared some of my views on this issue on social media.
Since we are friends on Facebook, I will assume you have read some of my views on this matter. If not, I hope you will read it at this time since this is an open letter to you in particular. This is my first time engaging you directly and I hope this letter meets you in good health of mind, body and spirit.
I am of the opinion that this “Christian Nation” or “Christian State” campaign is motivated by morbid fear in the Christian community about Muslims “Wanting to take over Liberia.” It is unfathomable that rational people will entertain such irrational idea. Since the 80’s through the 90’s, there has been constant concern among some Christians that, “Muslims want to take over Liberia and impose Islam.” When the war started in the 90s, some were saying that, “President Samuel Doe received huge amount of money from President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida of Nigeria to turn Liberia into an Islamic State.”
What this unfounded rumor encouraged was a systematic campaign not only to desecrate, demolish, or burn Mosques everywhere in Liberia, but to also kill Muslims as well; thousands of Muslims were killed in various places in Liberia. In some places, Mosques were turned into night clubs, public toilets, or completely demolished. In my home town of Saclepea, Nimba County, our two Mosques were demolished, one of which was built by my grandfather.
In Ganta, the beautiful Mosque that was built shortly before the war, one of the finest in Liberia, was desecrated. Mosque in Kakata was turned into NPFL security post. All the burning, looting, demolishing and desecration of Mosques were done with the intent that, “Muslims will not be permitted back into Liberia.” Such thinking was bordered on sheer irrational thinking just as Hitler thought he could get rid of the Jews in Germany. No war has ever killed an entire group of people, though it may kill some.
Whether it was ULIMO or LURD, the consistent propaganda from the NPFL was that, “These are Islamic fundamentalists or extremists that want to turn Liberia into Islamic State.” Many times when spokesmen of NPFL spoke on BBC, they always repeated these lies of “Muslim extremists wanting to impose Islam on Liberia.” Quite recently I brought this to the attention of Sam Jackson on Facebook and his response was that this was a war time propaganda. Even though this is an unfounded fear, there are many people who still believe it as they go around Churches spreading the same lie that had been told millions of time. Not too long ago some bogus article was published in the Daily Observer newspaper which stated that, “There is plan by Saudi Arabia to turn Liberia into Islamic State.”
This unfounded fear of “Muslims wanting to Islamize Liberia” is the real factor behind this “Liberia is Christian Nation” campaign. What its proponents could not accomplish through war, they want to accomplish it through the so called democratic process and of course they find lawmakers like you willing to pass such a discriminatory law. The fact that this is happening in 2016 and not 1800 is mind-boggling to say the least. If this is passed into law, it will be a legislated discrimination against Liberian Muslims.
Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor, being the former wife of Charles Taylor, the man who brought the war that persecuted thousands of Muslims simply because of their religion, one would think that you would play a more conciliatory role in the current democratic dispensation. Of all people, you should have learnt lessons from the war spearheaded by your husband, Charles Taylor.
That war promoted tribal and religious hatred and resulted into murder of thousands of Muslims. Your current campaign to turn Liberia into a Christian State is only rekindling the fear and genocide Muslims experienced during that ugly chapter of our nation’s history.
Being married to the man who orchestrated a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, one will expect that you would regret that and try to make amend to society by committing and contributing to peaceful dialogue and coexistence of the Liberian people. One will not expect you to be a part of a campaign that is bordered on discriminating against others.
On that note, let me share with you the story of Alfred Nobel, in whose honor the Nobel Prize is named. Alfred Bernhard Nobel was a Swedish chemist, engineer, innovator, and armaments manufacturer. He was born in 1833 and died in 1896. Mr. Nobel invented dynamite and held patents for 355 different inventions. Dynamite was the most famous. When Mr. Nobel read a “Premature obituary which condemned him for profiting from the sales of arms, he bequeathed his fortune to institute the Nobel Prizes” which are given annually to people in various fields including science, arts, politics , etc. Proudly, there are two Liberians who are recipients of the Nobel Prize for peace. These are Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, our president and Madam Leymah Gbowee. And guess what? Their co-recipient of that award was a Muslim woman from Yemen, Tawakkul Karman.
The same way Mr. Nobel instituted the Nobel Prize as a way to make amend for creating weapons that killed thousands of people, one would have expected you as the wife of Charles Taylor, the man whose war affected whole generations of Liberians to be fully committed to peace and stability of the nation that is home to people of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds.
For the past 10 years, the government of President Sirleaf must be credited for maintaining peace in the country. As citizens, it is all of us responsibility to contribute in sustaining that peace in the country. Advocating for an enactment of laws that discriminates against others is inimical to the peace and progress being made. Don’t just think that being in majority should give you license to introduce laws that discriminate against other citizens. If that was to be the case, Jim Crow laws would still be in place in the US because black people only make up 12% of the US population. Though people may still be discriminated against based on the color of their skins, such discrimination is no longer legislated whereby in Liberia in 2016, you as a senator are part of a campaign that seeks to legislate discrimination and hate.
Muslims in Liberia are the most peaceful and have not been noted for harming their neighbors from the beginning of Liberia up to present. Muslims were in Liberia before the coming of the settlers with Christianity. One of the leaders among the indigenous was King Sao Bosso Kamara who was a Muslim. He was very instrumental in providing protection for the settlers.
Among the settlers were some Christians who saw it as their mission to “Christianize the heathen tribesmen.” Their way of In thinking suggests, they were on a mission to “Civilize the natives.” Their mission to “Civilize the natives” couldn’t be any different from the Europeans who came with the same motive of bringing civilization to Africans.
For the Christians of today to be so proud of the actions of their fellow Christians in those bygone era is unfortunate because so many native Africans were exploited in the name of Christianity. Like we should all be proud of the European enslavement and colonization of black people because of the same thing you are beating your chest of today. What an irrational argument for an idea that elapsed long gone?
For more than 100 years when Christianity dominated, the Muslims were marginalized and treated as second class citizens. Part of the reasons for their marginalization was because they rejected western education because of fear of being christianized ”Christianizing mission.” Some members of previous generation of educated Muslims wanted to be accepted and as such had to adopt the culture and attitude of the “Civilized Christians.” Later, Muslims realized that they can be educated and still have their religious culture intact. With education, the Muslims are only awakening to take their rightful place in the society. They want to contribute to the development of the nation of which they are part. Yes, they want to proclaim their citizenship rights just like any other Liberian. If that is sending an alarm bell through the Christian community, too bad. Blame education.
Slavery and colonization wouldn’t have ended if black people had remained uneducated. Educated people everywhere demand the same right. Your demand can’t be any different from those of the Muslims. The genie is out of the bottle and you can no longer put it back in there.
Seeking to legislate laws that discriminates and marginalizes Muslims is not the solution to poverty and backwardness in Liberia. All hands are needed on deck to move the Liberian ship forward. It doesn’t matter whether we are Christians or Muslims, we all have very important role to play in moving the nation forward in term of development and progress. Today we should be talking about building roads and bridges, creating a thriving private sector and middle class. Making Liberia a “Christian nation” will not make that happen.
“How many times have Muslims desecrated churches in Liberia?”
Part of the argument of your campaign of Christianizing Liberia is that, “Iran and Saudi Arabia are Islamic nations.” How ludicrous could you sound in making that as your justification? If you want to make reasonable comparison, let’s go to Muslim majority countries in our subregion. Senegal and Guinea are clear examples. Though these countries are majority Muslim countries, they are secular nations.
Senegal first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor was a Christian and he ruled that majority Muslim country for 20 years. Guinea former Junta leader, Moussa Dadis Camara and the interim prime minister that led the country to multiparty democracy, Jean Marie Dores, were both Christian. These two sons of Guinea were not rejected by majority Guinean Muslims because they were minority Christian.
Since we are all Africans, these two countries are better examples, rather than Iran or Saudi Arabia which are way outside of the African continent. As Africans, we share much in term of culture than these people living on different continent. And about Boko Haram? Don’t even go there. How many times have Muslims desecrated churches in Liberia? As already mentioned above, mosques were desecrated, burnt or demolished by people in Liberia who called themselves Christians. So let’s not invite something into Liberia that is far from here. Instead of fighting and killing one another, let’s live in peace with one another.
Once again, it is my hope and fervent desire that this letter will meet you in good health of mind, body and spirit. May God continue to bless us all and the Liberian nation.
Author: Going to War for America, The Land of My Father’s Birth