True Ease in Writing comes from Art, not Chance, As those move easiest who have learned to dance. - Alexander Pope
True Ease in Writing comes from Art, not Chance, As those move easiest who have learned to dance. - Alexander Pope
Over the last couple of weeks, my essays have touched on touchy (or should I say sensitive?) subjects that people always think about yet feel too Gambian to talk about publicly. I believe it is a thing borne of a culture that has taught us to stay silent until spoken to. The only problem is, someone has to speak for another to be spoken to; I am sure you get my drift. If you have not seen it after a second read, don’t worry for it has very little essence in this mixture of words and lines. As I was saying, until I allowed myself to drift off (It is a generational thing – the fact that we cannot really focus on any one thing for too long a time), we have inherited a culture which does not tolerate free speech so much so that when we speak, we do it out of turn and sound abusive.
I manage a very vibrant forum with some friends and we call it the Balafong forum. Over the last few months since we started a year ago, we have seen it grow in maturity and have likewise grown with it. We have discovered that even where we have shown more passion than intellect on certain issues affecting our lives, we have found a way to meet each other halfway and have created a “perfect environment” which is seemingly growing closer and closer to being a family of four thousand.
Sheriff Bojang’s “Self Censorship”
I had decided a week ago to tone down my essays a notch even though I am yet to truly express myself as much as I would like to. It is not a fear of expression on my part, but rather a “watching” of the waters and “waiting” on the tides. After just two essays discussing the status quo as per our social integration and economic nitty-gritties, I was shocked to learn that I might be crossing from “safety zone” to a land where souls are lonely and bodies roam for endless years. I decided my essays would take a short break from mandarin sounding lectures on behavioural change and correctional psychology and rather talk about something more...ummm...Gambian. Just when I was about to send in my piece for publication on “The Standard” (It almost feels like the proprietor simply wants to coerce people to admit his paper’s superiority with the choice of name), Mr. Sheriff Bojang had to invade my peaceful mind with his interview on the same paper with regards his issue with the law.
For those that failed to read the article, you might need to look for it. However, the part that tickled my taste buds and forced me back to this position of “Red Black Nonsense” was when he mentioned that even though government has seemingly opened up a lot with regards free-speech and freedom of expression, we have allowed a culture of self-censorship to dilute our words and diminish the quality of our expression.
I do not know if this is true, however I have always believed art in all its forms to be self-expressive and that it should always be presented in its raw form. His interview was a reminder of this principle of mine yet it kept me wondering if indeed “freedom of expression” was as beneficial as I thought. Even where we must be given the right to say as we please on issues that affect us, I also believe certain people should reserve the right to truly stay silent even when spoken to.
Bubacarr Sankanu’s Controversy
I must start by admitting that I do not know the man personally. I must also admit that, as much as I love to go through his pieces that seem more preoccupied with poking and twisting swords on issues of controversy, I believe he has earned the right to speak even if usually out of turn. I salute his boldness and his literary arrogance. To those that make fun of his humble beginnings at GRTS, I say, growth must always be respected. Not surprisingly, he has garnered a large following even though it is usually a following that seems to want to jump at him with Swiss army knives and machetes. I have believed him to be confused most of the time and have found myself doing more shake of heads than nods when going through his pieces. Imagine my surprise therefore when his piece on “religious hypocrisy” (I am sure you have come to know it as THE GAY PIECE) lit up my eyes in eager anticipation for I knew a war of words would start. The man seems to have grown a thick skin and enjoys the attention so I am sure his pen of controversy has not yet dried up. Oh! I almost lost myself again. Where was I? Yes! Religious hypocrisy...
I believe such a subject to be far from my reach so I will not dwell on it for too long. My piece today is on religious naivety. I am sure when you saw Bubacarr Sankanu in bold, you imagined I was pleading for his freedom of speech to be revoked. It is sad that I would have to disappoint you. That was certainly not my intention. He has still failed to make me a fan (not saying that was his initial intention) yet his controversy is much welcome on the quarters of literature. The fact that people feel a need to jump at him shows they have read. Whatever inspires reading in this age of dying literature is a good thing...Right?
On the Seventh day He Rested
Even where our culture preaches religious tolerance, I have seen quite a bit of extremism and “non-tolerance” between faiths on the internet even amongst Gambians. It is saddening and I have made a decision not to discuss issues of that nature not because I am not equipped to but rather because I feel it is more a case of forceful ignorance and ignorance has no teacher.
Religious extremism is not new. From Judaism, through Christianity to Islam, people have used scripture to feed their thirst for blood. Those that are aware of the growth of the Church from Constantine I through The Crusades toThe Inquisitions are well aware of blood shed in the name of Christianity when logic shows that Christianity was mainly a tool in the hands of blood thirsty murderers. I will spare myself the wrath of being “xeelu’d” by my own so I will ask you to do your own research on this. It is a fact that such radicalism still exists even in “the land of the free” and should such people be given the power they seek, even Christians will not be spared. History has taught us that much.
Now, Islam is currently the most publicized religion with members that show fanatic tendencies. These are not my words and you would agree that it is fact (see the emboldened words). The fact that religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) whose scriptures mention peace ever so often yet always seem to find themselves entangled in the shedding of blood like barbarians and filthy murderers is very ironic. I do not believe scriptures that preach peace would encourage the killing of the innocent. In fact, who is the innocent and who is the guilty? I would have loved to call it Religious Naivety but sadly I know this is not a form of naivety. This is simply madness.
And Man Decided to Speak
How often have you heard the phrase, “to whom much is given....” I have discovered a truth and one I feel a need to share. The African society has created a higher ground for religion gurus and learned men which have made them, in some cases even more powerful that the state. Is such power misplaced? We saw that power at play in Senegalese politics and even as subtle as it may seem, we see that power everyday in The Gambia. It is not half as powerful as it is in Senegal, but the words of our religious leaders hold much weight. We have given such respect to them that what we expect at least is to be inspired through them. Religion has become a huge part of our growth as nations and sadly enough, people we have given the right to speak have sometimes been found wanting.
Last year, our dear nation experienced a disappointing harvest and the government has made public appeals for organizations and other governments to assist us as we grow from it. Even as an agricultural layman, I can easily point out many areas we would need to improve to fully sustain our growth as a nation heavily dependent on agriculture. As stakeholders try to find solutions to these problems, imagine my surprise when one of our most outspoken religious leaders (whose controversy can be likened to Sankanu’s, though different) decided to place the blame of a failed harvest on “the sinful ways of the Gambian people”. Now I do not know if his answer came from a revealed vision or if he has been given the right by the Almighty to simply THINK of the causes of our problems and immediately figure them out.
I remember once, I had a conversation with my dear mother and she believed (as do many others) that we must never speak ill of those that have been given the power (by God) to lead (in religion or at least in Christianity). My words are not of ill intention. In fact they are written with the very best of intentions. I lived in a country where idols are worshipped at best and at worst God is not given due recognition. However, these “non-believers” have found practical solutions to their problems. They built a one time, tallest Building in the world in an earthquake prone zone and attached a metal ball in the centre of the building to absorb vibration of the earth enough to keep the building standing. Did the Almighty not will it? When people are busy finding practical solutions to our problems, a religious leader decides to blame our problems on sin. We are not more religious than the west used to be. However, they realized that God gave us brains, hands and legs for a reason and decided to use these tools to create what is now the developed world. However, with us, those that are supposed to inspire growth have decided to play the old card of sin over laziness or lack of resources.
It reminds me of the time when girls would be beaten up in certain quarters should they refuse to cover themselves up. I call it barbaric ignorance for those same men that beat them up are sometimes the same ones that try to court them in private. It is that same culture of ignorance that allows our people to blame rape on the victim instead of the rapist. How many times have you heard people say “ndaxam xalex yi linje de sol laygi dafa bonn”. When was it logical for a man’s sexual appetite to rule over his common sense? When was it ok for a woman to be violated simply because she has dressed wrong? It is such religious naivety that continues to empower filthy, disgusting men to do evil. As indecent as a woman might look, I have never felt the urge to jump on one (or maybe I should say I have always controlled the urge?) for such. Maybe I was raised right? Or maybe just maybe, we are programmed to control ourselves when the act is simply disgusting. I urge such rapists to attempt at raping a nudist on a European beach and claim it was the “devil’s fault” *spit on face and on floor*
My piece today started with freedom of expression and our culture of silence and it shall end with it. In ancient times, body parts were cut off for various sins (not just with religion) and the punishment for slander was that of having one’s tongue cut off. Now that is extremely brutal and has no place in today’s society (even though I know certain nations and security organizations still practice it) for I am afraid if such a law existed, we would all deserve to have our tongues cut off. However, we must always remember that those that have the power to influence the many must always treat such powers with respect. Development of The Gambia is a national duty. We need practical solutions to our problems not proclamations that serve no positive ends. Let us teach our people to think, to work, to speak and to learn for that is the way to true development. For those of us that believe in the hereafter, heaven and hell surely awaits. Until then however, we must use the gifts God has bestowed on us to create better lives for ourselves, our families, our countries and indeed our world. When we feel the words we speak are of no benefit to the nation and are actually a distraction from the work that is before us, we must pretend our tongues have been cut off and stay silent.
The Gambia Before Anyone