Atrocious things have often been done in the name of uprightness. The perpetrators have ranged from seemingly well-meaning individuals to devilish sociopaths and psychopaths. Dogmatic popes have muffled free-thinking and scientific progress and murdered innocent people. Demented political cranks have massacred millions. Acting in the name of public good, they have condemned society to awful grief, with the lesson that evil often disguises itself as virtue. The need to beware overzealous self-righteous characters is never far-fetched.
The politically pious, in particular, will perch themselves on holy rooftops to assault individual consciences. These often self-appointed prefects of virtue will victimise just about everyone whom they don’t like. They point a finger at you and you are dead meat. McCarthyism is the name that has been given to the act of condemning other people without bothering about concrete evidence. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin (1947–1957) was an American patriot who defended his country from “the vermin of communism.” After the Russian Bolshevik Communist Revolution in 1917, the American capitalist class feared communism like the plague. While the Americans put their fear on the back-burner between 1939 and 1945 to join the Russians in the Alliance against Adolf Hitler’s Axis of Evil in World War II, the United States and the newly formed Soviet Union returned to mutual suspicion soon after the blasting of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 to end the war. It was a terrible new dawn in America.
The communists had vowed to export communism to every corner of the globe. For its part, American capitalism vowed under the (President Harry) Truman Doctrine “to roll back communism everywhere.” At home, the government hunted down communist suspects like rats. Senator McCarthy was the face of the witch-hunt. He alleged that numerous Soviet communists and spies had invaded America. He spoke of local sympathisers of communism. They were said to be everywhere – from the Senate itself to the House of Congress and from the universities to Hollywood. The spy ring was in the State Department, in the Voice of America and even in the US Army! Chairing the Senate Committee on Investigations, McCarthy and his team used their positions to destroy reputations and bring innocent people to rue.
Society must beware of self-righteous intolerance to divergent opinion and alternative approaches to common challenges. In Kenya today, the great question of the day is the proposed swearing-in of last year’s NASA presidential candidate Raila Odinga as “the People’s President.” Needless to say, there is a divergence of opinion on this matter – even within NASA.
A fraternity that agrees on every detail of a political issue is a community of zombies. It is unconscionable for some individuals to begin peddling around petitions which they insist that everyone in that fraternity must sign as an indication of loyalty. Those who refuse or fail to sign will be declared to be moles, traitors, quislings, turncoats and abracadabra. Hence, all NASA Members of Parliament, Members of County Assembly and Governors are supposed to sign a document of sinister origins and intent, willy-nilly. The four NASA principals too, we have read in the Press, should sign.
Clearly, this is an assault on individual conscience and free will, both of which are protected in the Constitution at Articles 32 and 33. Parliament is a defender of this Constitution. Members have also vowed to serve conscientiously – they will obey their conscience in their service. Nobody, accordingly, should impose anything upon an MP. Political parties and their leaders may lobby, guide and whip their members to act in a given way. Yet no democratic party can impose a position on its members. That is dictatorship.
An MP must enjoy freedom of thought and conscience. Such is democracy. It only becomes a matter of discipline when a member goes beyond the pale – clearly subverting the party, being obnoxiously insolent and disrespectful to the party, other members and leaders – clearly seeking to destabilise the party. But to flaunt about papers and blackmail people into signing them is unacceptable. I would never sign such a paper myself, even if the heavens were to fall. This is regardless that I agree or disagree with the proposed swearing-in. Conscience is sacrosanct.
Beyond this, those who would seek to be recognised as paragons of democracy must reject the intolerance that goes with blackmail for signatures. Indeed, it is not a crime for a member to disagree altogether with the idea of swearing-in. I believe, myself, that Uhuru Kenyatta sits in State House dishonourably. I believe that he lacks the political legitimacy to be my president. I believe that together with the so-called Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, they cheated Kenyans in the presidential election last year. Many are still smarting out of the wounds. It will take very long, if ever, to recover. The situation is made worse by the ethnic jingoism that the Jubilee regime has embraced.
I believe that Kenyatta must come off his high horse and be part of the solution that will place Kenya back on the right path. Yet I will refuse to sign any pieces of paper that anyone might come flaunting in my face if that is how I should demonstrate my dissatisfaction with the state of things in my country. For the reader who does not know, I am now a NASA insider, working for one of the political parties in the fraternity. Even as an insider, however, I am personally still trying to appreciate the merits of the proposed swearing-in. I have not, therefore, agreed on the swearing-in at a personal level. But that is just me as Barrack. I respect those who are faster witted and have understood. I would not begrudge them their right to swear-in. Yet my conscience tells me that I cannot be forced to sign papers that I don’t believe in.
- The writer is a strategic public communications adviser. [email protected]