By Musa Bah
The debate is still raging on the issue of the (non)inclusion of the word ‘secular’ in the Draft Constitution. Many citizens are taking positions and some people and groups seem to have even started a nationwide campaign to ensure that if the word is included, the people should reject it.
It is good that citizens are taking such a keen interest in the wew Draft Constitution as this is the most important document that will determine how the country will be run in the coming years and decades or even centuries. It is necessary that people express their views and opinions so that whatever comes out at the end of the day will be something that we can all be proud and take ownership of.
In fact, this is the first time that a constitution is being drawn and citizens are showing this much interest in it. This is certainly a sign of the progress our democracy is making after the twenty-two years of dictatorship when everything was hijacked by one man who ran the nation as a personal fiefdom. This is welcome and should be nurtured.
However, it is necessary that we all go about it with some decorum and tolerance as every Gambian aims for one thing and one thing alone: the progress of the country. The truth is that we only differ in how to get to that destination that we all desire for the nation.
For this reason, it is ideal to scrutinize some of the arguments or points that are being put across in this most important and necessary debate. It has been observed that some of the opponents of the inclusion of the word secular are using the argument that Gambians have always lived in peace and harmony despite the differences in religion and religious beliefs and therefore we should continue without the word secular being inserted in the constitution.
There are two points about this that are worthy of scrutiny: (1) was this harmonious coexistence possible only because the word secular was not in the constitution? Or was it possible because of some other reasons? (2) Will the insertion of the word secular hamper or strengthen this harmonious coexistence?
To answer the first question; that was the harmonious existence possible only because the word secular was not in the constitution, I daresay NO. There was peaceful coexistence for two reasons. One is that our ancestors were very mature in their dealings with each other. If one studies the lives and times of the founding fathers of the country and the religious leaders of the time, one finds them to be very tolerant and measured in their dealings with each other. It was for this reason that they lived in peace and harmony for the longest time.
The second reason is that at that time, we did not have a university, the Internet was not as widespread as it is today and the new media was not yet born. Thus, most of the things that were happening in the wider world were known but to a few people. These people could not overshadow the good work of the elders and as such everything was seen to be fine.
In our time; however, not only has knowledge improved but we also have to contend with the spread of the Internet which is giving access to the young people to a whole lot of things which were hitherto unknown to them. As times have changed therefore, we have to change and adopt otherwise we will be stuck in the past with the same tools which were used to resolve issues now becoming obsolete. They can no longer solve the modern challenges.
It is for this reason that including the word secular has become a necessity to guide and control the inherent excesses of some people who are likely to hijack the issues and marginalize some sections of society.
This, if it ever happens, will not augur well for the peace and stability of the country. If on the other hand we insert the word secular, it will separate Church and State and make sure that the State does not interfere in the religious affairs of the people. We have seen the example of this in the previous regime and therefore we need not belabor this point. Everyone knows what happened here and how it happened. As we are all equal citizens, no one should have the right to marginalize another on the basis of religion or religious beliefs. Live and let live will be the order of the day.
There is another false alarm being spread around by those who do not want secular to be in our constitution. They make it appear that secular means legalizing homosexuality, gay rights, lesbianism and what not. This is actually not accurate. The country being secular does not in any way mean that homosexuality will be legalized or promoted. Our next door neighbors Senegal, as I have earlier indicated, has had the word secular in their constitution for many years now and yet, homosexuality is not legal in that country. In fact, it is regarded as something that is against human nature. It is clearly spelt out in the Senegalese Penal Code that homosexuality is an unnatural act which should be criminalized.
It is therefore untrue and unfair to use homosexuality as a bait to make secular repugnant in the eyes of the ordinary masses. We must engage and discuss these issues honestly to ensure that we do what is best for our country. History will judge us harshly if we allow this country to descend into chaos because we were too afraid to take the right steps.