Taking a positionA few days ago, I received a very strange note on my Africa blog. It read:
Brian, why do you label people and call them names. your articles would be much better without the name calling.
I found this anonymous, unsigned comment baffling.
The particular entry had only two things that conceivably be considered name calling. I made reference to:
former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, now an indicted war criminal
For full disclosure, I DO loathe Charles Taylor, who now lives in exile in Nigeria. When I lived in Guinea, I had countless friends and acquaintainces whose lives were destroyed because of Taylor, his troops, his brutality, his wars and the widespread destruction he sowed and continues to sow. Some of my friends and their relatives are suffering to this day because of Taylor and his cronies. So do I have a personal vendetta against him? Absolutely. Do I despise him? Without a doubt. Will I treat him with the same respect I would accord to, say, the mayor of my town? Not a chance!
As for the comment by 'anonymous': that Charles Taylor was a dictator is not only my opinion, it's the widespread consensus of both the international community and the Liberian population. In the past, I've written a several commentaries explaining WHY Charles Taylor was a despicable dictator.
In 2003, the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone issued an indictment against Taylor, accusing him of "the greatest responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law" in Sierra Leone's brutal, decade-long civil war.
That Charles Taylor is an indicted war criminal is not the biased opinion of someone who holds him in the utmost contempt. It is a VERIFIABLE FACT.
Now it's worth noting something important. My essays are not articles, they are opinions. I try to be fair, but my essays have a point of view. I make no bones about the fact that I take a position. I do not pretend to be neutral.
In my essays, I do not hesitate to call a spade a spade. Dictators deserve to be labelled as such, with the accompanying scorn. I will not soft-peddle criticism of human rights' abusers. Those whose actions kill, displace or otherwise ruin the lives of millions of people and the economies of several countries, I will not treat them in the same way I would treat civilized human beings. I'm sorry if that bothers 'anonymous' but it would be disingenuous for me to do it any other way.
At the risk of being immodest, I think my blogs are more restrained in the name calling department than 99% of the political blogs out there.
For example, it's no secret that I do not like President Bush. However, I've never referred to him as a liar, a warmonger, a war criminal or a fascist. I've never called him Shrub, Dubya, Junior or any other juvenile nickname. I have friends who've done exactly that and they probably think I'm too timid for not doing so. But I use language in a very careful, considered way. So when I do use a pejorative, it's done in a thought-out, calculated way, not recklessly toward any random thing I dislike.
Calling Charles Taylor a 'former dictator' is remarkably restrained considering what he's done and how many lives he's destroyed. I think there are some people out there who are uncomfortable with any strong opinion being expressed. They do not like the tension of disagreement. If that's the case, then such people probably shouldn't read this blog. While I try to offer intelligent, reasonable, thoroughly-explained essays, I do not shy away from taking a strong positions and I will not shy away from criticizing those things and people that deserve it.
Charles Taylor is a monster and I say that unapologetically. People realizing what he's done and demanding justice apply to him is far more important than them thinking that my essays should win a Pulitzer.