Opinion: On patriotism, government criticism, and social media bullies

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For those of us who are familiar with our Pledge of Allegiance, we know it begins with the following:

“I pledge my love and loyalty to my country Sierra Leone, I vow to serve her faithfully at all times….”

Nowhere in this pledge does it say that you are pledging your love and loyalty to one person or a group of people.

So why is there the need to bring this up?

Over the past year I have noticed a trend on Facebook  where a very tiny minority of people mostly based in the diaspora call into question others’ patriotism for criticizing the current government’s policies or activities.  I have heard people throw words around such as unpatriotic, jealousy, hate etc. I can understand the fact that as humans we tend to get sensitive whenever we get criticized, or whenever our loved ones get criticized. I get your point. If your family member is part of the leadership and someone criticizes the leadership as a whole, and you feel that your family member is doing the best job that they can, you may feel the need to defend them. That is all fine with me. My concern is with the tiny minority who use any type of negative feedback to question the authenticity and the patriotism of well-meaning Sierra Leoneans.
Over the past few months, I have seen a few people ridicule others on social networking sites for daring to question anything that is politically related. Passions rise especially amongst Sierra Leoneans during our political campaign and election seasons. Whether the person supports the current government or supports the opposition, we should respect the fact that as Sierra Leoneans, we all have  the right to comment on the direction of our country.

For one, we should understand that the vast majority of Sierra Leoneans love our country and really mean well for it, and no matter where we are in the world,  the fact remains that Sierra Leone will always be home to many of us. I am well aware of the fact that a small minority of Sierra Leoneans will always find something to complain about, and will always find someone to blame regardless of the efforts of a person, an institution or the government. While they will never propose any solutions, they will complain from dusk to dawn. For some of these people, we can only hope that their hearts and minds will be changed as time goes on. However, in the event that their hearts and minds cannot be changed, these people are still entitled to their opinions, and should feel free to share their opinions with others on social networking sites or wherever they are. If you don’t want to read it, just skip it and move on!
Sierra Leone’s current president seems to encourage the growth of democratic values such as the freedom of speech, press, and expression. If he can handle it with professionalism and without trying to bully, demean or attempt to question the patriotism of his critics, who are you, and who gave you the right to bully, demean and question and patriotism of other well-meaning Sierra Leoneans?

Those of us in the diaspora should understand that at the end of the day, each one of us has a stake in Sierra Leone. No one has a monopoly over the country or a monopoly over patriotism. The majority of us remain loyal to our country but refuse to be sycophants to any group of people or political party.

No matter who or what they criticize, all Sierra Leoneans are entitled to their opinions. Many of our brothers and sisters lost their lives in a senseless war. The last thing we want to see in Sierra Leone today or in the future is a nation where people feel disenfranchised to even express themselves. We have been through a lot as a country, and even though we might differ on how to achieve progress, we should all feel safe to be able to provide our input and even express ourselves when we want to. I believe that dissent is another way to express our patriotism. Instead of attempting to silence, bully, demean, or question the patriotism of people from the other political or philosophical aisle, we should encourage them to remain invested in our beloved Sierra Leone. My prayer is that Sierra Leoneans from all walks of life will be able to respect each other, work together and move our country forward so that our future generations will be proud to call themselves Sierra Leoneans.