Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Let Justice Be Done To All...

The Temple of Justice is one of the three huge buildings that make up the triumvirate of the Capitol Hill complex, just southeast of Central Monrovia. The TOJ, which houses the Supreme Court, is a curious building, with an oblong tower connected to an arrangement of court houses. 

Dating from around 1960 and originally built by the Italians, the Temple was refurbished with assistance from the US government in 2008-2010. 

One notable aspect of this renovation, which had previously skipped my notice, was an alteration to the massive motto which is affixed to the narrow fa├žade of the temple's central tower, which faces the street which bisects Capitol Hill. 

Historically, and until recently, the elevation had been arranged with the seal of the Republic, a large title head "TEMPLE OF JUSTICE" above a set of scales, underneath which it read, "LET JUSTICE BE DONE TO ALL MEN" which is, beyond the unsettling imagery of its passive-voice, commandeering construction, loaded with irony for a country whose people high and low have regularly inflicted great injustices upon one another and generally treated different groups unequally, sometimes perilously so. 

 The last word is also a bit uncomfortable in 21st century English, as usage has moved away from employing "men" to stand-in adequately for "human beings" while amicably referencing that half of the species which are not, actually, men.

In response to that, and perhaps at the behest of the great many women in high levels of public service here in Liberia, from the President, to the Minister of Justice, to the American Ambassador, and the United Nations Special Representative to the Secretary General (the last two of whom have recently departed), the upgrading of the mid-century complex included an updating of the motto. (Here's a link to a nice blog post from a Liberian woman about witnessing this alteration). Today, the same wall reads, "LET JUSTICE BE DONE TO ALL" or more exactly:

LET
JUSTICE
BE DONE
TO ALL
*

In which the star acts as a sort of period, end of sentence, for the whole assemblage.


However, a popular joke around town is, that this is not just a decorative flourish, but actually part of the new meaning of the motto. For it reads, LET JUSTICE BE DONE TO ALL (STAR). Therefore, if you are not a star, or perhaps, one of the 'all stars,' then no justice will come to you under the current system. 

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