E Pluribus Unum!

Alagi Yorro Jallow

Fatoumatta: Since 1782, the Latin phrase E Pluribus Unum—”out of many, one”—has appeared on the Great Seal of the United States. The US was founded on a simple principle, E Pluribus Unum, until 1956. It was the official motto of the US Government, after which it became, “In God We Trust.” Today, E Pluribus Unum still appears on the seals of the three arms of the US Government. It also appears on the official Seal of the US Government, which is the image used to authenticate official US Government documents, including passports. The American experiment of diversity and unity, as they call it, was founded on the principle of “E Pluribus Unum.
E Pluribus Unum is a 13 letter phrase used to represent the original 13 former British colonies that became the United States of America. The inhabitants of these 13 colonies came from different places and became the first 13 States of the US. The principle of E Pluribus Unum acknowledged that although the people of these 13 colonies came from other places, they had become one People, one Nation. The country grew as more people from around the world bought into that principle – this is why today, no matter how much Americans disagree, no matter how much they fight each other, the idea that E Pluribus Unum represents is built into their DNA. Their politics might differ, their rhetoric might be heated, but they never forget that simple creed, E Pluribus Unum. That is what has kept the country together, even during their most trying times. Of course, there is a certain irony to that principle in light of slavery, segregation, etc., but that is a story for another day.
However, this post is not really about the US. It is about whether or not the principle of E Pluribus Unum can be adopted to promote diversity and unity in the Gambia. As Anthropology and sociology have shown, we might come from different places, but we have shared history. Therefore, ‘Out of Many, One seems more apt to describe “The Gambia One Nation, One People, One Destiny” concept than even the US. In the Gambia, we have Christians, Muslims, Traditionalists, and Atheists. We are a combination of ethnicities and tribes, and religious denominations, and we are as diverse as it gets. Meaning the only way we will ever survive as a Nation is if we start to see ourselves through the prism of E Pluribus Unum. If we can only understand the strength of our diversity, the Gambia will be a very different place.
Fatoumatta: Can you imagine the Gambia, where your tribe and religion come secondary to your status as a Gambian? Tribalism and religious intolerance should not have a place in our society. It is even more critical as we are now about six months from our country’s Presidential elections. Someone once said to me that loyalty to your tribe is where patriotism starts from. Nevertheless, I beg to differ. I am a proud Fula man, but I am a proud African and a Gambian Jarranka, not the other way around before that. Tribal and even religious intolerance start from seeing yourself more as coming from a tribe or religion than coming from a country. That is not patriotism. Instead, tribalism and religious intolerance promote a perverted view of patriotism. The belief that the only way to succeed is to give blind allegiance to the supremacy of one tribe or one religion over another. Six months to elections, we must engage in civic education to stop political arrogance and tribe-based conflicts online and offline from consuming the country. Every patriotic Gambian who died serving this country did not do it for a particular religion or a tribe. They did it for the Gambia. They did it for ‘One Gambia.’
Furthermore, we have come from every religion or no religion. After all, we have come from every tribe across the country. We shared the same values and beliefs in the land of what it means to be Gambian in this upheaval and rapid change of a divided Gambia.
Fatoumatta: It is remarkable, with everyone focusing on the sun and its eclipse. As Gambians of all tribes and ages and political persuasions, we should put aside all tribalism and crisis of political arrogance with a more significant, single unified focus of the national building. All the various tendencies of tribalisms gave way, if only in our attention, to a passing sense of our common plight and wondrous journey on this small planet dancing around a minor sun, tucked away in a far corner of a galaxy among billions of others, flying through space at greater and greater speeds.
Fatoumatta: I was reminded of the United States unofficial national motto, found on coins and often repeated—the Latin phrase, ‘E Pluribus Unum,’ one from many, or “out of many, one.” That is the brilliance of our history as a nation. The Gambia, we had once embraced this national identity slogan “One People, One Nation, One Destiny”. We were not founded on the traditional basis of “soil and blood,” which is typical for national origins worldwide. We did not all always live here or come from ancestors who did. We are not all related by the tightest weaves of family and tribe. We have originated from many places and nations and out of many religions and views. However, we came together under a single set of ideas to unite us as the classic hope of the world.
We cannot survive as a species and as a world unless we are ultimately able to rise above the identity politics and splintered nationalist affiliations that spark anger and hatred, and tribalism. Carl Sagan and other astronomers have worried that we have never had verifiable contact with an advanced civilization from another planet, perhaps, because intelligent beings always destroy themselves before engaging in extensive intergalactic communication or travel. We seem to be rushing down such a path ourselves, with hot spots around the world and nuclear weapons poised for action. At the same time, irrational rhetoric heats up with threats and warnings. Perhaps we need a new attitude focused on our commonalities. Maybe even the celestial event of today can remind us of this. It is easy to do globalism badly. It is easy to do anything wrong. As Aristotle suggested with his favorite analogy of an E Pluribus Unum target, there are many ways to miss any bulls-eye. There is only one place to hit it precisely right.
Fatoumatta: I would encourage all of us to ponder this principle of E Pluribus Unum. Let us find ways of celebrating our differences while valuing each other and rising about the tribalisms that threaten our future. Let us find something to focus on that will unite us and not divide us. Any different path will lead to an eclipse that no one will want to see. Moreover, as we head into the elections, do not let any party or politician use religion or tribe to create artificial divisions. I have always believed that we are not as divided as our rhetoric suggests. We need to see ourselves as we indeed are. E Pluribus Unum. Out of Many, One.

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