There has been no discussion topic in the streets, churches and gathering places quite as heated and passionate as the verdict in the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Taylor was convicted at The Hague by a special U.N. court recently of 11 counts of crimes against humanity.

The discussions have been fervent and incessant, and there is an unexpectedly sharp division among Liberians about Taylor to a degree that is rather astonishing.

Apart from being a former president, Taylor was a noted warlord during Liberia’s debilitating civil conflict that lasted for 14 years, ending in 2003. Taylor’s record of war crimes is as shocking as it is appalling and ghastly. To hear people here tell it, the Taylor horrors during the war extended from getting teenagers to become soldiers, all while on drugs, to mutilation of civilians he deemed enemies.

Despite his misdeeds in Liberia, Taylor was charged with crimes that took place in Sierra Leone and convicted of sustaining and guiding the brutal rebel movement in that country. Taylor is the first head of state to be convicted by an international court since the Nuremberg trials in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Most Liberians seem to be taking the view of Taylor as something of a monster who, if he had not been convicted of war crimes, might have returned to Liberia–a prospect that they say would surely reverse the strides the country has taken in the last decade.

Others–and not a small number by any means–look at Taylor sympathetically. He is, many here suggest, a victim of a witch hunt by the United States and England. They contend that the Taylor years in power were days of relative stability for the country’s economy and that he was far more benevolent to the common Liberian than he is portrayed to have been by the media.

The sad truth is that Taylor was a one-man terror show who helped to drive this country into deeper distress, negatively affecting every fiber of Liberia’s existence, from its infrastructure to housing, employment, health care and education. The country had operated in relative stability and even prosperity by West African standards until the horrific civil war that left more than 250,000 dead and caused thousands more to move out of the country.

Taylor bore a considerable responsibility in the events that devastated this country during its civil conflict, to say nothing of the role he played in neighboring Sierra Leone. But with a sizable minority of Liberians believing that he is a victim, not a villain, the chance for unrest, and even violence, following his conviction has become real and worrisome.

In fact, after weeks of anticipation of the verdict, there was widespread expectation that some unrest might accompany the decision from the tribunal. However, there is extraordinarily good news in this tale. Despite the expectation of violence–which led to the dispatching of additional troops when the verdict was announced–there was nothing in the way of unrest.

The complete absence of civil disturbance points to a level of maturity and discipline among the Liberian people. More than a decade of civil war has made the country weary of unrest. After years of stability, led by a president who has commanded international attention for steering the country toward development, Liberia is making it clear that it has no thirst for a return to the old days of devastation.

And that’s a good thing for Liberia and all of West Africa.