Jack Bizlall is currently embroiled in a contentious employment case for three employees of the Diocese: two cases of unjustified dismissal and a transfer refusal. The specific details of the case are irrelevant to this piece but suffice to say that JB would not be JB if he wasn’t defending the employees with the same pugnacity, passion and integrity as is normal when he is involved in these types of cases.
In the process, JB expressed his intention to act,
“Nou pa kapav laisse ene église catholique romaine agir de cette façon. Ces manifestations sont un symbole : parski nou pa kapav et nou ne pli kapav permet ki met dimoun dehor brit …Cette manifestation servira à conscientiser la population”. He was of course referring to the Pope’s visit of the 9th of September.
The social media outrage brigade was quick to pounce. There were the usual ad hominem attacks. Comments ranged from questioning his mental state, his alleged anti-patriotism, his need for attention, his apparent need for votes and his quest for glory.
Perhaps a reminder of who JB is will bring some sanity and perspective to these attacks. This person who hates his country, who is allegedly mentally unstable, who is desperately vying for attention and votes in his quest for political glory is also the same person who is consistently at the forefront of the battle against corruption, social injustice and inequality. In 1977, JB, then a MMM candidate was elected to Parliament. He would eventually resign from the MMM because the latter’s treason of its own political objectives at the time. He would remain as an independent MP, refusing to cash in on his salary because he felt his duty was first and foremost to the people (oh how the times have changed Etienne S.). All this is a matter of public record. Ideologically consistent, principled and a man of integrity, he has over the course of his political career always stood on the side of the most disenfranchised, marginalised and the less fortunate. Workers from all sectors have, in one way or another, benefited from JB’s tireless efforts in fighting for a more just society. The corrupt and the dishonest have nothing but contempt for him; ask the likes of Gerard Tyack and Sir Harry Tirvengadum et al what they think of him.
REPUTATION? IMAGE? RIDICULE?
The above does not seem to matter however. Logic and reason are taking a serious hit when it comes to deciding what is acceptable behaviour during the papal visit.
For some, holding protests during the pope’s visit will tarnish Mauritius’ reputation abroad. This should be a “Global Peaceful event”. For others, we are at risk of becoming “des citoyens ridicules pour le monde entier”. Mauritians have to “put all differences” aside and “act responsibly in a civilised way”. JB is a “threat” to Mauritius; he is going to “spoil our country image”. As true patriots we all have a duty to preserve that image.
Really? Is that what we are worried about? Reputation? Ridicule? We are concerned that a small protest during the papal visit could somehow have a negative impact on our image abroad? How about the rampant level of corruption permeating through all spheres of our political system or the nepotism and cronyism that we have endured for decades now? Indeed, on those issues, Mauritius has form. Our Corruption Index Score with Transparency International, a score representative of the perceived level of public sector corruption, is a whopping 51 (Zero being Very Clean 100 being Highly Corrupt). At least we are consistent. We’ve scored between 50 – 54 in the last three years. We rank 56th out of 180 countries. To put this into perspective, Mauritius is perceived as more corrupt than countries such as Bahrain, Qatar and Rwanda. Yes, you read this right, three countries with horrific human rights violations, known for their rather loose concept of democracy (i.e none) all have better scores than us. But at least we beat Saudi Arabia. Hurrah!
Our country profile with Transparency International falls short of calling us a banana republic (who would blame them?). The arrangement where SAJ resigned and designated PJ as the new PM, was described as showcasing “the dynastic arrangement that affects Mauritian democracy”. “Rampant nepotism and cronyism” remain “of grave concern” and “constitute a source of public frustration”. The profile then goes on to say that “officials are known to be involved in corrupt practices with impunity” and that “the appointment of favourites to key jobs of the state instead of filling these positions strictly on merit, and distributing benefits to the party faithful at the expense of public funds is widely decried by the people”. As I said, Mauritius has form.
If this is not evidence enough of our stellar international image, what about the latest investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) – Mauritius Leaks? The investigation described Mauritius as having one of the “the most financially secretive jurisdictions in the world”. The island has now become “a destination for the rich and powerful to avoid taxes with discretion”. The Financial Secrecy Index gave us a 72 out of 100 – one of the highest according to the ICIJ. (31-40 being Moderatively Secretive , 91-100 being Exceptionally secretive). We are essentially known as enablers for “companies and individuals to reduce their tax bill across the world”. The cynics will call it a Tax Haven.
The investigation revealed a “sophisticated financial system” … “designed to divert tax revenue from poor nations back to the coffers of Western corporations and African oligarchs, with Mauritius getting a share”. So much to be proud of! Better not tarnish THAT reputation!
The TI country profile and the ICIJ investigation make for delightful reading and perhaps will give those self-described patriots, who care so much about us not becoming “ridicule to le monde entier”, a good old patriotic erection.
RESPECT FOR THE POPE IS RESPECT FOR THE WEAK
Other commentaries are focusing on “respect” for the Pope and religion. The reasoning being that the Pope is a “man of peace”. Not only is the Pope a Head of State but he also is the leader of a religion followed by millions around the world. Ergo, we should “respect” the papal visit. Now, I’m not an expert on religious matters so I might be going out on a limb here but isn’t helping the poor, the less fortunate, and the victims of injustice universally accepted values in all religions?
One rare voice of reason provides some much needed context to the debate and reminds us that indeed Pope Francis is “avant tout un produit qui trouve sa source en Amerique du sud, Jesuite petri des realités de son continent, tout en demeurant circonspect et critique vis a vis de l’institution qu’il dirige, je suggere a tous à commencer par ses fideles, une lecture approfondie de son encyclique”.
This “lecture approfondie” will perhaps show that last year Pope Francis conferred a sainthood on murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero. Romero was a proponent of Liberation Theology, a Marxist influenced school of thought within Catholicism which emphasized social justice and advocated peaceful activism designed to improve the lives of the poor. Romero was murdered because of the dangers his progressive teachings represented to the then right wing military junta.
This “lecture” should also tell us that the Pope himself (although not known for his liberal credentials – his views on abortion and homosexuality are still pretty medieval) is a Jesuit. The first ever Jesuit to become Pope. Among the core values of Jesuits are concern for the poor and the marginalised and a pursuit of justice.
How then does one process the fact that there are people, who on the one hand harp on about caring for the less fortunate, the victims of injustice and the marginalised but on the other are also quite happy to shoot down someone who devoted his life to fight for those same values and ideals?
I have news for you folks. It is not unreasonable to think that, given his social justice credentials, Jesus himself would have joined JB in his quest for a more just and equitable world. You know what is not Christian and indeed disrespectful and offensive to Christianity? Not protesting in the face of injustice and social inequality.
YOUR RIGHT TO PROTEST.
Many are also quick to point out that we should not be protesting simply because this is an official state visit. It is of course impossible to imagine people exercising their constitutional rights during a state visit. Especially one of this magnitude.
For the sake of clarity, the protests are not against the Pope per se. Then again, what if they had been? Are we meant to put our constitutional rights on hold and not exercise our right to free speech just because the Pope is here? Applying the same twisted logic, were Londoners not meant to protest when a racist and misogynistic US president visited their city? Were Londoners not meant to show their angst against the bombing of Yemenis by protesting during the Saudi state visit? Having said that, I reiterate that JB is not protesting against the Pope’s visit. This is about raising awareness and is symbolic. This is about a situation of perceived injustice and, true to his principles, JB is taking a stance against it. Injustice is injustice whether it occurs in a Church, a Mosque, a Hindu temple, a Jewish synagogue or a strip club for that matter.
Perhaps the most confused position came from a seasoned political commentator, who showing his opposition to JB’s actions had this to say :
“Mais Jack nous aurait également rendu heureux s’il avait parlé de manifester durant les visites programmées à Maurice du Prince Mohamed Ben Salmane,héritier du royaume Saoudien,et dont les mains sont tachées de sang de journaliste et de Yéménites,et de Narendra Modi,celui qui veut introduire sa politique du Hindutva en Inde,piétinant au passage les droits des minorités indiennes,dont les Dalits et les musulmans. Et il faut aussi s’étonner que Jack Bizlall n’ait jamais rien dit sur le fait que Israël compte désormais une ambassade à Maurice,l’ambassadeur de l’Etat-apartheid présentant même ses lettres de créance à Réduit,en présence d’Amina Gurib-Fakim,alors locataire du château”.
So, on the one hand, Jack was being reproached his alleged inaction on issues ranging from Saudi Arabia’s destruction of Yemen, Modi’s fundamentalism, to his alleged lack of condemnation of the fact that the apartheid state of Israel now has an embassy in Mauritius and in the same breath was also condemned for his stated intentions during the Pope’s visit.
Essentially, not only is it JB’s responsibility to shoulder the burden of defending workers in their struggle against ruthless employers, it is also his responsibility to take position against everything that one thinks JB should. Protests about everything that matters to (insert your choice here) or else do not protest at all. Ironically, the same commentator was looking for “un peu de coherence” from JB.
On APATHY, OBEDIENCE AND SUBSERVIENCE
Reading the various comments and opinions regarding JB’s potential protests, I could not help but think about the wider political context in which we find ourselves and our reaction to it.
Globally, we are once again facing the threats of illegal military interventions, once again flirting with white supremacy, right wing extremism and fascism in Europe and the US, nuclear annihilation and environmental destruction among other things. Closer to home, with elections (by-elections or otherwise) fast approaching, we are once again subjected to the usual barrage of lies, political flip flopping, politicians defecting to other parties faster that you could spell the word “opportunistic”, the lamentable spectacle of public officials being caught out once again using public money as their own, lavish electoral promises and what have you. All of this to the tune of the customary rhetoric a la “reunification de la famille militante”, “dans l’ínteret superieur de pays”, “vision pour le pays”, “faire de la politique autrement” or “agir en vrais patriotes”.
How come then, with the above in mind, we are now being told to curb our urge for dissent and protest. To act with ‘un peu de retenu’. I know that many people who are now criticising JB would have probably supported him in the past or indeed will do so in the future (for other protests that is). I know that no one is saying to stop protesting altogether. Their argument instead goes something like this: “Of course I don’t oppose your rights to protest BUT …”. My problem is with the ‘but’. How does this ‘but’ fair in the face of the wider political context we live in?
Howard Zinn wrote,
“Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders (…) Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem”
In Mauritius, our problem is not dissent. Our problem is precisely the lack it. Our problem is apathy in the face of nepotism, cronyism, corruption, rising inequality and poverty. Our problem is the new breed of young politicians who spend their time saying we need to get rid of political dinosaurs and yet now find themselves on the same platform of the same political dinosaurs (you know who you are!). Our problem is seeing political opportunism as mere political savvy. Our problem is the over the top patriotism, the excessive allegiance to the flag, the one that brands you an anti-patriot for merely exercising your rights to disagree, dissent or protest. Our problem is gullibility in the face of lies and deceit. Our problem is turning a blind eye to the prevailing corruption in power simply for the fact that we support those in power. Our problem is the constant parroting on slogans, a la“Unité dans la diversité”, “N sel lepep n sel nation”, without realising how meaningless, bland and devoid of any substance they are. Our problem is the illusion of choice; the illusion that, between the mainstream political parties, there is a clear choice between who gets to govern us. Our problem is not realising that this illusion of choice really boils down to choosing who gets to screw us over during their time in power. Our problem is not only mere acquiescence, but reverence to power. Our problem is when reverence to power turns into an absurd idolatry of those who have spent their time screwing us over; the one where you call your ruler as ‘n tigit pli tipti ki bondie”. Our problem is the memory loss when it comes to political coalitions and alliances. Our problem is getting shafted everyday and asking for more.
Our problem is crucifying those who refuse to be shafted any longer and are standing up for us: the Bizlall Jack, the Ashok Subron, the Kugan Parapen, the Ram Seegobin et al, of this world.
Our problem is OBEDIENCE and SUBSERVIENCE!
Perhaps the above will bring an avalanche of criticism, adding to the existing criticism I’ve already received on social media, for somehow inciting ‘anarchy’. Indeed, in responding to a Facebook post commenting on JB’s activism, I was in turn criticised for my so-called anarchism and anti-patriotism. After all, I was supporting protests during the Pope’s visit and not being appreciative of the government’s effort to bring the Pope to Mauritius. This got me thinking of what it really meant to be patriotic and how much of an anarchist I was?
When questioned over his alleged anarchism, Noam Chomsky had this to say:
“Primarily it (anarchism) is a tendency that is suspicious and skeptical of domination, authority, and hierarchy. It seeks structures of hierarchy and domination in human life over the whole range, extending from, say, patriarchal families to, say, imperial systems, and it asks whether those systems are justified. It assumes that the burden of proof for anyone in a position of power and authority lies on them. Their authority is not self-justifying. They have to give a reason for it, a justification. And if they can’t justify that authority and power and control, which is the usual case, then the authority ought to be dismantled and replaced by something more free and just.”
In which case, then yes I am a proud anarchist. I do not view those who govern and have governed us in the past as having acquitted themselves of this burden. Far from it. The structures of hierarchy (think of the political and economic elite that have shaped our society and continues to rule us to this day) and domination (think of the persecution of the press, the witchhunt against Paul Lismore, the amendment to the ICTA in 2018 and the list goes on) are NOT justified. None of their power and authority is justified.
Can anyone (apart from the cohort of lapdogs to those currently in power), objectively speaking, possibly think that the people leading us and those who have led us in the past, have any justification or moral legitimacy whatsoever in the power and authority they wield over us? If you are having trouble answering. Let me help you. The answer is a resounding NO.
Commenting of what it meant to be patriotic, Zinn wrote:
“If patriotism were defined, not as blind obedience to government, not as submissive worship to flags and anthems, but rather as love of one’s country, one’s fellow citizens (all over the world), as loyalty to the principles of justice and democracy, then patriotism would require us to disobey our government, when it violated those principles”
For those of you claiming “love” for your Mauritius and “loyalty to the principles of justice and democracy”, as Zinn also explained, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism”.
Refusing to bend over backwards and disobedience in the face of plunder, pillage, corruption, nepotism, inequality and injustice is not only justified but is essential. Question, refuse, resist and dissent! It is your responsibility.
You owe it to yourself and to your beloved Mauritius