Why We Must Speak Out Against Racism And Bigotry

In a recent article titled “Embracing Our Ethnic Fears” that featured in the political opinion column of the Fiji Sun on August 2018, the Leader of Unity Fiji, Savenaca Narube,
18 Aug 2018 12:07
Why We Must Speak Out Against Racism And Bigotry

In a recent article titled “Embracing Our Ethnic Fears” that featured in the political opinion column of the Fiji Sun on August 2018, the Leader of Unity Fiji, Savenaca Narube, expressed his disquiet over what he deems as the castigation of “real-life issues” specific to various ethnic communities in Fiji as inciting racism and religious intolerance.

This, he claims, is an attempt to muzzle the voice of the people.

Rather than labelling everything as racist, he implores that we build understanding of the fears that ethnic groups face.

For all right-thinking Fijians, his arguments should beg the question: exactly who are manufacturing these fears and for what purpose?

I find it highly curious that he has labelled “land, qoliqoli and security” as specific fears of ‘indigenous Fijians’ while he regards “physical security, the tenure of leases, the inequity of appointments of senior positions in the public service and the large influx of foreigners with Fijian passport” as specific fears of the ‘Indo-Fijian’ community.

Exactly how did Mr Narube deduce that ‘inequity of appointments of senior positions in the public service” and “large influx of foreigners with Fijian passport” are specific fears of the “Indo-Fijians”?

The categorisation of these fears along ethnic lines itself is intended to maintain the primacy of ethnic politics alive and keep Fijians divided.

Our troubled history, marred by coups and constitutions has taught us that race, religion and ethnicity on its own have never been the basis of fear for any community in Fiji.

It becomes fear when people plant the seeds of fear, hatred and discrimination because we all know that we don’t talk about race, religion and our ethnic differences in isolation.

Fear and insecurity manifest themselves and our differences become the basis of division when we consciously associate race, religion and ethnicity with issues of security, crime, diminution of our identity and access to progression.

An example is a recent post on the Fiji Exposed Forum in which the blogger apportions the crime of rape committed against children in the UK to Pakistanis and Bangladeshis and intimates the possibility of their influx in Fiji and wonders why the Government is reluctant to release statistical data on ethnicity.

Again, all right-thinking Fijians should ask: why specifically focus on this particular crime, the motive behind linking this crime to particular nationalities that have a specific religious orientation and why link it to Fiji? One should be equally compelled to ask whether the blogger is desperately seeking statistical data based on ethnicity to legitimise her already bigoted and racist agenda.

After all, should Bangladeshis and Pakistanis come to Fiji, wouldn’t they constitute part of the community that Mr. Narube categorises as “an influx of foreigners with Fijian passports” that according to him “Indo-Fijians” so gravely fear?

Another example is a social media post after following the sacrilege of Hindu temples.

The leader of one political party was quick to retweet “…This is about scaring Indo-Fijian voters back to the arms of the FijiFirst Party”.

Is this not a clear example of mixing religion with politics in order to appeal to our most primordial fears?

So no Mr Narube, we must not embrace these ethnic fears.

On the contrary, we must question its basis.

Instead of propagating ethnically-entrenched fears that has haunted us for the last three decades, don’t you think it is time that we build a nation on the pillars of substantive equality, human dignity and non-discrimination?

Our children deserve quality education in a system that would teach them to recognise our shared humanity before our ethnicity.

Our mothers and daughters deserve the right to quality reproductive health services and to flourish and realise their full potential in an environment which is free of violence regardless of their ethnicity.

We must be able to access clean water, adequate housing, food and institutions of justice regardless of whether we are Methodists or Muslims, iTaukei or Indo-Fijians.

Should his political party be elected into power, Mr Narube claims that “indigenous Fijians will be allowed to voice their fears that their lands are being leased up to 99 years without their approval”.

In his narrative of deep-seated ethnic fears, Mr Narube conveniently fails to acknowledge the various legal safeguards from the Preamble of the Fijian Constitution, to section 28 of the Constitution on the rights of ownership and protection of iTaukei, Rotuman and Banaban lands as well as section 9 of the iTaukei Land Trust Act on the leasing and licensing of iTaukei land. Neither does he talk about the remedies available under the law for indigenous landowners to seek relief from our judicial system in relation to the lease of their land or the jurisprudence developed by our courts in relation to such matters.

While he claims the Government does not require the approval of indigenous landowners before removing sand and gravel from rivers, he again conveniently fails to make reference to the provisions under section 30 of our Constitution in relation to the rights of landowners to fair share of royalties for extraction of minerals.

It’s interesting that in discussing land, Mr Narube chose to focus on 99-year leases while glossing over the complicity of the iTaukei political elite under previous governments in the surreptitious and permanent alienation of the iTaukei from their customary land through the conversion of iTaukei land into freehold land.

Momi Bay is one such example.

Nor does he talk about the introduction of the Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill and the Qoliqoili Bill that not only deprived Indo-Fijians from ownership and access to land and ocean, but precluded the iTaukei community as well or the unequal distribution of lease money and the introduction of goodwill payment over lease renewals.

These fears have been given credence through distortions, fabrications and selective reading of our laws to exploit the vulnerability of ordinary Fijians.

While Mr Narube sees nothing wrong with “Indo-Fijians” equally voicing their concerns about physical security and the tenure of their leases, I find it peculiar that he does not even make a cursory reference to the fact that in the 139 years of their presence in Fiji, it is under this Constitution that Indo-Fijians have finally been recognised as equals.

On the one hand Mr Narube wants the iTaukei to lament about their land being leased up to 99 years without their approval and in the same breath wants Indo-Fijians to voice their concerns about the tenure of their leases. What game is the leader of Unity Fiji playing and exactly who will pay the price?

It is ironic that these arguments are being made by a political party that purports to call itself Unity Fiji because they are reminiscent of the politics of separate but equal that has thwarted the possibility of genuine national unity since our independence.

Ethnic accommodation at the expense of substantive equality, human dignity and non-discrimination, as we have witnessed in 1987 and 2000, is nothing but political expediency that will sow the seeds of division.

To imagine a nation otherwise will require us to let go of our ethnic baggage.


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