RELIGION AND POLITICS

It is generally believed that the two words ‘faith’ and ‘religion’ are absolute synonyms, i.e. they are interchangeable in ALL circumstances. Linguistics teaches us that that absolute synonymy is a highly questionable concept and this can lead us to dramatic confusion and conclusions.

I believe it is more judicious to consider religion as a cultural phenomenon made up of two important features: faith and rituals. Faith i.e. belief in a supernatural power is fundamental and rituals which include religious literature, prayers, services, customs and traditions, ceremonies, do’s and don’ts etc. are the scaffoldings meant to consolidate faith. If faith, a God-given intuition, stands outside time and space, rituals are determined by geography, culture and change. Rituals also help to carve devotees’ identity but may, unfortunately, also be a source of division, conflict and misunderstanding.

Viewed from this perspective, several possibilities emerge.
• There are people who strike the right balance between faith and rituals i.e. meditation on the nature and attributes of God go together with certain forms of religious practice;
• There are those who take faith for granted, as something beyond the grasp of the human mind, and prefer to obsessively focus on details of rituals;
• There are others who focus on faith only and are not at all bothered by rituals which they find absurd and boring;
• Finally, there are those who think rituals and faith are one and the same thing and, because they find religious practice irrational, superficial and full of contradictions, they opt for a non-faith stand.

In a theocracy, i.e. government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided, religious rule is omnipresent as in Iran, Saudi Arabia or The Vatican etc. The rise of democracy has meant separating politics from religious doctrine and rule and the development of a secular culture based on individual freedom and rights, on the right to believe or not believe, to practise or not practise, to worship or not worship, to pursue the scientific and philosophical road to knowledge and wisdom. Absolute secularism is, I believe, impossible to attain and is perhaps not desirable. However, we must avoid confusing secularism with anti-clericalism or atheism for secularism understands the importance of religion, recognizes its role but insists that policy decisions should be governed by reason and experience not by do’s and don’ts of ancient texts, the essence of which must be sifted from outdated and irrelevant details. In short, secularism means that there is no state religion although the practice or non-practice of religion is free. It also means that citizenship is not to be determined by adherence to a specific religion.

The Maritime Republic of Mauritius (MRM) is a secular state but the supreme laws of the archipelago recognize the existence and practice of religions which also receive a yearly subsidy. Recently, a leader of the Roman Catholic Church argued that the MRM state is not secular and that Hinduism is its state religion. We all know that he was wrong and he must have dropped this absurd belief for it has not been reiterated.

It is imperative that MRM’s secularism be preserved and developed to avoid futile and sterile conflicts. In that context, I find the joint press conference by the PM and the Bishop of Port Louis HELD IN THE OFFICE OF THE PM a ‘faux pas’. The argument that this was done because Pope Francis is the head of the Vatican state does not hold water. The PM is not the head of state but the head of government and the press conference should have been chaired by the acting President and HELD AT STATE HOUSE, in Reduit.

09.08.19

PA MWA SA LI SA; PA LI SA MWA SA

There is no doubt that the Island Games have generated a lot of enthusiasm before and specially during. Athletes, organisers, funders, artists and the general public must be congratulated. We have lived a great moment of jubilation and over and over again expressions of joy were mingled with love of the land. Words linked with patriotism, such as Mauritianism, were lavishly used. The games are now over. We are all going back to our routine and chores, our struggles and frustrations and our hopes and fears. Have the games left behind strong building blocks on which new layers may be added or just the ashes of an already dead flame?

We have won dozens of medals and are all chanting the victory of Mauritius without any thoughts of those young women and men, most of whom probably come from underprivileged backgrounds, who trod the hard road to success. What our dirge would be like had we lost? It’s not hard to imagine: “Akoz bannla sa!” We are very good at, on the one hand, appropriating the success of others and, on the other hand, at denying any responsibility when things go wrong. It seems that scapegoatism is a Mauritian core value (“Pa mwa sa, li sa”).

What is patriotism if not some form of love? Do we love only when there is success and achievement and hate and curse in moments of hardship and adversity? That is not love. That is opportunism, mere self-seeking gains from the efforts of others.

There are two types of patriotism: negative and positive. Negative patriotism is when the love of one’s country powers the lust to conquer and loot other countries; it is positive when it powers love and care for one’s country and its people, flora and fauna. The Maritime Republic of Mauritius is made up of several creole islands peopled by immigrants from Europe, Africa and Asia and this cross-cultural mix has to be fostered to build a rainbow nation at all levels, be it economic, political, social or cultural.
At economic level we must develop new paradigms in terms of profitability, sustainability, workers’ welfare, environment control etc. At political level it is imperative that major reforms are implemented to strengthen and improve democracy in terms of gender parity, proportional representation and most importantly to move away from the 3-member constituency to a system of smaller one-member constituencies. These changes will make the best loser system redundant and will help us get rid of ethnic politics. In education, it is urgent that we get rid of the present language policy whereby children are forced to learn the basics of literacy in 3 foreign languages at one and the same time while their mother tongue is ignored. When will we realise the great waste of resources and potential that such a stupid language policy is generating?

Literacy should start in the mother tongue of the child and we should use intelligently the fact that our national language and our official language are creole languages. Moreover, a new pedagogy for French will definitely pave the way to a genuine and vibrant trilingualism.

We must also bear in mind that in a not too distant future, we will have to face serious climate problems, rise in sea level, food insecurity and to face these we will need national solidarity kneaded in the spirit of love and care. “Sakenn so sakenn” will mean national catastrophe and a lot of suffering.

Instead of wallowing in short-lived explosions of joy, let us explore and build strong core values based on solidarity and sharing and replace the facile waving of flags by this song sung in unison:

Bondie beni twa Mama,
Nou Mama, nou Later Sakre.
To bote li dou,
To parfen li dou,
To tini nou ansam
Kouma enn pep,
Enn sel nasion
Dan lape, lazistis, liberte.
Zoli Mama,
Bondie beni twa
Toultan, toultan, toultan.

01.08.19