Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Speaking Softly vs Carrying a Big Stick

There are days when I look at my children and think about how, as “fruit-salads” (much more pleasant to the ear than their political correct ethnic label of “Indo-Kailoma-Chinese-I Kiribati-Samoan-Fijian”) their dealings with their relatives on both sides as they grow will be filled with the complexities of not just the Parliament of Fiji but the Pacific Islands forum.

Every week they engage with cousins, aunties and uncles and grandpas, nanas, nanis, and the odd papa-dada who speak to them in a variety of accents and languages. Yet despite all of that communication is able to take place, with meanings and symbols understood and relationships created and nurtured.

It is then surprising and worrying to some extent that there seems to be some serious misunderstandings when it comes to political parties, NGOs, CSOs, the military and maybe even the Church and the media defining terms such as “dialogue”, “forum”, “peace” “reconciliation” and “democracy”.

I believe it is not just a matter of which dictionary is picked up when discussing these terms. Perhaps it is that the definitions are used in different contexts. A peace enforced by weapons and the threat of violence may be acceptable to the military but not to the Church or NGOs. By the same token a democratic government in which some parties such as the SDL are banned from participating in may also be acceptable to the military but not to the political parties – certainly not the SDL. Reconciliation and forgiveness cannot take place if amnesties are given beforehand. A true dialogue cannot take place where only one party’s issues are discussed, or when both parties are less interested in listening to what each other has to say than waiting for their chance to speak. A forum which excludes representation of the minorities and marginalised of society can never hope to have the mandate of all the people.

When my children and their relatives communicate, they may struggle but the love that they have for each other enables that communication to happen, no matter how long it takes for the message or ideas to get through. Because both parties are open to each other: recognising, respecting and in this case loving each other, they make the effort to understand and be understood.

This is true communication: speaking out of love. When concerned citizens and organisations speak to each other on issues of justice and peace, they speak out of love. Clearly those who speak out of their concern may not speak out of love for the military junta, but it needs to be acknowledged that they are speaking on behalf of the people they love and because they love their country.

It can not be denied that there are those who speak out of love for themselves or their positions but such shallow loves never resonate or ring true.

Last Friday, I was saddened to hear the comments of the acting Commander of the RFMF on the radio. Colonel Driti’s terse voice was warning people who make statements that are perceived to be “anti-Military”. If only these statements and many like them were received in the same spirit in which they were made.

Perhaps the acting Commander has translated the old adage of “children are meant to be seen and not heard,” into “political parties, NGO’s and concerned citizen’s are not meant to be heard or they will no longer be seen.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship writes:
“The followers of Jesus have been called to peace. But when he called them they found their peace. But know they are told that they must not only have peace but make it. And to that end they renounce all violence and tumult. In the cause of Christ nothing is to be gained by such methods. His kingdom is one of peace, and the mutual greeting of his flock is a greeting of peace. His disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it on others. They maintain fellowship where others would break it off. They renounce all self-assertion, and quietly suffer in the face of hatred and wrong. In so doing they overcome evil with good, and establish the peace of God in the midst of a world of war and hate. But nowhere will that peace be more manifest than when they meet the wicked in peace and are ready to suffer at their hands. The peacemakers will carry the cross with their Lord, for it was on the cross that peace was made. Now that they are partners in Christ’s work of reconciliation, they are called the sons of God as he is the Son of God.”

This may be the exit strategy the RFMF seeks. It is certainly better than waving a big stick.

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