Shaista Begs to Differ
Letter to the Editor: Croz Walsh's Blog
I refer to your commentary on James Anthony’s note to the Constitutional Commission and would like to make a few observations which I hope you will publish on your website:
First of all, a correction - Dr James Anthony is not Felix Anthony’s brother. They may be vaguely related by marriage but there is no actual relationship otherwise. In fact, perish that thought!
Secondly, I myself attended that conference to launch the Pacific Studies Centre at Auckland University 26 or more years ago, to which you referred in your commentary. I had not previously met Dr Jim Anthony and was very interested to hear him speak. He was an icon for many because he had successfully challenged the hegemony of colonialism and capitalism in Fiji in 1959, and was something of a ‘Ned Kelly’ figure. Not many Europeans in colonial Fiji liked Jim precisely because of that, and instead of getting a job at USP, lecturing us (local) students- as he should have done after he earned his PhD, Jim’s application was turned down by none other than the VC at the time, Colin Aikman. Jim certainly would have made a huge difference to our learning because of his unique perspective on Fiji, the Pacific and the world; instead, those of us who attended that university ended up learning about our societies from the colonial perspective- something that Bainimarama, for all his other faults, now rightly condemns as the Australian and New Zealand viewpoint in interviews with Graham Davis and the like.
But getting back to the Auckland conference, I don’t remember the Maori ‘extremists’ as you call them hijacking the conference as you do. I do recall that some very strong views were expressed about colonial attitudes towards Maori and Pacific Islanders similar to what we had experienced in Fiji. We were ready for that challenging perspective since many felt that even the Pacific Studies programme at Auckland University had been captured by the lavalava-wearing colonial academics who exploited Pacific Island people for their intellectual property.
Anyway Jim was always defined as an ‘Indian’ (whether he appreciated it or not) so he would have been seen as part of the non- Pacifika group at that conference, and probably also left that session that you referred to. Your recollection of Vijay Naidu being ‘adopted’ by Epeli Hau’ofa though is correct, and Vijay was indeed in that ‘privileged’ position. But young though I was at the time, I found such gestures of patronage to be distasteful- if the Pacific Islanders like Epeli Hau’ofa -a kind man- had to adopt Indo-Fijians as ‘Pacific Islanders’ instead of leaving the room and standing in solidarity with them, this was a sorry saga indeed. Such an assimilationist strategy was even then considered to be objectionable and a violation of international human rights law. Assimilation was imposed on the Maori by Pakeha and we all know the consequences of that on the tax-payer in NZ; the courts have made everyone pay for that colonial insult. I recall that Vijay Naidu stayed because of that ‘adoption’; I was glad to leave the room because the problem was not Indians, as they were not the focus of the Maori ‘extremists’ as you call them (freedom fighters by another term), but the Pakeha at that conference who chose to define what Pacific Studies was all about, and a lot more can be said about that, as you know.
Jim is no longer an academic as such, since he has now retired, but he is an intellectual and there is a huge difference between the two. Academics remain at universities - intellectuals survive them! Jim still has a lot to offer and is a son of Fiji, better than most. He has a right to comment on what goes on there, as much as anyone else- particularly on the latest developments in the Constitutional Commission- without being the target of a personal attack based on erroneous facts as you have done from the advantageous position of your own blogsite.
The Constitutional Commission of Fiji made an unpopular decision, judging from the media reports, to have a person like Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi appointed as a consultant when he came to a public hearing in support of a group that formally espoused racist views (to call for a Christian State in Fiji is racist whether or not you can appreciate the nexus between ethnicity and religion in our context). This starkly shows that the Commission is acting ultra vires the terms of reference given to it under section 3 of both Decrees No 57 and 58, notwithstanding the gloss and obfuscation that you and your columnist Alan Lockington, and indeed the Commission, are trying to put on this appointment. No one heard even a whisper of a dissenting opinion on the idea of a Christian State from anyone within that group making those submissions to the Commission and Ratu Joni’s presence there had a chilling effect on the minority ethnic groups. Unless the Commission is operating on another planet or some parallel universe, surely it should find the public opinion somewhat revealing? That kind of complete disjunction from reality is what makes many people agree with the main political parties and trade unions of Fiji (the ‘constituent assembly’ in fact) which, in the unprecedented move of a joint statement, essentially called for the disbanding of the Commission. With such heartfelt collaboration among the main body-politic on some issues perhaps consensus can be reached on others as well, thus obviating the need for former political divisions, and indeed for a Constitutional Commission. The political parties can organize constitutional review themselves and, with goodwill, sort out a new constitution for Fiji. It will certainly save time and money. As a tax payer of Fiji whose taxes are likely helping to pay for the salaries of the Commission and consultants, I must say that it is difficult not to agree with the critical viewpoint.
Jim Anthony’s statement to the Chair of the Commission puts it rather nicely in my view. He was never known to mince his words in his youth- why should he start now? In a few short, pithy sentences he expressed the sentiments of many in Fiji by holding the now one-sided process of constitution-making up for critical scrutiny.
Dr Shaista Shameem