The Khaiyum Thesis: a Conspiracy Theory

Most people would think ridiculous claims that the Americans knew in advance about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, that Pope Benedict resigned before he was exposed as part of the Church's sex scandals, that Jews are taking over the world, or that Bill Clinton was  quietly assassinating his associates. People who believed such conspiracy theories would be considered to be out of their minds.

But  Fiji has never been short of its conspiracy theorists, people who think —or want others to think—  events are master-minded by some dark forces.  

Think of the historic (and still active) fear generated by claims that the "Indians" were taking over Fiji, or more recently the Muslims, Al Queda or, believe it or not,  the Syrian army. Think of  the innumerable plots in which Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, a convenient target, is supposed to have been engaged.

I was thinking of this when I listened to an hour-long radio interview with Mike Beddoes, recorded about three weeks ago. Much of the interview was used to repair the damage caused to the SODELPA image by Laisenia Qarase's ramblings about Verse 135 in the Qur'an and a Christian State, but then he turned to the supposed plot, traceable back to before the Coup,  by two men (Bainimarama and Khaiyum) to take over the country.  All you have to do, he told his audience, is to read Khaiyum's thesis. It is all there, how Taukei land, institutions and customs will be taken.

Before discussing the offending thesis (supervised, incidentally, by Prof. Yash Ghai), readers should know that a thesis is not an ordinary document. It is a highly structured exercise designed to answer research questions. The questions in Khaiyum's 2002 Master in Laws thesis, "Cultural Autonomy: Its Implications for the Nation-State, the Fiji Experience" were whether Taukei autonomy helps or hinders Taukei full participation in Fiji, and at what point autonomy could threaten the integrity of the country.

His conclusion, based on an extensive survey of the relevant literature, was hardly surprising and certainly not new. Both the government-commissioned Spate and Burns reports of the 1950s concluded that aspects of Taukei autonomy were holding Taukei back from full participation in the economy. In the 1960 Rusiate Nayacakalou and 'Epeli Hau'ofa said much the same thing. 'Epeli wrote:

"It is the privileged who can afford to tell the poor to preserve their traditions. But their perceptions of which traits of traditional culture to preserve are increasingly divergent from those of the poor because n the final analysis it is the poor who have to live out the traditional culture, the privileged can merely talk about it, and they are in a position to be selective about what trait they use or more correctly urge others to observe."

In the 1990s historian William Sutherland wrote of "the historically forged alliance between white capital, the colonial state, the chiefs and the newly emergent Fijian bureaucratic bourgeoisie."

None of these writers were condemning Taukei culture, and neither was Khaiyum, but they were pointing to aspects of the culture which benefited a small number of Taukei and disadvantaged the majority. Even Ratu Joni Madrawiwi, in many of his speeches, spoke of the need for improved Taukei leadership, service to the people, and the need to adapt to today's realities.

Khaiyum had this to say of the relationship between culture and self-worth:

"To maintain one's self worth culture needs to be dynamic and vibrant.  Capturing it in institutions makes culture parochial, irrelevant, prone to manipulation and serves only the interests of a few.

"Cultural autonomy must have a sunset clause. Its prolonged continuation will place a stranglehold on the very members it seeks to protect, and it will concomitantly disallow the critical cultural space in which a just, vibrant and coherent nation-state can flourish while embracing diversity."

I can see how Mick Beddoes's reading of the thesis supported his conspiracy theory (and I can see how useful that might be in winning votes), but a more thoughtful reading would show that it is not Taukei culture that Khaiyum was criticising. He recognized its importance in maintaining self-worth and group identification. 

He wanted to see a dynamic and vibrant Taukei culture that works in the interest of ordinary Taukei and allows the creation of the "cultural space" that would allow all races to flourish in a vibrant nation-state.   

What he, and many scholars before him, were criticizing was the use of  cultural institutions that favour an elite, work against the interests of ordinary Taukei, and keep the nation divided along racial lines.

And many people would say Amen to that!


Anonymous said…
Mick Beddos can be excused for misinterpreting the thesis as he is not educated enough.....sometimes I wonder how people with him get into parliament
Anonymous said…
Mr. Khaiyum is the greatest leader Fiji has ever had: A true muslim multiculturalist who has sharply analysed the brakes that iTaukie culture and religion put on rapid development of native land and other resources. Mr. Khaiyum is not afraid to point out that the lazy indolence of indigenous Fijians combined with a limited space for religious minorities such as muslims create an environment that is not conducive to a vibrant economy. Mr. Khaiyum should become prime minister and he and his family should lead the country for the next 20 years.
Anonymous said…
Another of the key passages in Khaiyum's thesis is his discussion of progressive women's rights being endangered by reactionary regimes of "cultural autonomy", referring to the 1985 court case "Mohammed Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum" in India (pp. 64-65). The court denied a Muslim women's claim for alimony from her ex-husband who had divorced her, based on the "cultural autonomy" Muslims in India have, which subjects them to archaic rules deriving from sharia law and exempts them from the more progressive provisions of the Indian Civil Code that Hindus are subject to. The fact that Khaiyum criticizes not merely the regime of "cultural autonomy" for iTaukei in Fiji, but also a similar system for Muslims in India should definitely rebut all accusations of Khaiyum being involved in a "Muslim conspiracy" to islamicize Fiji. If anything, the thesis proves that Khaiyum has consistently been a progressive secularist, and has nothing to do with radical Islam whatsoever.
Jim Anthony said…
Mick Beddoes is of a class of people in Fiji, who are both undereducated and under informed. This class of people cling tenaciously to old myths and refuse to face new realities. They're a sad lot--lonely and somewhat depraved. Those who pray to a god--any god, should pray for such people. They are definitely in need of divine assistance. People like Beddoes have no place in a Parliament, any Parliament. I think many people in Fiji, when they go to the polls on September 17, will send the likes of Beddoes a swift and stern message of firm and unequivocal rejection. Beddoes will then go home, beat his favorite cat with a guava stick and then sit in the corner of his living room and cry and have his housekeeper beat him with wet noodles.
Cin Cin said…
I wonder if there are any Fijian - or itaukei, to be politically correct - institutions that you do approve of, Croz. Another thinly veiled attack at the GCC I notice.
Anonymous said…
Will khaiyum become Fiji PM? As the Fiji military who surrendered to islamists said in a video today for the world to see: "Inshallah".
Crosbie Walsh said…
My position on the GCC has been clearly stated many times. I think it can still perform its traditional role in advising government on traditional Taukei matters and serve as a forum for Taukei leaders to discuss Taukei mattes with each other, but it should be apolitical and should not see itself as a sort of parallel government,
Anonymous said…
That is up to the people of Fiji to decide. Not a racist fool like you or an illegal human rights abusing bunch of thugs.
Anonymous said…
Is it possible to read the full thesis? If yes, could you direct me to a link? Thanks.
Anonymous said…
follow this link and download Aiyaz's thesis:-
Cin Cin said…
I don't think it has ever seen itself as a paralell government and certainly the past members I know would never have wanted such a role - it simply wasn't structured in such a way.

Certainly it made some decisions, particularly in 2000, that it deserves censure for, but to demand it be apolitical is a stretch - all communities in Fiji have used similar representative bodies to lobby in their interest.

The role of the GCC should have been decided by Fijians -itaukei. You may very well defend Khaiyums thesis as not specifically describing Fijian culture but his role in the abolition of the GCC and the attacks on the Methodists would perhaps suggest otherwise.
Anonymous said…
You must be clutching on thin straws when you politicise the hostage taking in UNDOF to try and justify some bold statement in Fiji.
Anonymous said…
Come on, now you spread around a thesis where an unexperienced young men has made some questionable statements. You should judge Mr. Khaiyum by his relentless work to transform Fiji into a free and open society where freedom of expression is secured and union rights are preserved. He had the guts to rubbish the constitution drafted by this airhead Ghai and drafted his own which now stands for a total protection of the RFMF revolutionaries who have dared to transform Fiji into a modern secular democracy. Stop peddling old stories and come out in support of Khaiyum, the best leader Fiji has ever had.
Anonymous said…
It is deeply disturbing that there is a monstrous smear campaign against Mr. Khaiyum in the anti-government media and blogs. Have a look at Coup4.5: A blog that viciously spreads lies and scares the Taukei community with stories that the AG will take their land away. Everybody can check that this is false. The AG's land use decree only allows 99 year leases to be decided over by the PM. And even a child would know that 99 years are not an eternity. Despite the lies these fear mongers spread they are extremely popular. C4.5 has had over 11 million page views! How many can a fair and balanced pro-government blog like Croz' clock? I am really worried that Mr. Khaiyum's Fiji First party will lose the election and then there is no other choice but to stage another coup. As a result the economy will nose dive again and Fiji will continue to be viewed as an unsavoury banana republic. This can all be avoided by coming out in massive support for Mr. Khaiyum and his revolutionary Fiji First party.
Anonymous said…
The Fiji soldiers have emerged as heroes in that they upheld the UN principle of restraint. They did not kill any of the insurgents unlike the Filipino's who killed three....then decided they (Filipinos) would have to pull out in October to avoid retaliation from insurgents. The Fijians on the other hand were respected and well treated by the insurgents which bodes well for the reputation and neutrality of UN Peacekeeping forces. Well done boys for holding your fire, putting your lives on the line and ultimately gaining the respect of insurgents of the Jabhat Al Nusra, the Syrians, the UN and others. This is what peacekeeping is all about.
Anonymous said…
Well put mate although hindsight is a great thing the young commander on the ground's decision to lay arms rather than fight has proven to be a very very good decision at the end. No lives lost on both sides and fiji's reputation as the best in peacekeeping business remains intact.
Crosbie Walsh said…
Page views? A little over 2 million. I'm out-gunned!
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