Friday, February 27, 2009

Fury of the 'righteous' - By Tui Rakuita
Friday, February 27, 2009

I recently came across the infamous clip that showed Esala Teleni berating a segment of his officer-corps for derailing the Police Force's Christian Crusade.

Contrary to the organisational slant that is being given as sole justification for this 'dressing down', it becomes quite apparent that there is more at play.

Indeed, if one was to carefully consider Teleni's polemic, one would not fail to realise that the implications arising from his outburst cannot be explained exclusively in terms of bureaucratic protocols.

Apart from the oft-stated organisational dimension, the ethnic and religious overtones in his tirade are quite distinct. It is along these lines that I wish to interrogate his utterances further.

Organisational dimension:

Teleni has in the past voiced his aim of 'professionalising' the police force.

So, for him, this outburst could be classified as part of his program of enhancing the efficiency of the organisation.

Indeed Teleni and his superiors are of the view that what he did was appropriate given the specific nature of the institution that he leads.

Even the vocabulary that was used that day is in no way 'out of character'.

The 'discipline forces', it is tacitly suggested, is where one must expect and accept those 'expressions'.

By alluding to the specific nature of the 'discipline force', Teleni and his supporters may have inadvertently collapsed the gulf that separates the army and the police.

The frequency of his self referral as 'Commodore' is highly suggestive of this. Hence, the lay person may be led to believe that what was witnessed that day is a common occurrence within the police force when it may have been true only for the army.

Teleni was in fact talking as if those facing him were military recruits instead of senior police officers.

The implications are worth our while to consider. Let me spell out a few.

Firstly, this will confirm, for many, the suspicion that the Police is being militarised once again.

More troubling than this is the awareness that these supposedly well trained and highly qualified army officers may not have what it takes to lead civilian or para-civilian institutions.

They are too 'one-dimensional' as opposed to the multi-pronged approach needed in institutions outside military parametres.

Secondly, the fact that Teleni is a high ranking army officer whose actions were deemed acceptable by both his line minister and the interim PM, who at the very least would know the appropriate conduct befitting an army officer berating 'wayward recruits', casts a parochial imprint on the army itself.

Is the army as an institution not supposed to be getting better each year due to the increasing quality of its new recruits?

That this would necessitate a change of approach given the nature (qualification, psychoanalytical make up, etc) of the new intakes?

If the answer to both questions is no, then we as a society are nearer to the brink than we realise.

However, if the answer is yes on both counts, why then would Teleni and his superiors view the lexicons taken out of dated army manuals to be still applicable today within the army itself let alone the upper echelon of the police force?

In short, Teleni's outbursts run against the grain of contemporary organisational principles, disciplinary institutions included.

Ethnic dimension:

Whichever way one wishes to look at it, the fact of the matter is that all present that day were of a particular ethnic origin.

If one was to look closely at the Fijian words used by Teleni, one would realise that they are part of a greater repository of derogatory terms that Fijians stereotypically hurl at Indo-Fijians.

What does this suggest in light of the interim regime's stated objective of eliminating racism?

Religious dimension:

To his credit, Teleni openly admits that he respects the religions of his officers which must, one assumes, be different from the Commissioner's who, as we all witnessed, is a self-professed Christian.

Yet one cannot help but call to mind those great Christian Crusades led by Knights in armour against the 'heathens' who dared to desecrate the holy land.

History tells us that defiance against those crusades was paid for in blood.

Of course, no police officer would need to forfeit his or her life today if she or he were 'deemed' to oppose Teleni's crusade.

If the commissioner's words are anything to go by, they will instead lose their jobs as well as their sense of dignity and respect.

In a land where a premium is still attached to humane values and where existence for most borders increasingly on a daily struggle, this loss amounts to almost everything.

In light of this even the commissioner's assertion about respecting other religions looks suspect.

George Bernard Shaw warned us to be cautious of the person whose God resides only in the skies.

He was lamenting the all too common human foible of not seeing the affinities between our relationship with God and our ties to our fellow human beings.

Put simply, a love of God without respect for the other person is a sham.

Given the overall tenor of his tirade, the commissioner is found wanting on all fronts when measured against his own yardsticks.

* Tui Rakuita is a lecturer at the School of Social Sciences, University of the South Pacific.

* The views expressed in this article may not necessarily reflect those of this newspaper.

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