By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
The Middle East is setting the course of 21st century history. People there are challenging the cliché of submissive and passive populations eternally ruled and silenced by oppressive régimes in some regions of the world. This genuinely Arab-led revolt which started in Tunisia is setting the ground for a world movement which goes beyond demands for dignity, freedom and justice. It is going to question the long-established rule of an overpowering ultra-liberal economic system advocated by wildcat capitalism.
The world is awakening to the fact that the cliché of eternally oppressed peoples in some regions of the world is not a fatality. Oppressed people have decided to overthrow tyranny whether in local institutions or remote-controlled by foreign countries for their own benefits. People have decided to shape their destiny and topple rulers who have long muzzled protests and taken their patience for granted. Not only are calls for political freedom and justice resonating in streets from Libya, Yemen, Bahrain to Morocco and Syria, but a major feature of Arab culture as regards Palestine is also showing up in the process, a deep sense of honour. Arab leaders have not been forgiven for humiliating their countries and their people by forsaking the Palestinian cause to gain favour and money from America. Betraying a poor relative is shameful in Arab tradition. Hence the deep contempt for leaders who have long kept silent over the blockade of Gaza strip.
The widespread revolt should also bring out into the open the underworld of international relations and denounce the undemocratic methods of big powers to support oppressive régimes to the detriment of local populations. Such situations have largely benefitted big democracies in the west which have closed their eyes on the oppression of people as long as their self-centred interests are safeguarded. Not to mention that they deliberately enthroned authoritarian rulers and dictators and stifled movements for democracy led by leftist politicians. Dictators who further western interests are tolerated while those who keep their distance from predatory economic partnerships are loathed. No one has forgotten how the US and its allies threw themselves on Iraq, how prior to that tragic event, they starved millions of Iraqis, men, women and children to death by imposing an embargo on Iraq.
The capture of Saddam Hussein, the assassination of his sons and his execution later on staged by the US government was shocking and revolting. The blatant lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq spread by the UK and the US at the House of Commons and the UN were shocking and revolting. The still prevailing economic embargo on Cuba to bring it on its knees is unacceptable; one country cannot impose its model on another country.
Across the Arab world, leaders are calling for negotiations and proposing reforms. The whiff of change that is sweeping Arab countries is awakening people across the world. In the US, thousands of people have marched in protests against budget cuts. Trade unions are rallying crowds in the streets of Delhi to protest against rising food prices and inflation. Let us not forget the suicides of Indian farmers because of a pernicious system which made them dependent on foreign multinational companies for grains. Huge demonstrations are being organized to march towards Parliament in March. In China, notwithstanding more and more freedom being given to demonstrate, deep inequalities, high food prices, land speculation and corruption are fuelling deep discontent.
Who is saying that there is no alternative? That the post-Berlin wall has determined once for all the part that government should play in regulating the economy and that big capital should be given the freedom to go wild?
The French Revolution started with a handful of hungry women protesting against the price of bread in the streets of Paris. Let us not forget that.
* * *
Vulgarity at all cost…
Not everyone blindly follows any trend that has been conceived abroad and proposed to them as a big deal. Others will go along and try any trash as long as it sounds trendy, modern and American. Everyone knows that the beef that is served in hamburgers in fast-food restaurants is not meat, it is a mixture of bowels, guts and tripe all mashed up and flavoured with some spices to make it tasty. Add to that tomato ketch-up, mayonnaise and other sauces full of sugar and fat, take French fries, eat it up with a high sugar rate Coca-cola. Wow! Everything that youngsters like, and it becomes a thriving business. Not only youngsters but those who like to act young, very trendy these days.
The population already suffers from a high rate of diabetes and cholesterol with too much oil in the local food. Now fast-food restaurants. That’s all they need!. But they are free to increase the amount of cholesterol in their blood and live with diabetes for the rest of their life. Any child who is properly advised by his parents about what is healthy food or not may occasionally fall for a quick meal with pals at the nearest fast-food restaurant but knows how to refrain from consuming unhealthy food as he grows up.
Junk food is another tacky manifestation of American popular culture denounced by those Americans who are increasingly concerned about its impact on the health of the young who are the favourite targets of fast-food marketing. Obesity is becoming a scourge in affluent societies, and as Mauritians have developed a craze for whatever comes from western societies and they have enough money to spend for quick enjoyment, they should feel free to join in the race for obesity. It is customary for colonized people to pick up today the clothes that others discarded yesterday. The real cost of junk food never appears on the menu.
Casse-toi, pauvre Bouillon
This was written on the slogans of the indignant demonstrators in a protest against the arrogance and condescendence of the newly appointed French ambassador in Tunis. Barely 40-year-old Boris Bouillon, losing his self-control at a dinner press conference composed of eminent Tunisian journalists, shouted ordering the journalists to stop asking questions which got on his nerves and hurriedly left the conference to the dismay of everyone. Formal education be it at Science Po or ENA is just one tool for the intellectual make-up of high-ranking officials, other sources of learning which transmit respect, patience and self-control are not taught in the amphitheatres of universities.
Mark you, in their hostility the protesters did not resort to vulgar language. It was in keeping with the restraint they displayed during the 18-day Jasmin revolt, the typical oriental dignity and restraint that characterizes Arab culture. The slogan is a more civilized version of the French President’s ‘casse-toi, pauvre c..’ which shocked the public in France in the first year of his mandate. Ministers and MPs especially from the right-wing party happen to use such language and even more vulgar words when they lose all self-control in Parliament. Apart from one leftist weekly magazine in France which occasionally publishes readers’ comments containing such words, other papers generally refrain from doing so.
Plus royalistes ….
But not in Mauritius. Last year, the three-letter word was used three times in a daily newspaper within a month. On one occasion it was used to qualify a minister, it went like that ‘il n’est pas c.., le ministre…’ Well, one may forgive a débutant writing as if he was in the schoolyard of Lycée Labourdonnais. One week later, an elderly editorialist was at it again. Whatever be the defects of politicians, does the public expect vulgarity in the press? Even women so thoughtlessly find it normal to use the three-letter word in their articles, judging from one of last Sunday’s weekly paper.
There must be an erroneous perception that such laxity is tolerated in French language. Parents, especially mothers, forbid youngsters to use vulgar words especially a word which scornfully refers to the vagina of women. A word invented by males to qualify what is stupid and nasty! One aspect of French misogyny.
To top it all, one editorial carried a most unfortunate title and made a whole fuss over a few words recently uttered by a minister. The sexual connotation of the title was probably meant to create sensationalism, draw readers’ attention and sell copies.
Everybody knows that Creole words derived from French do not always carry the same meaning. Thus, one cannot carelessly say ‘couillon’ in French but it is not meant to hurt in Creole. ‘Maquereau‘ is not elegant in Creole but it is not very vulgar either whereas the French tend to take it literally. So does ‘baiseur‘, rather coarse language but which does not refer to whoever’s sexual prowess in Creole. Never mind, the editorialist bounced on the minister’s accusation of his opponent’s ‘boot-licking’ to create a sensational title.
Sorry to say, words translated from Hindi and Bhojpuri into Creole are more than often misinterpreted. Maybe it suited SAJ’s opponents years back, ‘sheitaan’ meaning ‘daemons’ or ‘bad characters’ is not that offensive, it is devoid of the heavy negative religious connotation it carries in ‘démon’. There is no obsession with ‘evil’ in Hindu mythology and philosophy as there is with Satan. However, the word supposedly disparaged one part of the population and got everybody excited for weeks. So did the latest ‘apna pradhanmantri’ . Weeks of adrenalin in the press and on the private radio as if the country had no urgent matters to attend to.
There is no reason for politicians to feel obliged to use Creole in all circumstances. A lot more Hindi and Bhojpuri should be expected in public speeches from the representatives of the people.
* Published in print edition on 25 February 2011