Street protests and democracy

Too much passivity is a handicap to social progress and welfare. Extreme forms of protests which lead to destruction of public and private property and cause economic losses are not the right example either

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

Not many leaders would like to be in the shoes of French President Macron. The young president undertakes bold reforms, faces public wrath and castigates the Gallic temperament which prompts thousands of people to take to the streets, yell hostile slogans against leaders and create as much obstruction and nuisance as possible. A big chunk of demonstrators stage protests out of habit while others join the fray without really caring to know what they are protesting against.

It should be admitted that street protests by huge crowds are effective in making public concern heard within the precincts of Parliament in a really democratic country. It is glaringly non-existent in Mauritius. Too much passivity is a handicap to social progress and welfare. Extreme forms of protests which lead to destruction of public and private property and cause economic losses are not the right example either.

Either out of bad faith or sheer ignorance, the angry crowds in France seem to miss the point on the environmental factor and less dependence on oil import in the current tax rise of fuel. Incentives are given to opt for electric cars and gradually eliminate oil-driven engines. Huge investments in renewable energy are also being overlooked in the ongoing protests – a strategy which in the long run will cut down CO2 emissions, decrease global warming and pave the way to a healthier and cleaner environment.

What about here – is there a political will to cut down dependence on oil imports and promote electric cars and buses? This will help the public to save more for other useful purposes, and by the same token, help to protect the environment.

Civilized social behaviour is much more a matter of mindset, discipline and cultural attitudes than a benefit guaranteed by democratic institutions. No one would want to see anti-social elements, delinquents, potential criminals given a free ride during protests to go on a destruction spree in their backyard. In this respect, Japan and China are inspiring examples of discipline, restraint, self-respect and respect for others.

Freedom is an inherent characteristic of human beings but is often misinterpreted to justify destructive, malicious and obscurantist motivations. So are diatribes on human rights perverted to suit undesirable agendas. Public discourse in Mauritius is not bound and blinded by rigid ideologies, an advantage which eases the process of setting things right when there is a need for it.

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Social media abuse

The tougher law enacted by the government to counter abusive writings and posts on social media networks and other publications has caused quite a stir. Unsurprisingly, concern over what are perceived as threats to free speech was aired, and the Attorney General extended the courtesy of an exclusive interview to selected media spokespersons on national television. The inner circle of the executive is likely to be amused by reactions voiced from various sectors.

From mild criticism to deep outrage, the new law was bound to be a topic of discussion in the public, on radios and in the press. What gave the government enough confidence to come up with a law that will make anyone think twice before feeling free to utter or publish threats, splash other people’s privacy in the public sphere behind their back and without their consent, and just publish or express anything in the name of free speech – is that it knows fairly well who will spend sleepless nights with such a law hanging over their heads. Secondly, it is likely to win public support on the difference between real freedom of speech and feeling of impunity to publish or show just anything about anyone.

Quite a few members of the government are know very well the extent to which wrongdoings are carried on without any qualms on the internet and social media to cause harm and muzzle free speech. The mainstream press might not be aware of the whole issue. Some of their counterparts pay lip service to the idea of free speech while they actively participate in illegal practices to muzzle free expression of opinions and ideas. So when supporters of free speech jump to the ceiling upon what lies behind the meaning of ‘inconvenience, ‘annoyance’ and ‘offence’, the proponents of the new law might be laughing up their sleeves.It is the duty of the law to protect good people. Those who hide behind anonymity provided by new communication technology to attack others and go in hiding are nothing less than petty criminals. A no-nonsense law sends shivers down the spine of many who feel free to steal bits and pieces of other people’s private lives for malicious and malevolent reasons, free to film, take photos, steal information and personal data in a hate-filled pursuit of those who tell truths they’d rather keep hidden from the public.

As regards public figures, it is absolutely vicious to hound and spy on them on whatever they do in the privacy of parties and gatherings. Who smiles and takes a drink with whoever is of no public interest, neither was the beating of drums and sega dancing. Publishing such photos smacks of a malicious intention to have a dig at politicians, embarrass and harass them. Such provocation in the name of free speech will encourage vicious individuals to back-stab their hosts, colleagues and opponents in all impunity. Publication of stolen photos amounts to voyeurism and encourages the base instinct for futile palaver and gossip.

Someone has to draw the line. Mauritius is not America or France where abuse of freedom of speech allows all sorts of personal attacks, ignorant and anti-national propaganda to spread, negatively influence the public and go unpunished.

* Published in print edition on 23 November 2018

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