Friday, June 5, 2009

The rule of (f)law

If you share the bury-your-head-in-the-sand syndrome with most of our politicians and their embedded “intellectuals”, it is very likely that the current controversy about the use or abuse increasingly of loudspeakers by the muezzin will trigger yet another wave of “shock” along your spine.

If, alternatively, your observations are rooted in the real world, it is very likely that you will consider the issue a symptom, among others, of a society gradually losing its bearings. Before attempting to search for a solution to the problem, so that there is no perception of “bashing”, we all need to carry out a session of soul-searching.

According to Islamic traditions, the first adhaan, or call to prayer, was delivered by an African named Bilal. He was chosen by the Prophet not only because his voice was powerful, but also because it was soulful and melodious enough to appeal to the senses of the Faithful. Today, it would be hard to admit that the adhaan we have to bear with around the country echoes the same uplifting spirit as the one preserved in Egypt or Turkey, for example.

The drift, nevertheless, is not the monopoly of Muslims. The cacophony from congregations in temples or sects in makeshift chapels that rips our cosy nights is everything but reminiscences of say, Karnatic mantras or Gregorian chants. The tragedy is that zealous followers of different beliefs, which ironically aim at liberating souls from all forms of intoxication, are now waging a contest among themselves.

Even within the same religion there can be a tug-of-war among followers of different spiritual leaders. For instance, if there is a consensus on the timings of the salaat, the Muslim prayer, why should neighbouring mosques air concurrently the adhaan over loudspeakers? Does it sound like soul-elevation or muscle-flexing?

We will certainly not be enlightened by the Catholic priest who confessed over a radio debate that “his” church would relinquish the use of bells should the mosque nearby also relinquish the use of loudspeakers. Two wrongs will not make a right. When people feel insecure, they tend to cling to anything within their reach, no matter how insane.

Mauritius is indeed undergoing an identity crisis which will not be resolved until it is first acknowledged. People of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, social classes or even genders imbue society with sufficient conflicting vibes to make cohabitation “risky”. Since mature human beings, probably the silent majority, are generally endowed with the faculty to discern, they seek to alleviate the negative impacts of those “risks”.

A society organises itself according to a set of common values. There is a correlation between the degree of how “civilised” a society actually is and how its citizens have been groomed. Civic responsibility is the key concept to define the limits and it does not exist in a vacuum. In an ideal world, common sense would be enough to instill the desired norms, but due to subtle or in-your-face complexities, that “common sense” often gets perverted before leading us astray.

Here, the capacity building of our institutions – political, legal, business, educational, familial, media, religious etc. – must be scrutinised to identify the shortcomings. The making and enforcing of rules governing cooperative human behaviour is where social order begins. The principle of the rule of law is intended to be a safeguard against arbitrary governance.

The rule of law does not operate in absolute terms. It depends on how citizens have internalised it. The behaviour of road users – drivers, riders and pedestrians – can provide a microcosm to gauge the strength of the rule of law. For example it varies considerably according to whether you are in Mauritius, India, Italy, United Kingdom or Norway.

When trust is violated, the rule of law is weakened. How do we convince the builder of a beach kovil that her action is detrimental to the general good when a miniature Virgin Mary is replicated in another public area or a hotel is “reserving” some space for its customers on the public beach? Worse, how do we convince a citizen not to ignore a traffic light when she regularly sees a policeman, a minister, a judge, a paragon of “corporate governance” or a freemason “overuling” it?

In any case, citizens must never be offered a moral justification to flout the rule of law. Obviously, noise is not the only form of pollution. Deeply “religious” citizens as well as their “secularised” counterparts can also overlap in the same zone. The incentive for a strong sense of civic responsibility will not come through a one-minute exposure to “in peace, justice and liberty” over a loudspeaker during a national festival, no matter how loud.

Rather when we breathe and live the noble aspiration every second.


  1. May I suggest that instead of "service militaire obligatoire", we have something like scoutism, but more of an exposure to others: "service civique obligatoire", where the vacations of teenagers are not solely devoted to wandering aimlessly in commercial centres in some elusory quest for self-actualisation, but rather actively discovering the richness of their imminent adult life: looking after elderly / sick / small children, basic cooking / housekeeping, household chores, and as they grow up, more and more friction with the real exterior world by organising events for others and / or staying over at people place, preferably someone with a different social background - else, we keep our youngsters in geographical and social ghettos from which they learn only caricatures of those that their normal lives will never allow them to discover. This is one of the best ways to eliminate pre-conceived ideas (and they are generally negative) about people they do not know. The Danes did it with sport and they've got Peter Schmeichel, and a string of olympic medals despite a relatively small population... But not with our current conceit and hypocrite political class and their coterie.

  2. I agree that scouting can contribute to reverse self-indulgence, self-absorption while paving the way for civic responsibility. Food for thought for the local branch to go nationwide...


Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic.