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In defence of freedom

July 29, 2001
By Selwyn R. Cudjoe

ONE is always amazed by the quaint stupidity that emanates from some elements of our society. The same newspaper that called Eric Williams "a communist" when he entered politics in 1956, praised the police whom they say "exercised a high degree of patience" in contrast to Professor Cudjoe and his supporters who "acted in open defiance of the law' (Trinidad Guardian, July 26).

Continuing its indecent assault on language and the freedom story, the editorial argued "the country is now being put on notice that 'civil disobedience' is now being advocated as a means of advancing the cause of a political movement." It warns Professor Cudjoe and his supporters "if civil disobedience means disregarding lawful instructions by the police, the public interest requires the firmest disapproval of such a tactic."

And this is precisely the point. Civil disobedience begins with the basic premise that some laws and/or their implementation are unjust and therefore ought to be disregarded or broken openly.

Proponents of civil disobedience court arrest to highlight injustices. When, therefore, the Acting Commissioner contemplates my arrest (Trinidad Express, July 26), he forces the public to judge between my desire to uphold the sanctity of our Constitution (the right of citizens to assembly peacefully to petition their government) and his penchant for acting arbitrarily and placing his unique spin on our freedom story.

In South Africa in 1913, when General Jan Christiaan Smuts announced that the Europeans of Natal would not lift a three-pound annual tax on the ex-indentured labourers, a justice of the Cape Colony Supreme Court ruled that only Christian marriages were legal thereby invalidating Hindu and Moslem marriages, and the government placed a ban on Asian immigration, civil disobedience commenced.

To protest these unjust actions, a group of Indian women crossed the Transvaal into Natal to court arrest. When the border police did not arrest them, they proceeded to the Natal coalfield in Newcastle and urged the indentured miners to strike. When the police arrested them finally, the miners struck and inflamed the region.

The point here is simple: To dramatise the injustice of a law that made them concubines and denied them legal protection, Indian women courted arrest to bring their injustices to the attention of the nation. In the process, they touched the nation's conscience, girded their people's consciousness and incited their anger over injustice.

When Gandhi offered the term Satyagraha (actually his second cousin coined the term Sadagraha which Gandhi changed to Satyagraha) he wanted to demonstrate the interrelated nature of truth, love and soul force.

A combination of two terms (satya means truth and love; agraha means firmness in force), Satyagraha means truth-force or love-force. Its goal is to be strong not with the strength of the brute but with the strength of the spark of God (The Life of Mahatma Gandhi). Through its application, unjust governments are made to acknowledge their wrongs and the oppressed purify themselves through the sanctity of their actions.

In light of these objectives, how does a relatively sensible newspaper arrive at the conclusion that the marchers were playing politics and not the police? How does the Guardian justify the denial of the right of citizens to peacefully petition their government on four occasions? How does the Guardian explain that after permission was granted to have a meeting in Woodford Square and to have two public address systems on the street, it was overturned arbitrarily after Arthur Sanderson and I appeared on Morning Edition? How does the Guardian explain that an application made on June 20 was disallowed on July 23, less than 24 hours before the meeting was due to begin?

How can the Guardian of Democracy support the police's denial of citizens' fundamental right of petition and expression?

Truth to tell, the Guardian does not understand the mumbo jumbo it writes. It notes: "Freedom of expression and movement are enshrined in the Bill of Rights" but refuses to understand the implications of freedom's lived realities. It fails to see that freedoms are not inert expressions that can be trotted out to negate the truism that freedoms must always be won anew.

When a Bill seeks arbitrarily to acquire citizens' lands and proposes that "Nothing in this section shall be construed as imposing upon the Minister, directly and indirectly, any form of duty or liability enforceable by proceedings before any Court" (The Planning and Development of Land Bill, 2001) and a newspaper still asserts that democracy is flourishing in the land, then it is either sleeping or snoozing on the job.

Such a dereliction of duty must be compared with the disingenuousness of our Attorney General who, in light of the aforementioned language of section 4 (3) of the above Bill, accused me on national television of misleading the nation.

If the language of that section (since deleted) does not place a Minister of government above the law, then God is not my pilot and the poui blooms in October. A government bent on using the law as a tool of oppression rather than a sword of justice is a menace to its people and a threat to domestic peace. The only response to such lawlessness is peaceful non-violent action and the willingness of citizens to accept the consequences of their actions.

Freedom, as Hegel observed, "is an appreciation of necessity." It is the ability to do what is necessary to preserve that which is inalienable. It is not a gift government gives to an individual; it is constitutive of our humanity and an indispensable aspect of our humanity. It is not something to be approached with fear and trepidation but an essence to be embraced in knowledge and truth; something a Police Commissioner nor an AG can neither give nor take away. They may place me in their man-made prisons but they can never conquer the freedom of my spirit and mind.

The fickle men at the Guardian and an insecure Acting Commissioner must remember that men and women do not live by bread alone and that some of us will never sell our freedom inheritance for 30 pieces of silver.

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