Columns

Whose speech and whose freedom?

Barbara GLOUDON

Friday, May 30, 2014    

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AT one end of society mouths were being taped shut in support of freedom of speech. At another end, speech was being so free that speakers talked themselves into trouble. I'll get back to the tape-up mouth later, but let us start with the run-mouth. There's not one of us today who is not terrified and mortified about what the criminals are doing to us, man, woman and pickney. Who would have dreamt of a day when mourners would gather over the remains of a mother and two children hacked to death by a beast from Hell? Where else could he have come from? It was too much to bear.

At the funeral service for the deceased, Speaker of the House of Representatives Mr Dean Peart, Member of Parliament for the constituency from which the unfortunate victims came, "lost it" when he addressed the congregation. He expressed regret that the perpetrator arrived alive at the police station to be taken into custody, or words to that effect. He quickly recovered himself, withdrew the remarks and offered an apology. This did not save him from a torrent of condemnation, even though the community was in agreement and the fact that even "decent people" held views similar to Peart's.

Public outrage flared -- "jungle justice" cannot be condoned. One of Peart's eminence should not have said what he said; apology or no apology. Once more, social media broke into flames and, like the legendary "Slide Mongoose", our name gone abroad one more time. We've become a national laundry, washing dirty linen everyday now. Talk is a major industry, for home and abroad. What would Facebook be without our sordid daily bulletins?

The Peart incident had barely subsided when another politician put himself into boiling water. The airwaves sizzled with disapproval. Once again the PNP was reeling from self-inflicted wounds, all because they didn't seem to know that "loose lips sink ships". The act of verbal suicide was committed at a political meeting where MP Damion Crawford delivered a diatribe of disrespect against supporters of the opposing side. If he meant it as a joke, to talk about "dutty Labourites" he needs retrofitting urgently. He could do with some extra lessons on political correctness, in its fullest meaning. He has done his party no favours, especially with local government elections lurking.

Political opponents, especially at the grass roots, run all kinds of jokes with each other, believe it or not, but they usually do it in selected settings where a flow of appropriate liquid tempers rivalry. The offensiveness of the phrase, delivered out in the open, just so, naturally brought serious repercussion for the intemperate politician. Remember the folk song, "Moutamassi Liza... kibber yuh mout." (No gender disrespect intended).

The goodly young man is trying to find a place on the penitent's bench, but accommodation is not likely. Two politicians saying "sorry" in one week is too much to bear. He too has "blown it". He should know by now how the public views politicians. In case he still hasn't got it, take note: Two defender goals do not win a match, and they can't get away with lame excuses like the Reggae Boyz, especially when social media is standing by the goalpost to broadcast stupidity.

Tape-mouth revolution

Isn't there a contradiction, shutting your mouth while fighting for free speech? First thing to learn: Our ancestors didn't teach us to shut wi mout. Our heritage celebrates chat-bout. We like to speak for ourselves. Mouths taped shut create a dramatic pictorial moment, but if you can't speak, how do you defend speech? Maybe it is the shock attack which will win the day.

So, Prof Bain's supporters taped up and went out to seek justice. The old battle cry, "We want justice", is now a comedy line. We're entering a new age of "demonstration chic". No more old cardboard. Protest with style if you want to be noticed. Didn't you see the bishop in his black cowboy hat, looking very much like the Nigerian president? What if the bishop had a special message to preach or an altar call to be made, it would be hard to deliver, but since taped mouth is the style, he wouldn't lose out altogether. His hat earned him a media moment, not that he needed any. He is a "speak out" authority in his own right.

Focusing on the tape-mouth issue: There are many other questions to come. a) Will the dispute which is causing the tape-mouth revolution head for the courts? b) Will mouths be set free to give evidence or even whisper a prayer when the judge speaks? c) Will freedom of speech be the only matter for testing when story come to bump? d) What of the gender issue and what of the outcast and despised? Do they have a voice? e) Will the church be given its day in court too? f) Have any international corns been mashed? What is their response? g) Who stands to gain the most in this drama of dramas? h) Finally, who is the saint and who is the sinner? We may never get the true answers. After all, how can you speak with your mouth shut?

Obituaries: Poet and Pastor

Poet extraordinaire Maya Angelou, the celebrated woman of letters and life, has passed on. She was more than a poet. She was a beacon of light and hope, not just for her America, but the world outside. We who heard her when she paid an all too brief visit here in 1993 will long remember.

The Anglican family in pulpit and pew, especially the purple side of North Street, remember Bishop E Don Taylor, who was the consummate pastor at home and abroad. A remarkable career in Jamaica and the US ended last Saturday when his generous heart stopped. He will not be forgotten.

gloudonb@yahoo.com

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