In 1949 the dystopian novel “1984”, written by George Orwell, was published. I can only assume that at the time of its publication it brought to one’s imagination a society so far-fetched in its ideals and practices. Perhaps no one could ever conceptualize a society in which one’s thoughts and activities were policed and subjected to such keen and intrusive government surveillance. It would be hard to imagine a place where independent thinking is a crime, dissent is subjected to punishment and persecution, and only love and obedience for “The Party” is rewarded.
In the brouhaha that unfolded in the United States concerning whistleblower Edward Snowden, Orwell’s “1984” regained popularity, and it is during that period of time that I first read the book in its entirety. At the very least, I was amazed at the prophetic nature of the novel. But now, considering events unfolding in my own country, I am becoming increasingly concerned.
Firstly, we heard Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller suggesting that the Opposition Leader may be “an enemy of the state” for comments he made raising concerns about the state of the economy. We heard expressions tossed around about Jamaicans who criticize the state of governance as being “unpatriotic” and “anti-Jamaica”.
Then last week we saw Minister of Youth and Culture, Lisa Hanna, referring the matter of a petition by civic group Jamaicans for Justice to the Attorney General for review – branding their petition as “disingenuous, dishonest, dangerous and clearly designed to damage the reputation of this country” (Jamaica Gleaner – July 18, 2013). Right on the heels of this we have government MP Raymond Pryce putting forward a motion for civic groups and NGO’s to be registered and audited because of concerns regarding “…unknown donors with unspecified agendas…” He said, “…many times, they can receive funds in a subversive way that has hidden agendas, and many times those sources of funds come from agencies that are inimical to the way of life of the wider society…” (Jamaica Gleaner – July 24, 2013). As “good” as that sounds, one cannot help but wonder what the true motive behind this is, considering how vocal civil society and the public in general have been regarding governance in Jamaica in the last year or so.
Then, imagine my shock when news emerged this week that PNPYO Kingston Chapter Chairman, Keron Woods, was suspended for two years for daring to criticize PNPYO President, Alric Campbell for “not consulting with the membership before announcing that the organization did not support a Commission of Enquiry into the 2010 Tivoli Gardens incursion”. Woods, along with two other members of the PNPYO were not only suspended, but were mandated to do as many as 300 hours of community service.
This is a VERY disconcerting trend! Why do I get the feeling that dissent is being punished? That if one disagrees with “The Party” they are sidelined for their views? Is the Government of Jamaica attempting to police public opinion?
The irony is that all this is unfolding as we prepare to commemorate “Emancipendence”. It appears that independent thinking and freedom of opinion are slowly slipping through our fingers.
Are Jamaicans really going to sit by and let this happen?
“There are only two choices: A police state in which all dissent is suppressed or rigidly controlled; or a society where law is responsive to human needs. If society is to be responsive to human needs, a vast restructuring of our laws is essential.
Realization of this need means adults must awaken to the urgency of the young people’s unrest—in other words there must be created an adult unrest against the inequities and injustices in the present system. If the government is in jeopardy, it is not because we are unable to cope with revolutionary situations. Jeopardy means that either the leaders or the people do not realize they have all the tools required to make the revolution come true. The tools and the opportunity exist. Only the moral imagination is missing.”
– William O. Douglas, 1970