March 13, 2015

Upholding principles of morality?

When I heard about the arrest of a teacher for something she had posted on Facebook, I immediately assumed that she had made threats against someone, most likely someone of importance. That’s how the law works, doesn’t it? {{more}}

On hearing that it was for the use of profanities, I was sure this was the beginning of a general clampdown on the use of profanities. Certainly a lot of people will have to be arrested or visited by the police, Major Crime Unit or not. Then I began to envisage the difficult job our poor overworked police will have. Not only will they have to add this to their continuing major efforts to solve unsolved crimes, but they will have to carefully monitor the social media, especially Facebook, to assemble the many who are guilty of excesses of language, whether obscene or threatening. By the way, a social media monitoring service indicates that 47 per cent of Facebook walls contain profanity. This is general and not necessarily applicable to SVG.

Clearly our Christian population will not be part of those statistics, so we have, in order to protect public morality, to ferret out the few who are guilty of serious violation of public minds. Obviously, there is a high-powered team equipped with all that is necessary to undertake this task.

As I thought further about this, I could see them grabbing and taking to court all those persons who use obscenities on the streets, sometimes near to the police barracks and police stations and within the ears of our vigilant defenders of public morality. By the way, I believe it was about four years ago, I heard a foreign priest who was visiting and given the opportunity to preach at one of our churches, use the f-word in one of his sermons. I didn’t hear this from a third person; I was there! I was totally shocked, as were others, some even walking out of the church. At the end of the service, an explanation was sought from him. He was nonplussed, seeming not to understand what they were getting worked up about. He seemed not to understand what was wrong with it.

I never understood his reaction, for although he was from outside of the region, he had in fact worked in one of the Caribbean countries, albeit for a short time. I raise this to show that we have a real problem and are getting into something about which we have to give a great deal of thought and handle carefully and not in any discriminatory manner seeking to penalize an individual for whatever measure.

There were other questions. I wondered if it had to do with the fact that she was a teacher and that there might be the fear that she would introduce her revolutionary social media language into the classroom and corrupt all our innocent students who certainly would never hear such transgressions from their parents in homes in which morality is so faithfully upheld. Certainly not from TV! They would obviously have been told that once they believed someone was thinking of using a profane word that they must either turn off the TV or switch channels. In a recent news item, the police in St Lucia expressed grave concerns about the pornographic videos and photographs of young St Lucians that are posted in the social media. That is St Lucia. We are certainly different. Of course, we don’t do such and anyway it pales into insignificance with the obscenities that overrun Facebook!

Was she singled out? Was it that her transgressions were more serious than others who steal handsomely, make threats, break homes, are abusive, share pornographic material and commit murder? Or was she singled out in a bid to drive fear into the users of Facebook, who are getting under the skins of our political elite? Social media is a powerful force which the governing elite the world over fears. Are we serious? The Teachers Union was spot on when they likened it to the use of ‘the proverbial sledgehammer to kill an ant.’ I must say that when I think about a lot of the nonsense that parades about our country, I am tempted to use expletives, since this is often the most satisfying way to express ones feelings on these matters.

What baffled me a bit was the reaction of our COP to concerns about the manner of her arrest — at school and the use of the Major Crimes Unit. Commissioner Charles said that ‘there is no specified time or place when an arrest should be made.’ True enough, but if they could be taken up anywhere, why not at home rather than at her school, creating excitement for the students whom we are protecting. Didn’t the use of the Major Crime Unit send a signal? He is reported to have said, too, that the Union has more important things to do. Certainly the Union has an obligation to defend and support its members, especially in situations where they are presumed innocent until determined differently.

I am as concerned, as I think all of us are, about public morality. We are particularly concerned about the use of obscenities. But we need not only to be firm, but to be clear about what we are on to. Some curse words of the recent past have now become accepted parts of our language – ‘damn’, ‘shit’, ‘ass’. Pokey hole (po..yh..e) is now being rehabilitated and loses its offensive flavour, depending on whether or not it is used in its precise meaning, we are told. What is permitted today? Then there are some legal issues. This appears to be a cloudy area. Is Facebook a private or public sphere? Have we updated our laws to handle cyber issues? Given the nature of internet activity, do our courts have jurisdiction over them? I hope, however, that we have not opened a can of worms.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.