Orville Taylor | Dropping the SOPE bomb
Emergencies are exactly that. Emergencies! For this reason, I have consistently objected to states of public emergency (SOPE) becoming the norm.
Doubtless, there have been occasions when they have been absolutely necessary, and others when there seemed to be knee-jerk reactions. And while I believe that there has been excessive reliance, and thus, too much normalising of this power of Government; this time if it drops a SOPE on us in the next few hours; without bending over backwards on my principles, I would say it is perfectly justified.
Over the last two weeks, we have seen a flood of bomb threats across the island, each of which stretches the capacity of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), and even with the assistance of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) just being able to visit the myriad scenes is a challenge.
At the lower end of the continuum, this is strictly a case of public mischief, and in the context of the most violent democracy in the world, any threat to commit mass murder is no joke. In a worst-case scenario, and the police and military are trained for these; the assumption is made that there is a concerted or even poorly organised attack against the state. Section 2 of our Emergency Powers Act is very clear as to what a public emergency is.
It is one during which, there is in force a proclamation by the governor general declaring that a SOPE exists. Of course, there have been times when there really have not been public emergencies, despite the Government having used its power to so declare. The act reads, that the Government must be satisfied “that action has been taken or is immediately threatened, by any person or body of persons of such a nature and on so extensive a scale as to be likely to endanger the public safety”. If the possibility that bombs are planted to affect more than 80 institutions across the island is not a basis for a SOPE; then nothing is.
A businessman has been charged; and if he really has anything to do with it; then he actually has nothing to do and hopefully, since his business needs fixing, then this should do so. Somehow, this feels like the tip of the canine tooth, and there is much more. I assume that the commissioner of police is digging deeply to root out the threat and the Major Organised and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) is ready.
TAKE AWAY FREEDOM
Someone seems to have an idea or a plan to take away our freedom, and I don’t like it. More than half of this population in this country have zero idea as to what it is like living with the fear that someone is going to attack your community, simply because you live there.
Just imagine being in a constant state of fear, because an attacker will come from anywhere. This generation of Jamaicans has no recollection or knowledge of the mid-1970s to the end of the 1980s and even the early 1990s, when we were a country at war with ourselves.
True, we remember the 1970s Bob Marley song in which he says that he feels like bombing a church, but no one took it literally. Yet, unlike people in the Middle East who grew up with the constant threat of bombs, including suicidal individuals willing to strap explosives unto their bodies; most Jamaicans don’t have that fear. Believe it or not, the violence that we face in this country, inasmuch as it is the highest for any democracy not at war, generally does not qualify as terrorism. Bomb threats do.
There is a set of stupid individuals who keep doing copycat things from the Internet and far worse than in the 1970s when entertainers and other persons were naming themselves after Hollywood characters, the information and influence is spreading very fast. Since October, there have been bomb threats in Ontario, Canada, forcing the closure of several schools, and Le Louvre in Paris. More than 35 countries have experienced this danger, with Israel and the US having too many for comfort.
Fear is an awful feeling or state and no society should have its citizens live like that. This is not simply a matter of public mischief. The threat of a bomb is just about the worst thing we could expect, because it is an unseen enemy attacking from unknown places.
This is Jamaica, people. We do not have Halloween trick or treat. In the best-case scenario, the businessman is a sole or part of a small set of clowns, trying to get some attention for his underdeveloped ego or sense of self. It is a sick way for a weak mind to attempt to get some kind of recognition. It is an insipid kind of pleasure that some people get from wilfully doing something that is wrong, knowing fully well that it is, but thinking that because they have to prevent them from being exposed, they do it and smile.
However, if there is any credibility to the threats, and there is a group or category of individuals, who are using this either to create fear or to further criminal or other objectives; then they must be rooted out.
My problem is, I am old enough to recall when governments in this country felt that there were elements trying to ‘destabilise’ the country. Whether deliberately or otherwise, someone had given a golden wand to the minister of national security and the commissioner.
It might be witchcraft; but let’s hope that with MOCA we dig out the foci of these actions.
Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer at the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.