So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good night.

This site has been operating now since January 2007. Throughout this time it has changed quite a bit, both in terms of its focus and its writing style.

I’ve enjoyed writing here.

The flame's not out. Just taking a break. :-)

The flame’s not out. Just taking a break. 🙂

However, after almost eight years, it’s time for a change.

I’m not saying the blog is dead.

I’m not necessarily stopping the blog. However, it is going to undergo a change.

A good chunk of this blog has focused on local politics, first as an independent pro-PLP site when I was an active member of the PLP, and since then as an independent, non-aligned, political blog.

I am not able to continue that particular line of writing going forward, at least not for the forseeable future. Effective immediately I am ceasing all commentary on local politics.

What that means for the blog, I don’t really know. I’ve been experimenting over the last few months with a non-political writing style. Thoughts on books or articles I’m reading, a review of this or that legislation (in a non-political way), or a look at historical (or other) speeches/writings which I think are simply interesting.

I’d like to experiment some more with such an approach.

I realise they don’t quite have the same popular appeal as posts framed around local politics. However, I’ve enjoyed them and found them quite stimulating. Whether readers agree, I don’t know. But needs must.

So, as regards blogging about local politics, adieu, adieu to you and you and you!

And for the sake of clarity, the above also applies to Facebook and Twitter.

My Vote Starling page on Facebook has already been converted to this blogs Facebook page, and my Twitter handle has changed to a non-political one. The Vote Starling website that I set up for the election has also been retired. The ‘About’ page has also been changed already to reflect this change in direction.

Reflections

I have tried over the years to engage in reasoned discussion.

I have my positions; I’ve never hid them. I have, however, tried to listen to others and been willing to change my mind if convinced by an argument. I’ve tried to be respectful of others and their positions. To what degree I’ve succeeded in any of that is not something I can really judge however. All I can say is that I’ve tried my best.

I am hopeful that other voices will continue to grow in strength and number to continue these political discussions going forward, even if I am not able to participate actively along with them.

While much of these conversations are quick to descend into partisan shouting matches and personal attacks, there are also good conversations where individuals come away from them with healthy respect for the other, positions have been clarified and perhaps even one or two minds changed.

Perhaps it’s wishful thinking on my part, however, I’d like to think that – in time – we’ll have more of the latter and less of the former.

On a related note, I realise that my ending local political commenting further reduces the number of local blogs providing local political commentary. Blogs provide a much different contribution in terms of such commentary, very much different from the more rapid-fire conversations that social media like Facebook and Twitter offer. They provide a greater in-depth more constructed argument in my opinion.

If we are to achieve a sustainable Bermuda then one thing we also need to achieve is sustainable and respectful conversations that are based on constructive dialogue, mutual respect and and reasoned debate which together contribute to positive change for our island. Central to this is the ability to listen to the other and reflect on what is being said rather than reacting. We must learn to listen to each other with enough care to learn from each other if we are to work together for our common interests.

I remain hopeful that such is achievable, and I wish you well.

Continuity?

One last note. I hope that someone else will pick up the baton of local political commentary. There is a space there for a critical progressive voice out there, and that’s what this site tried to do.

While I’m no longer able to continue that, I am happy to help facilitate anyone that wishes to do so. Just drop me a line.

There are already a number of other voices out there, writing on their own sites, on Facebook or in the media. I’ve enjoyed sharing the platform with them and learning from them.

Branding Bermuda – An Addendum

In my previous post I intended to provide the relevant excepts of the various legislation that the America’s Cup Act 2014 exempts the America’s Cup (and its associated ‘corporate’ partners) from in Bermuda. Unfortunately, it was just getting to be a far too big an article, so I ended up just dealing with the most relevant one for that article.

And so, here, I provide the remaining advertising exemptions granted by the America’s Cup Act 2014.

Just as a reminder, this is the relevant section of the America’s Cup Act 2014 concerning advertising exemptions:

3 – In relation to advertising of and at the Bermuda Events, ACEA and its designated commercial partners, and the Teams and their designated commercial partners, shall be exempt from –

(a) sections 2, 3, 4 and 6(c) of the Advertisements Regulation Act 1911;

(b) section 14(4) of the Development and Planning Act 1974;

(c) the Motor Car (Control of Design, Colour and Advertising Matter) Regulations 1952; and

(d) sections 3 and 4 of the Alcohol Advertisement (Health Warning) Act 1993.

I addressed subsection (a) in my previous post. As the entire Motor Car (Control of Design, Colour and Advertising Matter) Regulations 1952 is exempted, I’m simply going to direct you to read the entire Act than reproduce it here… (opens as a pdf).

Development and Planning Act 1974

Section 14 (Development requiring planning permission) – Only subsection (4) of this section is exempted under the America’s Cup Act 2014.

Section 14(4)

Without prejudice to the Advertisements Regulation Act 1911 [title 20 item 9], the use for the display of advertisements of any external part of a building that is not normally used for that purpose shall be treated for the purposes of this section as involving a material change in the use of that part of the building.

Alcohol Advertisement (Health Warning) Act 1993 – Only sections 3 and 4 are exempted under the America’s Cup Act 2014.

Section 3 (Alcohol advertisement in printed publications; Schedule)

(1) No person shall print or publish an alcohol advertisement in a printed publication to which this section applies unless the advertisement bears the health warning as set out in the Schedule.

(2) This section applies to – 

(a) any newspaper with majority ownership by Bermudians printed or published in Bermuda;

(b) any periodical, magazine or other publication with majority ownership by Bermudians printed or published in Bermuda.

Section 4 (Health warning when alcohol advertisement displayed; Schedule)

No person shall – 

(a) display; or

(b) publish or distribute for the purpose of display,

an alcohol advertisement in writing or other permanent form or semi-permanent form unless the advertisement bears the health warning as set out in the Schedule.

Summary

Basically the America’s Cup Act 2014 exemptions here remove the need to include health warnings regarding alcohol and remove the need for planning permission (and all the related checks and balances that involves) for advertising on the outsides of buildings.

Although I haven’t included the Motor Car (Control of Design, Colour and Advertising Matter) Regulations 1952, it is a relatively short Act (six pages). Some of the key sections though are:

Section 4 (General Principles)

The superficial design and colour of restricted motor cars and trailers and of any advertising matter displayed thereon shall be regulated and controlled by order of the Minister –

(a) so as to conduce to road safety; and

(b) so as to preserve as far as possible the amenities of Bermuda, notwithstanding any consideration of private gain.

Other sections generally provide regulations for lettering, colour, designs, etc, mostly with regard to ensuring road safety. I encourage readers to read through it fully though. It is mostly an Act about advertising on vehicles, as is indicated by its name.

Thoughts?

Branding Bermuda

“As a private person, I have a passion for landscape, and I have never seen one improved by a billboard. Where every prospect pleases, man is at his vilest when he erects a billboard. When I retire from Madison Avenue, I am going to start a secret society of masked vigilantes who will travel around the world on silent motor bicycles, chopping down posters at the dark of the moon. How many juries will convict us when we are caught in these acts of beneficent citizenship? —David Ogilvy, founder of the Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency, in Confessions of an Advertising Man, 1963”An excerpt from Naomi Klein’s No Logo.

There’s some questions on social media about the erection of various giant-sized corporate logos around the island, on various key landmarks. The first one I believe went up on Seon Place the other day, however most of the focus (and, I think it should be said, concern) is on Gibbs Hill Lighthouse.

From the America's Cup Twitter account.

From the America’s Cup Twitter account.

Quite a few people are pointing out the apparent hypocrisy between the Government recently clamping down on various breaches of the Advertising Regulations Act 1911 and this America’s Cup advertising campaign.

So, why is the America’s Cup advertising okay?

The answer to this lies in the exemptions, regarding advertising, granted in the America’s Cup Act 2014 (which Bernews pointed out). Specifically, the exemptions in question are in Part 2 of the Act ‘Concessions & Exemptions’:

Advertising

3 – In relation to advertising of and at the Bermuda Events, ACEA and its designated commercial partners, and the Teams and their designated commercial partners, shall be exempt from –

(a) sections 2, 3, 4 and 6(c) of the Advertisements Regulation Act 1911;

(b) section 14(4) of the Development and Planning Act 1974;

(c) the Motor Car (Control of Design, Colour and Advertising Matter) Regulations 1952; and

(d) sections 3 and 4 of the Alcohol Advertisement (Health Warning) Act 1993.

I won’t go into detail on (c) above, however I thought it might be educational for readers to understand what the other exemptions above are. So below, to save people the trouble of going through all the various Acts themselves, are the relevant sections relating to advertising that the America’s Cup Act 2014 allows.

Advertisements Regulation Act 1911

Section 2 (Restriction of exhibition of advertisements)

No person shall, except as otherwise provided by this Act, exhibit any advertisement, upon or over any land except – 

(a) advertisements upon any land relating solely to any entertainment, meeting, auction or sale to be held upon, or in relation to such land or to any property thereon; or

(b) announcements of the sale or letting of such land; or

(c) announcements or copies of any proclamation or official notice published by authority of the Governor, the Supreme Court, any Justice of the Peace, either branch of the Legislature, any Government Department, any Government Board, or any officer holding a commission in Her Majesty’s Forces; or

(d) announcements or notices duly published by proper authority of any meeting of freeholders or others for any parliamentary, municipal or parochial election, or other purpose; or

(e) advertisements or announcements upon any land, within either municipal area, being land duly licensed for the exhibition of advertisements by the respective municipal corporations : Provided that in all such excepted cases, the advertisements shall not contain letters, effigies, figures or other advertising emblems exceeding twelve inches in height; or

(f) advertisements or announcements exhibited inside a display window of an agent’s business premises of any business, entertainment or occurrence in respect of which such agent acts; or

(g) advertisements or announcements exhibited inside of any shop, store or place of business, other than any public vehicle or ferry boat; or

(h) advertisements relating to the sale of land at auction or otherwise; or

(i) advertisements relating to the arrival or departure of any ship belonging to or employed by any line or company the ships of which ordinarily ply between Bermuda and elsewhere; or

(j) advertisements published in any book, newspaper, magazine, calendar or periodical; or

(k) announcements, in letters not exceeding fifteen inches each in height or width, of the business name of the company, firm or person carrying on business on the premises and the general character of the business carried on therein.

Section 3 (Illuminated and other signs visible from street; sky-signs)

(1) No person shall – 

(a) erect upon, or fix to, or exhibit above, any land, any advertisement supported on or attached to, any post, pole, standard, framework or other support which, or any part of which, or the support of which, is visible against the sky from some point in any street or public way; or

(b) use or exhibit any kite, balloon, parachute or other similar device, employed wholly or in part for the purpose of any advertisement or announcement, over any land or street; or

(c) exhibit any flashing or illuminated sign which is visible to any person on any public street or public way.

(2) For the  purposes of subsection (1)(a), an advertisement, the uppermost part of which is no higher than the roof line of any building on the plot on which it is situate, shall not be deemed to contravene the provisions of that paragraph.

(3) For the purposes of subsection (1)(c), an “illuminated sign” means a sign used or intended to be used for the purpose of advertising the lettering or design of which is illuminated from within the components constituting the lettering or design. 

Section 4 (Vehicle exhibiting advertisements; sandwich man)

No person shall – 

(a) act, or employ any other person to act, as a sandwich man or for similar purposes to walk through any public street or highway, solely or chiefly for the purposes of exhibiting advertisements; (b) in any public street or highway draw, wheel, ride or drive any vehicle used solely or chiefly for the purpose of exhibiting advertisements.

Section 6 (Corporation of Hamilton)

The Corporation of Hamilton may grant a licence in respect of any land within the municipal area of the City of Hamilton, for the purpose of posting, placing or exhibiting advertisements:

Provided that – 

(a) before any licence is granted in respect of any land not the property of the Corporation, the permission of the owner or occupier shall be first obtained;

(b) any such licence shall be subject to such terms, conditions and notice of discontinuance as the Corporation may deem expedient; and

(c) the space on any hoarding, or other structure used for advertising purposes, shall not exceed six feet in height.

I’ll post in a separate article what those other exemptions are, as I think this post is long enough as it is.

NB – Only subsection (c) of section 6 (Corporation of Hamilton) above is relevant as regards the America’s Cup Act 2014, however I felt it wouldn’t make sense without reading it in the context of the entire section.

So, what do you think? Are you happy with these big advertisements going up on our landmarks? Are you looking forward to the other exemptions relating to advertising still to come?

This post is essentially a public service announcement, an ‘educational’ article. Happy to hear people’s views on it all though.

If anyone wants to read Ms Klein’s excellent book ‘No Logo’, this link opens to a pdf version of it.

Service/Servitude/Tourism/Whorism?

There has been an interesting response to my story on responsible tourism, where I hoped to at least get some people thinking about what kind of tourism do we want for Bermuda (and what kind of tourism do we not want).

One can read the full response here on BIAW. AMCAM

I thought it would be a good idea t quickly respond to it though:

  1. AMCAM wonders how I figure the actions of Ms Fox constituted ‘irresponsible tourism’. To understand that one needs to look at how I define ‘responsible tourism’, which I do in the same article (for just this purpose). The definition I use, which I think is a good one, is that used by the International Ecotourism society ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people’. A tourist coming, carting of some 70 pounds of sea glass (part of our environment), and in doing so hurting local artisans, would seem to be very much contrary to any interpretation of responsible tourism. Thus my reasoning that her actions constituted ‘irresponsible tourism’. I’m surprised I had to explain that. AMCAM is usually one of the most insightful commentators on tourism issues after all…
  2. ‘Imperialist mindset of a White American tourist’ – AMCAM takes particular exception to my choice of phrasing here. Perhaps it’s useful to expand on it for his (and others) benefits. Ms Fox is a White American tourist. That’s a statement of fact. That in itself means little, in as much as the vast majority of our tourists could be so defined. And that’s fine. However, to believe that there’s no racial dynamics involved in tourism featuring Whites expecting to be served hand and foot by a majority Black population in a country with a history of slavery and segregation where Blacks were forced (overtly and covertly) to serve Whites for centuries is to be delusional. Service doesn’t need to be servitude, that’s clear. And it shouldn’t be. The relationship should be one of hospitality to guests – a host-guest relationship, rather than a master-servant relationship. However, there are certain things such as White privilege here, as well as power dynamics and historical factors at play. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that this is not a reality. As for ‘imperialist mindset’, that seems quite an apt fit for describing a mindset of someone coming to someones homeland and simply helping themselves to the resources there and seeing no problem in doing so. It is an exploitative and imperialist mindset. The history of the Americas is full of this tendency, of Whites coming, expecting the ‘natives’ to be their ‘happy’ servants and generally raping and pillaging the environment. Ms Fox’s actions, while obviously no where as barbaric as the conquests of the Americas, follows this general mindset, and accordingly is resented as such within the general prism of our collective (Americas) history. I don’t need to ‘think twice’ before describing the incident in question as representative of an imperialist mindset by a White American tourist. It simply strips away the niceties that usually obscure these things. It quite aptly describes the incident. It may not be in terms that make AMCAM or others comfortable, as it touches on matters of race and exploitation, but so what? If the description fits and all…
  3. ‘Claims are conjecture’ ‘rant’ – All I did was provide a general summary of what was reported in the media, and by Ms Fox herself. It is a fact that Ms Fox came to Bermuda for the explicit purpose of collecting sea glass for her business. It is a fact that she collected approximately 70 pounds worth of sea glass. It is a fact that she then exported this sea glass back to the USA. It is a fact that she is using this sea glass for the purpose of making a profit. How any of that equals ‘conjecture’ is beyond me. What is circumstantial is where she collected all her 70 pounds worth of sea glass (was it at sea glass beach – which seems probable – where there is a sign forbidding such?), and I didn’t make any firm statement on that at all. It is my understanding that removing sea glass and doing so for business reasons like she did, is illegal. It may be okay for local artisans to do so in a small-scale sustainable way, but it is not okay for a ‘tourist’ to act in such an unsustainable way. Not quite sure how it constitutes a ‘rant’ however. I’m happy with people disagreeing with me and putting forward a counter-argument. Heck, that’s what I called for, a conversation. Not barbs. If AMCAM want’s to put forward a counter-position, I welcome him to do just that.
  4. ‘Jonathan, Bermuda does not need your brand of tourism!’ – And which brand of tourism is that? The brand of tourism I explicitly suggested Bermuda should adopt was that or responsible tourism, of which I provided a definition. Is AMCAM saying that Bermuda doesn’t need a brand of tourism based on ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people’? Is AMCAM suggesting we should instead advocate a brand of tourism that does the opposite, that seeks to damage the environment and hurt the well-being of local people? If that’s the kind of tourism AMCAM believes we should have, I’m sure the majority of our people would respectfully disagree. And if that’s not what AMCAM means, then what does he mean, and what sort of ‘brand of tourism’ does he think I’m advocating then? It’s either a poor argument on his part (misrepresenting my argument) or, well, I don’t know what else. If I’m charitable I’d suggest he only read the first half of the post and didn’t bother to read it all and consider the argument.

Ultimately, I’m all for serving our tourists as hosts do guests. I think that’s healthy. I do not support a form of tourism predicated on servitude, in a master-servant dynamic. And I’m for a tourism where tourists come here to enjoy our natural environment and culture, that engages in a non-exploitative manner with our environment, culture and economy.

I’m not for a form of tourism that, in the Caribbean, has been called ‘whorism’, a wholly exploitative form of tourism. This doesn’t necessarily mean sex tourism, but rather the general approach of engaging with our environment, culture and economy in a fundamentally exploitative manner.

But let’s have that conversation.

Derek Walcott, 1992 Nobel prize winner for literature.

Derek Walcott, 1992 Nobel prize winner for literature.

I think it’s appropriate here to conclude with an excerpt from Derek Walcott’s Nobel prize speech:

“But in our tourist brochures the Caribbean is a blue pool into which the republic dangles the extended foot of Florida as inflated rubber islands bob, and drinks with umbrellas float towards here on a raft. This is how the islands from shame of necessity sell themselves; this is the seasonal erosion of their identity, that high-pitched repetition of the same images of service that cannot distinguish one island from the other, with a future of polluted marinas, land deals negotiated by ministers, and all of this conducted to the music of Happy Hour and the rictus of a smile. What is the earthly paradise for our visitors? Two weeks without rain and a mahogany tan, and, at sunset, local troubadours in straw hats and floral shirts beating ‘Yellow Bird’ and ‘Banana Boat Song’ to death.”

Freedom of Speech – An Update

Just yesterday I wrote that the way Mr Kimathi was put on the stop list would make him a martyr and would be counterproductive. I wrote that:

“It actually benefits Mr Kimathi as he can now appeal to his followers about an injustice, and use it to fuel his ravings. It’s easy to spin – the reason I was banned was because I spoke the truth and threatened the White elite who rule Bermuda! Easily done.”

And today there’s this article where Mr Kimathi argues he was banned because “special interest groups, particularly the promosexuals and homosexuals have conspired” resulting in him being “banned from a black country.”

Now, I’m not a PR person or a spin doctor or nothing. Surely though if I could see this was going to be the reaction, others could do?

Mr Kimathi can now complain of a conspiracy, of an injustice. And those on island who agree with him will likely harden their views now. Surely it would have been better to have allowed the Human Rights Commission to finish and publish its investigation first, and allow for his views to be defeated with counter-arguments (which really shouldn’t have been hard)?

Hopefully lesson learned and we’ll handle any future incident differently. In the mean time, while this may well pass soon enough, how do we go about now constructively dismissing Mr Kimathi’s hateful pseudo-scientific propaganda?

***Updated***

There is now also an e-petition calling for Mr Kimathi to be removed from the stop-list:

“Bermuda as a whole can decide whether Mr Kimathi is welcome again in Bermuda . His opinions no matter how they are said . should not be used as a political foothold to silence the voices of people in Bermuda.”

 

Becky’s Beach Glass Design – An Example of Irresponsible Tourism?

This is a news story that has developed over the last few days in local media.

Basically, a US tourist, who happens to be a jeweler specialising in incorporating sea glass into her works, came to Bermuda, scooped up about 70 pounds (about 32 kilograms) of sea glass from Bermudian waters, and took it to the USA where she’s made a handsome profit from it. By her own admission she came to Bermuda explicitly for this purpose, as part of her business.

Now, there’s a few problems with her actions here.

For one thing, that she came to Bermuda for this explicit purpose breaches our laws regarding work permits. She would have required at least a temporary work permit for this action – it was illegal for her to do what she did as a tourist.

More importantly, it is against Bermudian law to remove sea glass from the beach in the first place, and it’s also against the law to export this.

The relevant legislation in question can be found here…

Now, Ms Fox, the jeweler, has since compounded matters, by being quite frank in the US media about what she did, and then blocking, and deleting comments by, Bermudians and others who have been critical of her actions and pointed out how she broke the law and has been quite insulting to our people.

She’s also playing the victim here and telling folk she’s being bullied and people are making things up. As she’s deleting comments pointing out exactly how she broke the law and refusing people the right of reply, some of her readers are indeed believing that she is being bullied and has done nothing wrong.

Now, I don’t intend to get into a whole discussion about Ms Fox here.

Quite frankly, she broke the law, she’s acted very insultingly to Bermuda and Bermudians, and her behavior has been quite poor and disappointing. I think she could have defused the whole thing immediately after her wrong-doing was pointed out to her. She could have simply said something along the lines of:

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realise what I did was wrong and clearly misunderstood the laws of Bermuda. I am sorry to anyone that I have hurt and will be contacting the Bermudian authorities to work out how best to resolve this issue in an amicable way, and all the profits that from sale of Bermuda glass jewellery is being donated to these environmental charities in Bermuda. Lesson learned.”

That would have been enough I think.

Our people are largely forgiving, and an honest recognition of making a mistake and taking steps to make good would have been welcomed. Heck, we probably would have helped advertise her wares – it would raise money for our charities, boost awareness of our local artisans and be a good little tourism advertisement for Bermuda. Her refusal to even accept any wrong-doing and compounding it by insulting our people and trying to silence us, yeah, that’s left a rather sour taste and won’t be forgotten.

I for one hope that our Government will be taking steps to:

  • Seek compensation from Ms Fox;
  • Tighten up regulations concerning sea glass and other artifacts;
  • Boost local artisans;
  • Ramp up inspections.

Responsible Tourism

However, I digress. There’s really not much more that can be said on this story that hasn’t been said already in the media or by hordes of my righteously irate compatriots on various social media.

What I find most interesting about this incident, other than the imperialist mindset of a White American tourist in appropriating other peoples natural and cultural resources, is how this allows us to really focus on what kind of tourism we want for Bermuda, and what are the possible consequences/impacts of tourism in Bermuda?

The Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”.

I think that’s a pretty decent definition, and should really be the ideal form of tourism that we want – and the kind of tourists we should be when we travel.

Now this definition is not simply ‘green’ tourism. One can build a resort with the latest green tech, or go on an explicitly nature vacation (hiking in a natural park, etc), without meeting this criteria. It also has to ensure economic benefit to ordinary people and not threaten or undermine the local economy and culture.

If one were to apply this concept to this particular incident, then not taking our sea glass was the responsible thing to do. Supporting local artisans was the responsible thing to do. Perhaps asking to work with some of our local sea glass artisans would have been the right things to do, and even arranging to help sell their products in the USA through her site would have been the responsible thing to do.

Doing all this would have ensured the sustainability of our sea glass beaches (certainly a lot more than carting away 70 pounds of it!) and boosted the local economy and artisans.

This principle can apply to tourism in general for Bermuda. It means making sure that the impact on our environment and infrastructure is sustainable, that it doesn’t destroy the very nature that attracts tourists here in the first place (and environment here means more than just beaches, clear blue waters and greenery – it extends to pollution, litter, energy use, waste management, food, water, traffic, etc).

And it also means that tourism should benefit ordinary people. I don’t mean the bank accounts of the elite, of the 1%. I mean ordinary people overall. We all recognise that there is some degree of trickle down from tourism, even if it’s just revenue collected by the government and used for public services.

However, I’m thinking more in terms or increasing local economic links and reducing leakage of the tourist dollar overseas (or into the bank accounts of the elite), and this means ensuring the tourist dollar is more equitable spread (through using local entertainers, boosting local artisans, using small businesses as much as possible, relying on local farmers as much as possible). Doing this – and shifting to renewable energy – all keeps the tourist dollar local and spreads it around more equitably, while also supporting local enterprise and culture.

Starting a Conversation?

There’s A LOT that can be written about responsible tourism and how it can be applied to the benefit of Bermuda.

I’ve already written a longer piece than I like writing – I just think that if some good is to come out of this incident it is that we might be able to start a conversation about tourism in Bermuda – what are it’s negative impacts, how do we address them, what kind of sustainable tourism do we want and how do we go about realising it? Just for starters…

 

Freedom of Speech?

Remember ‘Je suis Charlie’?

At the very beginning of the year the world, or at least the Western world, was transfixed by the massacre at Charlie Hebdo. This attack by some rather disturbed individuals was, I think it’s fair to say, a reaction to the Islamophobic imagery and rhetoric produced by this magazine, imagery that was deliberately provocative and daring a response.

While the vast majority of those offended by these provocations chose to either ignore it or to combat it equally with the pen, these two disturbed individuals sought to combat it literally with a hail of bullets.

Almost immediately the Western world, Bermuda included, was swamped with ‘Je suis Charlie’ demonstrations, strongly defending that freedom of speech included the right to offend. Our politicians spoke eloquently along these lines too. The basic argument was that people are free to speak and free to oppose the speech of others, but such speech should not be censored or otherwise stifled.

Today, a mere nine months on, many of those who spoke so eloquently in defence of free speech in January, today seem happy to enforce censorship and champion the use of our stop list to ban an individual for voicing provocative and offensive views.

***For overseas readers, the ‘stop-list’ is a way of barring entry to Bermuda of those the Government decides to be undesirables. Should they get to the airport or dock, they’re refused entry and put back on the next vessel leaving the island.***

Free Speech or Hate Speech?

There is of course a large body of discourse around the issue of freedom of speech and hate speech:

  • What is the fine line between the two?
  • How should the latter be handled without impinging on free speech?

To be clear, I personally find Mr Kimathi’s views abhorrent, and I do indeed think they stray into the category of hate speech – as regards Whites and those who stray from a fictional heterosexual dichotomy of sexual orientation, gender or gender codes. And I do believe Mr Kimanthi, has advocated (although it’s not clear how explicitly he did in Bermuda) violence towards these segments of our society.

Now, incitement to violence is a crime, and if Mr Kimathi did this, then he should indeed be charged and face trial accordingly. Espousing ridiculous opinions without any basis in science, that may be a crime against oneself, general decency and logic, however it is not a crime in the sense of being subject to arrest and trial.

Making a Martyr?

The problem with banning Mr Kimathi like this – without a police investigation and trial, and even before the Human Rights Commission has been able to investigate the matter properly – is that it risks making him, and his ideology, almost a martyr, in the sense of not being accorded due process or proper scrutiny. It actually benefits Mr Kimathi as he can now appeal to his followers about an injustice, and use it to fuel his ravings. It’s easy to spin – the reason I was banned was because I spoke the truth and threatened the White elite who rule Bermuda! Easily done.

A far better approach would be to allow Mr Kimathi’s ideology to be fully scrutinised by the people, to be refuted ideologically, to be confronted with peaceful demonstration to say that his ideology, what he represents, is not supported by the majority of our people. Those who are partial to his ideology could exchange arguments and, potentially, be convinced otherwise. That’s how to defeat Mr Kimanthi’s ideology and appeal.

Instead, now he can wear his ban as a badge of honour, as the mark of a martyr.

And those on island who support his hateful ideology may well go underground, where the ideology cannot be challenged, where it can only harden and find itself – potentially – in violent expression. This form of authoritatian reaction is a perfect incubator for extremism; it is a recipe for it finding fertile ground in those in our society who feel lost, alienated and resentful.

Setback for Race Relations?

One particular victim of Mr Kimathi and Minister Fahy’s reaction is that it has very much set back what was left of reasonable discussion concerning structural racism in Bermuda.

The topic that Mr Kimathi’s speech was advertised about, of the need for better education and understanding of African history and contribution to our society, is one that we need. The Ashay programme, now aborted, was an attempt to provide just this, as a complement to the dominant European narrative in our society.

However due to Mr Kimathi’s hateful ideology, one that I think can only be characterised as a particularly perverse form of Black supremacism (as opposed to Black Power), all talk of such an initiative is derailed. Heck, any talk of really confronting structural racism in Bermuda as a whole is likely derailed, at least set back. It will be all too easy for those opposed (for whatever reason) to such a frank discussion to frame it in terms of Mr Kimathi’s arguments, and use this as an excuse not to engage.

Incitement to Violence

To me, the only limit that should be placed on free speech is that of incitement to violence.

Anything else, as abhorrent as they may be, deserves simply to be derided and challenged with alternative argument, or met by peaceful demonstration (or both). Or even simply ignored and let to peter out as an absurdity clear to all.

The use of a stop list is a slippery slope and one that I think we all need to be concerned about.

I am not convinced – at all – that it was an appropriate reaction. At the very least, the decision should only have followed the Human Rights Commission report on Mr Kimathi’s actions on island.

A stop list is open to abuse, to stifling debate and reducing the diversity of thought that should be the oxygen of any democracy.

My thinking is that an ideologue should only be subject to a stop list if – and only if – they have been convicted of inciting violence. After being convicted of this, and paying either the fine or serving time in prison, or some sort of restorative justice, they can be denied further entry on this basis. And that basis alone, regardless of how disgusting I find the individuals ideology.

Return to Reasoned Conversation Needed

What we do need, and desperately, is a return to a frank conversation about structural racism in Bermuda – its causes, its consequences, possible steps to end it (of which a frank conversation is but an important first step). A better appreciation of the role of African history and culture in our collective history has a key role to play here too.

Quite frankly, we either do this properly or we leave a vacuum to be filled by pseudo-scientific and hate-filled ravings like those peddled by Mr Kimanthi.

***For avoidance of doubt, I don’t think this action was taken lightly by the Government, and I don’t think there was any conspiracy about it, although I can understand why some on social media are articulating it as such. I think the Government has acted in good faith here, trying to do the right thing. The issue of free speech and hate speech is a very complex and difficult one, one that is emotive and I don’t think there’s any one right answer. I just think that the litmus test should be incitement to violence, where the alleged incitee is provided with due process. That’s my belief, and I think it’s a reasonable one, although I certainly understand the passions that Mr Kimathi’s speech (and history) have riled. To me, a strong democracy must take great care on matters of freedom of speech, and dealing with our structural race problems are key to the long-term sustainability of our society and democracy.***