ON 10 DECEMBER 2013 the PNG Post Courier newspaper adopted the headline, ‘Cultural Terrorist’, to describe the Restoration, Reformation and ModernisationProgram of Hon Theo Zurenuoc, the Speaker of Papua New Guinea’s Ninth National Parliament,.
Post 11 September 2001, use of the word ‘terrorist’ or ‘terrorism’ anywhere on earth conjures up images of someone who is violent and hostile, driven by religious or political beliefs to kill and destroy others who do not subscribe to their beliefs.
The Post Courier headline gave the image that the Speaker of our Parliament is such a hostile and violent person against our culture.
The word ‘culture’ embraces all of civilisation and modernity. According to the Penguin English Dictionary culture means:
“1. the development of the mind, esp by education. 2a enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training. b. intellectual and artistic enlightenment as distinguished from vocational and technical skills. 3a. the customary beliefs, social forms, etc of a racial, religious or social group…b. the socially transmitted pattern of human behaviour that includes thought, speech, action, institutions and artifacts” (The Penguin Reference English Dictionary (London: Penguin Books, 2004).
Leading authorities on culture also define culture in this all-embracing sense:
(a) According to Sir Edward B. Tylor, a British social anthropologist, writing in the 19th century: “Culture or civilization, taken in its wide ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (Primitive Culture: Researches Into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art and Custom (New York: Gordon Press, 1974. 1st published in 1871).
(b) The United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines culture to mean: “…the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs.”
(c) Geert Hofstede, who conducted a cross-cultural survey among 116,000 employees of IMB in 71 countries, define culture as “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another…” (Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations, 2nd ed., Thousand Oaks, California: Sage, 2001, p9).
(d) William H. Redmond defines culture to include: “Human behavior…marked by regularity, rather than randomness, [including behavior such as] tastes, distastes, habits, fashions, norms, mores, [and] ethics.” (“Instinct, Culture and Cognitive Science” (2006) XL (20) Journal of Economic Issues 431 at p.434).
(e) Keith F. Otterbein states that anthropologists use culture in two senses. These are: (1) the way of life of a particular people; and (2) “everything that a group of people thinks, and says, and does, and makes. … When anthropologists refer to the culture of a people, they are referring to a large and diverse number of topics which include technological pursuits, marriage customs, military practices, and religious beliefs.” (Comparative Cultural Analysis: An Introduction to Anthropology (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1972) p1).
In light of these definitions, the Post Courier’s headline is telling the people of PNG that the Speaker is a terrorist against our beliefs, our languages, our marriage institution, our dressing, education system, our civilisation – our way of life.
Is this true? Can the Post Courier prove it?
The Post Courier editorial on 20 December 2013 began: “Dedicating the front page of the Post Courier to a single issue for two consecutive weeks rarely happens in a world full of so many other news stories competing for prominence.”
In the Post Courier’s view, the Speaker of the Parliament is a terrorist against culture and therefore he deserves to be covered for two consecutive weeks. That is why they have dedicated their front page headlines to warn the people of this country about it. It is in this spirit that the editorial headline on 20 December 2013 suggests “Speaker should resign from office”.
In that same editorial on Friday, the newspaper insists: “We have stated from the beginning of our coverage of the National Parliament Speaker Theo Zurenuoc’s controversial actions, that we opposed it because it was an attack on our cultural heritage as Papua New Guineans…”
When the Post Courier says “we”, does it mean the Post Courier itself as a private company? Does it mean the shareholders and directors of the Post Courier? Does it mean the Editor and employees of the Post Courier? Or, does it mean the people of PNG? Who is “we” is critical because this links to “we opposed it.”
Since “we” the people of PNG have not voted the Post Courier to be our “mouthpiece” or “watchman” to guard anything and everything our elected politicians do, the word “we” must mean the owners and shareholders of the Post Courier or the Post Courier itself as a person at law, or the Editor and his supporters.
The Post Courier is not qualified to say, “we, Papua New Guineans.” It does not represent us! Many Papua New Guineans are on the side of the Speaker. He is our elected leader, and he has the mandate to do what he is doing.
The Post Courier had done what “rarely happens in a world full of so many other news stories competing for prominence”in the name of wooden images and not the people of this country because many of us support our Speaker.
According to the Post Courier, wooden carvings represent the culture of everyone in PNG. Based on this view, the editorial of 10 December 2013, commented: “Every single Papua New Guinean has a right to have their traditional and cultural identity reflected in the National Parliament because it is that institution which ultimately determines our future and survival as a sovereign nation.”
Yes, I am one of the single Papua New Guinean it is referring to. I have my right to have my traditional and cultural identity in the National Parliament.
But the carving the Speaker is removing is not one of them. It does not determine our survival as a sovereign nation. Only God does that. It does not represent my culture or tradition. I come from Margarima in Hela Province. The carvings come from some other parts of PNG. It does not represent everyone in PNG.
Has the Post Courier carried out a survey to see if the wooden carvings being removed represent the traditional and cultural identity of everyone in PNG? Since in its own words, “this newspaper has history going back to 1969 and like the National Parliament of this great nation, [it had] grown with Papua New Guinea and covered the highs and lows of a country in transition since independence in 1975”,does it have records of a nation-wide consultation on the installation of the totem pole before they were installed? Was it a cultural representative of everyone in this great nation?
As for me and my people, we were never consulted nor does it represent our tradition or culture. Therefore, the Post Courier should be fair to every one of us and not make sweeping statements in its judgement of the Speaker’s actions in our name. It has no mandate from my people to say so.
Now, some crucial questions should be asked: What if the Speaker is ridiculed and hated by his people, his colleagues or the public? Has the Post Courier thought about endangering his life or bringing into disrepute the good name and public standing of the Speaker by the front page headlines, especially his branding as a “cultural terrorist?”
Does the Post Courier observe media ethics? Does it have protocols and code of conduct? Is it important to crucify a human being with life in the name of lifeless wooden faces? Does PNG have an institution monitoring responsible journalism and media reporting?
The closure of the Rupert Murdoch-controlled News of the World in Great Britain and the prosecution of certain individuals involved in that media scandal should be a reminder to Papua New Guineans to be responsible reporters and the need to be ethical and not go on a crusade to crucify individuals who have good intentions to benefit the country. The Speaker is such a person and he deserves our commendation and not condemnation.
The Speaker has spoken. We now know that he is undertaking one part of a series of actions that past and current leaders in their wisdom, as elected representative of the people of this country, have embarked upon.
First, our Founding Father and then sitting Prime Minister, Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare made a covenant with God, Creator of the universe, in which he publicly renounced idolatry, witchcraft, ancestral worship and all other ungodly traditional practices and committed PNG and the people of this country to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in 2007.
Second, in 2013, Hon. Peter O’Neill formally established diplomatic relations with Israel, the nation of God with whom Sir Michael made the covenant.
In the third act, Hon Theo Zurenuoc is reforming the Parliament by laying down the Word of God as the foundation of PNG and the new covenant in the Grand Hall of Unity in the National Parliament. This is part of the same political process.
What is wrong with that? Does it deserve a continuous negative front page headlines for two consecutive weeks? Why has it become something which “rarely happens in a world full of so many other news stories competing for prominence”?
This country was fragmented and disunited by thousands of tribes, languages and traditional gods. Christian missionaries brought the Word of God and united us into believing in one God. Many were saved and became peace-loving members of the Christian faith. This is an historical truth and part of our great cultural heritage.
The Speaker is putting the Pole of National Identity and Unity to represent this cultural and historical identity of our foundation as a nation. The word UNITY in every language spoken in this country will be inscribed on that Pole. There will be a light at the top symbolizing enlightenment proceeding from the Biblical foundation. This is awesome. This is a great and uniting monument of national importance. It is coming from a wise and intelligent mind.
For those who are bringing religious arguments to say that what the Speaker is doing is imposing his religious views on others and therefore contrary to section 45 of the Constitution, is misconceived. The argument is based on a misunderstanding between national direction versus individual choicein religion.
Following Sir Michael and Hon. Peter O’Neill, and based on our Christian history, the Speaker is saying that we want to build this country on the Word of God and adopt the Christian ethics and principles to inspire us into prosperity and progress. As a nation-state, we want to build on the ideas and principles found in the Bible. This amounts to giving national direction on the ideas on which we want to build this nation. That is different from forcing individuals to become Christians. Individual right to choose their religion is not affected.
King James authorised the translation of the Bible from Hebrew, Greek and Latin into English in 1901 and no one protested against it as forcing his religious belief on others. American political leaders decided to inscribe “In God we trust” on their national currency, and that did not amount to imposing their religious beliefs on individuals.
Our Parliamentarians open their sessions with the Lord’s Prayer, and this does not amount to imposing religious beliefs on others. Witnesses in our court rooms swear by the Bible before they give evidence, and this does not amount to forcing our religious views on others. These are our Christian cultural heritage.
Just as we have inherited the political culture of democracy, political party systems, court systems, financial system, education system and all other cultural aspects of our modern nation, Christianity is a part of our culture.
The Speaker is not imposing his religious belief on us. Rather, he is replacing a cultural item that represent some parts of this country depicting idols and witchcraft with another cultural item that will represent everyone in this country depicting our Christian values. For this he must be commended; not condemned.
Therefore, I suggest the Post Courier to publicly offer the Speaker an apology for the front page headline describing him as a ‘cultural terrorist’. If it refuses, then I suggest every Christian in this country who support the Speaker to stop buying and advertising in the Post Courier so that your kina will not empower it to attack your Christian culture and the actions of the Speaker.
Dr John Kuwimb PhD is a Christian lawyer from Magarima in the Hela Province. He is principal of Kuwimb Consultancy Services in Port Moresby