When Dr Merrell asked the School of Law of the University of Fiji to host the world first launch of her book ‘Redeeming Moti’ I did not hesitate for a moment even though I had not yet received the advance copy to read.
I said yes because I have known of Julian Moti for a long time, though we did not officially meet until he became Dean of the Unifiji School of Law where I myself had taught previously. I sought Julian out on one of my trips back to Fiji from NZ because I was pleased that he had been appointed the first substantive Dean of the School of Law, and I had liked the paper he had delivered for the inaugural Sir Moti Tikaram Memorial Lecture.
But back in 2006 I had no idea of the horrors that faced Julian. That year I was in Melbourne delivering a lecture when I heard the news that he had just been arrested in Papua New Guinea. The only news items I received were those published by the Australian press. These articles obviously favoured the Australian authorities who were responsible for his arrest (and then had him charged) with what I, as a human rights lawyer, considered to be an unspeakable offence.
Until I read Dr Merrill’s book last week, I still had no idea of the actual facts, only that he had eventually been cleared by the Australian courts; and that was good enough for me. I did not want to know the details; he had been cleared.
But, Ladies and Gentlemen, I was naive. It is just not enough to know that Julian had been cleared. The wrongs inflicted on him by those who otherwise wave the flags of democracy, rule of law, due process and human rights, and trumpet all the politically correct platitudes at us, Pacific Islanders, thus far remain unpunished. The perpetrators have shrugged and moved on, as if to say, you lose some….so what? And that is the evil that this book exposes.
It is possibly accurate to state that had the accuser not confessed practically on his death-bed that he had made up his story about Julian’s so-called ‘crime’, a confession that Dr Merrell obtained on video at the 11th hour and publicised, the story may not necessarily have had a particularly pleasant ending. This is the true horror of this saga. I have to use the word ‘serendipity’ for that reason. But for that….we don’t know.
‘Redeeming Moti’ is going to be an important book for universities and scholars for a number of reasons which I will go into in a minute. But it is not a scholarly book- it does not have the kind of language that scholarly tomes tend to have nowadays in the post-modern tradition- convoluted and Foucaultian It is uncompromisingly straightforward; a High School student can read it and will find in it both tragedy and comedy, take your pick. The story is so awful it is funny- and by funny I mean gallows humour. When I read it I said ..how can this possibly happen to anyone? Well it did happen. Dr Merrell’s book explains how and why. Julian, in his usual pithy way, put it well….he was, as he said, ‘…the last blackbird out of Melanesia’. He was not immune to kidnapping, destination Australia, even as the Attorney General of the Solomons.
Now, what will scholars and universities find in the book? What will my law students take from it? That was the litmus test for me as I read it.
Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, let me tell you why I think that every person in the Pacific and the world should read this book. They will find everything in it. It has all the ingredients of a good thriller; it has a good survey of Pacific and international politics; a good review of media culpability in the persecution of a man who stood up to neo-colonialism, sometimes without support even from those he was protecting; there is a love story (of sorts) in it; and there is redemption, that is, a belief, a desperate belief actually, that one day the truth will be out and then everyone will understand.
At the time that Julian was suffering in various filthy police cells, under trees on a remote Solomon Island air strip, as a “refugee” in an embassy in Papua New Guinea and in the court rooms where his very privacy was violated and exposed to public ridicule, he clung to that hope that he will be redeemed. It is remarkable that his legal intellect remained intact despite these assaults on his dignity and person. And the effect on his elderly parents must have been enormous. How did the long term stress of it all affect his father, also a victim, who sadly passed away just as the Court redeemed Julian.
Ladies and Gentlemen, there are several observations that I can make in reference to why this book will rightly have a scatter-gun effect. First, it exposes mainstream media for what it can be- banal, here today, gone tomorrow, slavish to those in power, hence denigrating its own power to do good, or if that is too hard, at least to be fair, occupying its own colonizing space shamelessly, and then, without warning, becoming self-righteous and unjustifiably indignant.
I say all this with some confidence because my very first job after leaving university was as a journalist with Fiji’s only daily newspaper at the time. I was absolutely amazed when I read Dr Merrell’s book to find that nothing had changed with the media since I was a rookie reporter more than 40 years ago. Is there something to be said about the way mainstream media works in the Pacific and how journalists are trained? Or about the difficulty with the concept of truth? Or if not truth, if that’s too complex, just plain facts? I do advise you all to read the book and reach your own conclusions.
But what Dr Merrell shows as a journalist, and she is one despite her political science doctorate, is that the mainstream media must understand what it means to be the ‘critic and conscience’ of society. That goes for Universities to. That, being the critic and conscience of society, is the core value of both the media and universities. We lose sight of that too easily in both institutions.
Secondly, I turn to Pacific Politics, both external and internal that is exposed in the book. During this sorry series of events apparently now known as ‘Motigate’, parliamentarians of some Pacific Island states switched sides so fast, it made me dizzy just to read about it. What this book says about Pacific Island politics is revealing, to put it mildly. It appears we have no ethics, no loyalty to anyone but ourselves (certainly not to the constituency), no shame in changing sides to stay, even precariously, in power, and no guilt about selling our country or ourselves to the highest bidder. Instead we say, oh well, that’s politics for you. It’s just a dirty game and anyone entering politics must learn to play it. After all this is the way the world has been even in the western tradition; look at what happened to Julius Caesar. So why should we expect anything different in the Pacific?
Well, I can’t uphold that perspective to my law students; and I hope no lecturer here tonight will be able to say that to their students either. Dr Merrell’s book exposes the farce of Pacific politics, including in Australia, in such a way that we have now to decide what we want our politicians to do and be.
It is the constituency that will have to take the responsibility for keeping its politicians on a tight leash. Deceive us and you are history. That is the message we have to teach our young people- take responsibility for keeping your representatives straight. Challenge them at every opportunity; make them answer your questions; hold their trouser legs with sharp teeth until they beg for mercy. Above all, don’t be frightened of them; they are your servants, not the other way round.
Finally, the law. Ultimately, what comes out as a force for good in this book are the courts. But not easily. In Dr Merrell’s account, courts’ decisions are based as much on chance as on law. If there had been no death-bed confession by the false accuser that the entire story against Julian had been absolutely fabricated to get money out of the Australians who wished to continue milking the RAMSI cow, a story that was published widely by Dr Merrell before the appeal court heard Julian’s case on deportation, who knows how the Australian courts might have ruled. It was as serendipitous as that. In my own experience as a lawyer in Fiji, I know only too well that one can never predict a court outcome. It’s Russian Roulette.
All I and my colleagues at the Unifiji School of Law can do is to advise our students that if they define law as justice, they can keep their heads high; because without justice there is no law. They will still lose on many an occasion because not everyone thinks like that- and the courts very often do not. We should remember, and learn from, the remark attributed to the US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jnr. to a young lawyer arguing that his client required justice from the court. Justice Holmes told him, quite kindly,….’This is a court of law young man, not a court of justice’. But the Australian court that released Julian into the arms of the country of his birth, was a court of justice – at the time. That is the one bright light in the book.
But above all, for all that I have made some remarks that would be pertinent to scholarship, this book is about human foibles, including the author’s own which she freely shares with her readers, and about, almost Shakespearean, tragedy, and regret.
Nevertheless, the phoenix does rise, as did Julian who is here with us today to talk a bit about the aftermath, the postlude. No one involved in this saga remained unscathed, least of all Julian, and also the author- that is clear.
However, we are reminded that despite the evil that we know for a fact exists in the world in myriad forms, there is good also, and that is the only thing that counts in the end. But, of course, only if we can find the difference between the two because, quite often, evil masquerades as good. That is the message in the book.
I congratulate Dr Merrell for having written it, warts and all.
But most of all I commend Julian for having considered the story, unauthorised as it was, important enough to agree to having it launched publicly here today despite the obvious wounds that would be re-opened for him in the process.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am indeed very happy and honoured to formally launch ‘Redeeming Moti’ and to highly recommend it to you.