Academic journal article Oceania

Re-Mythologizing the State: Public Security, 'The Jesus Strategy' and the Fiji Police

Academic journal article Oceania

Re-Mythologizing the State: Public Security, 'The Jesus Strategy' and the Fiji Police

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Our police officers are preaching and sharing the word of God when they go out on [the] beat.... When they have a Bible with them, their work is carried out effectively.

The Bibles are also a protection tool just like the baton or pepper spray ... Like the Bible says in the book of Ephesians ... we are not just fighting against physical beings but also against [the] evil spirits of this world.--Assistant Superintendent of Police for the Totogo Region of Fiji, Rusiate Ryland (Fiji Police Force, 2009a).

The imagery employed by Assistant Superintendent Ryland in the quote above might make his statement more colourful than those of many of his colleagues in the Fiji Police Force, but Ryland is not alone in articulating a vision of the Bible as a central pillar of the mission of the Fiji police. In fact, Ryland speaks in a context in which the Fiji Police Force has promoted the 'Jesus Strategy' for combating crime, regional commanders pepper their annual speeches with exertions to constables to repent for their sins, and police stations around the country hold workshops educating their officers on how to model themselves upon Jesus Christ. These efforts to self-consciously 'spiritualize' the Fiji Police were spearheaded by Fiji's Police Commissioner, Commodore Esala Teleni, who took over command of the force soon after the country's December 2006 coup and enthusiastically promoted Christianity as central to the mission of the Fiji police until he stepped down from the post at the end of August 2010. But exactly how radical have Commissioner Teleni's reforms been? Are they just another variation of a common theme in Fijian politics (i.e. the close association of Christianity with state government)? Or do they constitute a major departure for a state entity which has up until now presented itself as a secular security force?

In contrast to the Royal Fiji Military Forces who have received significant analytic attention due to their participation in Fiji's 1987, 2000, and 2006 political coups, the Fiji Police Force has been comparatively understudied. Recently, however, the police force's high-profile religious activities have garnered them considerable public attention. This paper is intended to promote further scholarly reflection on the activities of the Fiji police by outlining some of the questions raised by Commissioner Teleni's reforms and contextualizing them through an examination of the use of Christian discourse in galvanizing public support for a variety of political regimes since the 1987 coups.

The first section of this paper considers the place of Christianity in post-Independence Fijian politics. My specific interest is in delineating how charismatic, and would-be charismatic, indigenous Fijian political leaders have not only fostered and attempted to naturalize close associations between the concepts of Christianity, indigeneity, and Fijian paramountcy, but have also harnessed these associations as part of their efforts to galvanize public support for their leadership.

Next, I briefly examine the role of the Fiji Police Force as a (secular) domestic security institution. Specific attention is paid to the role of the police in restoring law and order during the 2000 political crisis and some of the questions raised about their political loyalties and treatment of members of Fiji's Indo-Fijian population during this period.

The final section of the paper considers how, following the 2006 coup, the police have adopted a new role as the nation's moral guardians and are in effect actively re-mythologizing the Fijian state. Running in tandem with Prime Minister Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama's declarations that his government is striving towards a more ethnically inclusive Fiji, the police force's efforts to combat crime by, in the words of the official Fiji Police Force website, emphasizing the nation's 'common bond- [in] Jesus Christ,' (Fiji Police Force, 2009b) and promoting a new, break-away Methodist church, have, I argue, revived and reshaped the once familiar discourses of Christianity and indigeneity as crucial components of the Fijian state. …

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