By Kalafi Moala
Martin Niemoller was a Lutheran theologian and pastor in Nazi Germany who spent months in jail for his opposition to Nazism. He is well known for his poem – “First they came..” depicting the vital importance of giving voice to our beliefs. When we fail to give voice to what we believe, we end up falling for anything, as many Germans did by blindly following the atrocious acts of the Nazi regime.
Another contemporary opponent of Nazism was Dietrich Bonhoffer, well known for his dissident stance against Hitler and the Nazi movement. His ties to the conspiracy to overthrow the Nazi regime in 1944 led to his execution in 1945. His most read book, “Cost of Discipleship” is still in circulation today.
Both Niemoller and Bonhoeffer as Church leaders of their day stood up in opposition to the tyranny that ruined Germany and most of Europe under Hitler. They spoke out against oppression, corruption, and the dictatorial spirit so rampant in Nazi Germany at the time.
“Silence in the face of evil is in itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless,” Bonhoeffer wrote. “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to our children.”
The silence of our generation in a time of moral crisis in Tongan Society is going to be a question of condemnation asked by our children and grandchildren: “Why didn’t we speak up against the authoritarianism, corruption, the lies, the sexual harassment, and the hypocrisy being carried out at home and in our work places?” “Why” they will ask, “did we not bring changes and make this world better for them?”
In Tongan society, the issue of domination exercised from positions of authority is not uncommon. Those in such positions misuse power because of a sense of entitlement to carry out sometimes the most unkind and unjust acts upon those that are subject to them. This is the chief object to good godly leadership. Jesus taught: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (Mark 10: 42,43).
But the most devastating effect of this kind of tyranny in our society is the silencing of the voices of individuals who has as their basic freedom the right to speak their minds. There are so many voiceless people in Tongan society. Their voices are deemed unimportant, yet we constantly hear propaganda about the government doing “what the people want.”
The silence of those who should speak out is indeed deafening. There are few places in Tongan Society where the marginalized are given a voice; but there are far too few voices of reason being heard from those in our society that have voices to speak out.
Why are our church leaders silent at a time they should speak out? Why are those who are whistle blowers no longer blowing the whistle? Why are those who raise their voice against tyranny being maliciously persecuted and attacked as to cripple their voices?
Have the lure of positions of power, and the enticement of money, put a “Covid mask” on people, blocking their windpipes from airing principled concerns, and covering their faces from being known for who they really are?
Tonga is in a moral crisis today with the truth being set aside as a lie, while the lies are being manipulated as truth. Where are the Niemollers and Bonhoeffers of our day? Why are our leaders not leading with integrity and compassion? Why are they not asking questions of themselves? Why are they leaving the one sheep by the wayside to die while they serve and comfort the ninety-nine who do not need comforting?
Where is your voice?
When God created humans, He gave them a voice – the ability to communicate. Where that voice is housed has a direct connection to three other parts: the brain and the ears are two of those parts. In other words, a voice needs to be connected to thinking and listening to have any sensible meaning. But it is the heart connection that makes that voice strong or weak, loving, or hateful, passionate or fearful.
In a socio-political environment like we have in Tonga right now, it seems like everyone is talking (more like mumbling) at the same time, and no one is really listening to anyone. Based on the substance of communications going out, it seems the brain may not be working at all. The heart is disconnected, and the ears are listening but hears nothing because competing voices are drowning out each other.
Listening to Parliamentary debate these days unveils the state of our communication in Tonga with one another. Nobody listens, everyone talks, and most do so at the same time. Obviously, most debaters are doing very minimal thinking, if any at all. The question is, if they do not understand what they are talking about, how do they expect normal citizens who are the voters to understand?
As one social media communicator posted about Parliament, “We only have two ears to listen. How could three people be talking at the same time. Talk and listen to each other. Don’t just talk and listen to the echoes of your own voices.”
What an indictment of the foolishness of nonsensical communication at the top level of Government. How can we reply to questions that were never asked? How can we talk without knowing, let alone show real concerns to issues raised to problem solve and come up with common sense solutions?
The curse of tyranny
Tyranny is a choice, but once we make it a part of our personal cultural practice, it becomes a curse. And this is what happened in 19th Century Germany with the emergence of Nazism through Adolph Hitler, who chose to be a tyrant. And was elected as leader through a democratic process. Dictators only need to be elected once. They can change the law to keep them in power for good.
A tyrant is described in the dictionary as “a cruel and oppressive ruler.” It is also described as “a person exercising power or control in a cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary way.” It is this aggravating force of harmful behavior that many people encounter every day.
The political tyranny of Adolf Hitler used a twisted ideology about religion and race, which resulted in the Holocaust, the murder of six million Jews. However, tyranny as a choice and personal lifestyle can be carried out at home by oppressive husbands and fathers (or wives and mothers for that matter), in the place of business by managers, and in Government by political leaders.
Tyranny is a spirit and a lifestyle that ignites people to feel superior to others giving them the entitlement to feel like the colonialists do: “We know what is good for you, just listen and do what we tell you.” One tyrant pastor used to tell his congregation at the beginning of every church service: “Now take out your brains and put it in your back pocket. You do not need it for the next three hours.” Church, to this pastor is better when his congregation is totally brainless.
The authoritarianism that has hardened our political leadership has been brewing contempt for Godly authority for several decades. Nobody wants to listen to anybody, let alone follow common sense. The introduction of democratic rule seems to be characterized by “minority rule” in the name of “the people”. The consent of the majority is irrelevant, for their voices no longer matter. They have been silent far too long. Wisdom no longer has a voice. Fools are the ones with the loudest voices.
Those who are elected to power are comfortably accustomed to garnering information that contradicts the realities of life. And so, they rely on fools who are fanatical supporters to brutalize and repress those with voices of reason. They subjugate and silence the majority for the sake of supporting authoritarian power that may or may not grant them the wishes of their hearts – to execute vengeance on their imaginary enemies. “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” (Proverbs 29: 11).
The realities we face today
When the Government headed by Dr. Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa came to power, there was much hope that they would be different from the previous Government in the way they conduct themselves, especially when it comes to how they exercise power. Many forgot that a few of the Cabinet members, including the Prime Minister, were prominent members of the previous Cabinet. But isn’t it interesting and far too convenient that the late Prime Minister who died over a year ago is still being blamed for the problems perpetrated by this present Government?
This Government has only been in power for a year, and there are huge questions that have already gone unanswered. Voices of dissidence have been silenced, and consent is being manufactured recklessly in every sphere. A false peace is pursued at the expense of justice, transparency, and truth.
The recent scandalous activities going on at the Tonga Power Limited and the recent news reports have uncovered improprieties in the way a new Board has conducted itself, suppressing the voice of many, yet listening and acting on the voice of one perpetrator of the moral scandal at the company.
Issues of authoritarianism, sexual immorality in the work place, false accusations against many of the staff, justification of misconduct, denying the rights of a fair hearing, Board members with hidden agendas against staff, bullying tactics, and so on are things that must be addressed. And maybe this whole episode will end up in a Court of Law for the Board of Directors seem to be looking the other way from the realities at TPL. But that is the subject of our next investigative report.
We must not end this analysis, however, without reciting a few lines from the famous poem of Pastor Martin Niemoller “First they came:”
“In Germany” he wrote “First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up for me.”