Blog: Krishnee Bunwaree – governments allowed press to run amok
Following the arrest on 1st August 2012 of 22 year old Krishnee Bunwaree as a result of her anti-Islam and anti-Muslim comments on facebook during the holy fasting month of Ramadan and her being charged with the offence of unlawfully and knowingly using a computer system with intent to stir up « racial (and religious) hatred », successive governments of Mauritius should share the blame for having allowed a bias and prejudiced section of the press to run amok for over a decade in leading a damaging and incendiary campaign against Muslims and Islam without allowing any right of reply so they can brainwash the young. Krishnee Bunwaree is absolved of all blame.
Krishnee Bunwaree, victim of bias and prejudiced press
Personally, I feel that Krishnee Bunwaree is a victim. I would blame a section of the media rather than politicians, although the government does bear responsibility for having allowed the situation to rot. Even though politicians may be sectarian (which is not an offence), I do not see them inciting racial and religious hatred. However, can the same be said for Catholic Priest Jocelyn Grégoire, President of the Fédération des Créoles Mauriciens? Did he not launch a scathing attack against Hindus in his confessed « anger » and castigated PM Ramgoolam for having appointed Hindu Ministers instead of an extra Catholic African-Mauritian, which he calls a ‘Creole’. Yet, the PM is always meeting Grégoire in spite of his overt racism fostering the racist ideology of créolité which excludes Hindus and Muislims, with their handshakes splashed all over the newspapers even though he is not even a leader of any political party. What message is the Mauritian PM conveying to the people?
Similarly, for a very long time, a section of the Mauritian press has been leading a relentless campaign against Muslims and Islam in several forms. In analysing this serious problem, certain facts over the years have to be established to put Krishnee Bunwaree’s comments in context. There are clear indications that 22 year old Krishnee Bunwaree is a victim of what she (and others like her) has been fed with by a section of the Mauritian press over a long period of time.
(1) In the case of May 1999 arson at Casino Amicale, in which several people were killed, including a pregnant mother, le Mauricien daily paper, regarded as a Christian/Creole paper, immediately attacked Muslims and Islam through reverse association. In his editorial of 24 May 1999, Gilbert Ahnee, then editor in chief of le Mauricien said : « Et il n’existe personne au sein de cette classe politique inculte pour monter sur un camion au Square Khadafi et dire : “Non! Non, l’Islam n’est pas une religion de violence,… ” ». The journalist went on to say : « Il y a lieu d’espérer que des milliers de Musulmans mauriciens qui respectent les valeurs de leur religion prennent la parole et disent : “ Assez ! Assez de violence, de terreur, d’escadrons meurtriers au nom d’un Dieu Clément et miséricordieux dont vous vous prétendez les fidèles. Assez, également, de complaisance des pouvoirs publics. Assez de petites filles asphyxiées et carbonisées” ». He also referred to those alleged Muslim killers as « foudjahiddins », a term which he made up between the French word “fou” and the Arabic and Islamic word “mujahiddin” (which means freedom fighter). He already identified Muslims as violent and as killers. It turned out that the Sumodhee brothers, who are Muslims, were swiftly arrested and tried before a jury which found them guilty based on the uncorroborated evidence of one eye- witness (who allegedly ‘clearly’ identified them on motorcycles?). The Sumodhee brothers claim their innocence to this day.
(2) Muhammad Cehl Fakeemeeah, present Leader of the Front Solidarité Mauricienne (FSM) and MP, was attacked because he was the leader of an Islamic Party (Hezbollah). What has not been published against him as a Muslim and against his religion? The daily newspaper L’Express, also regarded as a Christian/Creole paper, described him as (Muslim) fundamentalist, « mégalomane », Hitler and more, simply because he is a Muslim who formed an Islamic Party. In Europe, there are countless Christian parties; I do not see what the problem is. Based on the uncorroborated allegation of a self-confessed criminal, Cehl Meeah was arrested in December 2000, incarcerated for 3 years, kept in solitary confinement, tortured, and tried in the press for something he did not do. However, Meeah never confessed to any crime. Journalist Finlay Salesse then of 5-Plus weekly paper even published material accusing Meeah was training ‘Muslims’ in a terrorist camp in Mont Blanc, which was entirely false. The DPP finally dropped all charges against Meeah. The Police never took any action for incitement to religious hatred against any of those journalists or newspapers.
(3) In 2010, some Hindus violently attacked a Pentecostal gathering in Triolet, which Bollywood comedian Johnny Lever was also attending. In February 2012, some Muslims in 15 Cantons Vacoas removed banners set up by Hindus on the holy occasion of the Maha Shivaratree pilgrimage to Grand Bassin, and even damaged a green marquee. Those would be more condemnable acts of assault, vandalism and criminal damage rather than incitation to racial and religious hatred. But when reporting the details of the US report on religious freedom in events concerning Mauritius, l’Express of 01 August 2012 chose the following headline just to pinpoint Muslims « Liberté de culte : le Département d’Etat US relève les dérapages à Quinze-Cantons » even though it said in the body that « Il note cependant que la bagarre n’avait aucune motivation religieuse ».
(4) Joining the fray, Mauritius Times, a weekly paper regarded as a Hindu paper, added its dose when its Chief Editor and owner Madhukar Ramlallah published materials of anti-Islam and anti-Muslim nature. In the article « Secular State », M Times of 6 July 2012, Surendra Bissoondoyal, who thinks that a secular state is a good thing while a so-called religious state is bad, argued that because India « did not want to project the image of ‘Hindu India’ to counter the setting up of Pakistan as an Islamic nation », « It enshrined the term ‘secular’ in its Constitution », when an Islamic State is a Civil State and not a religious state (like the Vatican). He clearly portrays an Islamic state as bad but, at the same time refers to how Mahatma Gandhi used « his faith in the Bhagavad Gita to show to India and the world at large the strength of non-violence without cowardice » when the Bhagavad Gita is a Book about violence between the cousins and has nothing to do with secularism. Given his comparison with an « Islamic nation », he leaves it to the readers’ imagination as to whether faith in Islam (as opposed the Bhagavad Gita) leads to violence.
(5) In the follow-up article « Secularism? Yes, but softly » by Dev Virahsawmy published the in the following week’s issue of Mauritius Times on 13 July 2012, Dev Virahsawmy also used secularism as an excuse to attack Islam and Muslims by effectively accusing the religion of oppressing women when he argued that « within Islam feminist studies are challenging patriarchy and a very progressive picture is emerging » while, on the other hand, he praised Hinduism when he spoke of « reforming Hinduism » as having « greatly contributed to the improvement of general welfare ».
(6) Like all the other papers boycotted my responses exposing their campaign against Muslims and Islam over the years, Mr Ramlallah also boycotted both my responses to Bissoondoyal and Virahsawmy, and in my email of 17 July 2012 I told Mr Ramlallah in no uncertain terms that « Through your consistent boycott, you are clearly following an evil agenda of your own and provoking and inciting social unrest in the country. I will not allow this to happen since Mauritians of whatever religious denominations do have common grounds to live in harmony. » I subsequently requested him to drop « Mauritius » from Mauritius Times as he is giving Mauritius a bad name.
Two weeks later the Krishnee Bunwaree’s case came to light after an inhabitant of Port Louis lodged a complaint to the Police against her for the anti-Muslim and anti-Islam deeply offensive comments, especially during the holy fasting period of Ramadan, which she posted on Facebook on 22nd July 2012. She was also joined on facebook by another youngster in the name of Kavish Bhoonah. 22 year old Krishnee Bunwaree, was arrested on 1 Aug 2012 by the Cybercrime Unit and charged with unlawfully and knowingly using a computer system with intent to stir up « racial (and religious) hatred ». The ‘accomplice’ Kavish Bhoonah was later also arrested. In fact, Kavish is the one who made matters much worse. This incident has spread around the country like wild fire which has been ignited during more than a decade. Muslim religious leaders have even appealed for calm.
The authorities are treating the matter very seriously indeed in a multi-cultural country like Mauritius as it can easily spark social unrest with unforeseeable consequences. The problem is that facebook has been used in the UK (and elsewhere) to incite racial and religious hatred, violence and riots. I have lived through it.
But is Krishnee Bunwaree really to blame, or has she merely followed the pattern which has been drawn by a section of the press over the years and which has poisoned children’s minds at a very young age? Ms Bunwaree is only 22 years old, and for more than a decade she has been exposed to anti-Muslim and anti-Islam propaganda, portraying Islam as a religion of violence (and Hinduism as a religion of non-violence) and Muslims as fundamentalists, women oppressors, terrorists, and more, without having given the chance to hear the other side. Ms Bunwaree clearly felt that she was allowed to say what she did against Muslims and Islam, but her intention clearly was not to incite racial and religious hatred. I absolve her of all blame. Krishnee Bunwaree is also sorry for what she had said on facebook and, in Islam, she is pardoned. Those are matters which, surely, any court of law would take into account before arriving at any conclusion in the interest of justice.
It is up to the government to set up a press watchdog and to introduce Religious Education in Mauritian schools so that children can learn and respect the different cultures and religions of Mauritians.
cc. PM Dr Navin Ramgoolam