Archive for February, 2016

 

When asked how I feel living in a country that still has a Monarchy as a head of state, I wanted to give a clear and simple answer but I have too many conflicting social and political ideas. I see the monarchy as having a position that is passively influential in positive and negative ways. Its reach is subtle but deep, traditional but ever-changing, elegant but infectious. The British monarchy always seems to pride itself as the creators of an international commonwealth, but where do the origins of our commonwealth really lie?

The actual definition of a commonwealth when relating to a political body is “an independent community…viewed as a body in which the whole people have a voice or interest…”. One might argue that is can be seen as a democratic model for the formation of a ‘just’ society. Yet, as always, ideologies which  hold weight in terms of creation or formation of societies are not always followed through in  reality. As of 2016, Queen Elizabeth II is still the head of the  Commonwealth of Nations. The CON has a Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which stands as the last court of appeal in the Caribbean region. It is worth noting that the Judicial committee of the privy council is based upon (English common law) and although most of the jurisdictions take in to consideration the local perspectives, its judgements are still based on English law. I find this troubling for two reasons. Firstly, it is because we have a nation who’s supreme court has a higher legal authority over many others. Some might say, ‘but no important cases actually happen, its not really that harmful’, but I find this to be a naive and narrow mindset. The Judicial Committee’s power does not resemble that of a deranged man who is wielding axe in a wild and chaotic fashion. The Judicial committee’s power is symbolic. It is subtle. But it is also prevalent. It COULD serve as a subconscious reminder to those Caribbean states about an era of Colonialism where Britain actually reigned over a large section of the Americas. I am not saying this is actually happening, but surely if your native judicial court is being overridden by a foreign judiciary, then one must question the real nature of your civil rights.

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‘R v Jogee’ – The latest Jamaican criminal case that has been referred to the JOC because of a confusing technicality in English Common Law.

I believe this is quite a modern and relevant concern seeing as the UK government is actually appealing to renegotiate its terms of membership with the European Union. Primarily so that it does not have to abide by the European Court of Human Rights. I can’t be the only one who sees a contradiction here. How can we appeal to nationalize our human rights, if other countries are forced to use our civil courts as the last resort of appeal? Now don’t get me wrong I am an advocate for ensuring that British rights are enshrined in British laws. But as the saying goes ‘Don’t throw stones in glass houses’. If we want to be a role model for national legal rights we must first cut these legal shackles over certain regions in the Caribbean. It also important to remember that it is the monarchy-led commonwealth that is in charge of these complex legal connection with the West Indies. Whilst many republicans have pointed out that the Monarchy is frequently breaching political democracy, it could be argued that she is violating legal democracy as well.

But the West Indies are not only region that are campaigning to end their legal ties with the British monarchy. Australia currently has eight political representatives that are in favor of separating their entire ties with the British monarchy. But it is worth mentioning that the historical relationship between the British monarchy and the Australians is not often reflected in the political structure of the nation. An Eighteenth century newspaper entitled ‘Currency Lad’ made a comment in 1833 that I think is worth dissecting

let every man who drew his first breath in the ‘glorious land of freedom’ come forward, as his ancestors came forward and claim that freedom which every freeborn Briton holds his birthright

So many questions arise from this quote. How can one step in to the ‘land of freedom’ whilst still being constitutionally attached to a foreign monarch? Was monarchical loyalty less important to the 19th century Australian colonizer than freedom? Did the legacy of the Australian ancestor leave behind a republican sentiment? If the answer to the latter is yes, Then surely we could regard some native born Australians as citizens belonging to a mindset of radical thinking. In the eighteenth century politics, to discuss notions of freedom was to detach yourself from monarchical rule, a potentially treasonable activity. Moreover, I think the quote not only illustrates the radicalism of their thinking, but also their quest of conservatism. The quote was not talking about trying to change the political structure of Australia, but more about how Australian freedoms are inherited from a British past, perhaps one in the 1650s when Britain and Oliver Cromwell flirted with republicanism. I believe this juxtaposes the concept of an ancien regime where a Monarchy has traditionally provided stability and order. I find this to be a complex but interesting concept as it combines the idea of radical liberty with the notion of historic royal authority, it can also be argued that this juxtaposition of ideas challenges the patriotic perception of Australia, as the ‘Union Jack flag waving Aussies’ . On the hand they are an independent nation with their own representatives but they also appreciate their inheritance of British political values.

I believe that this historical fusion of republicanism, liberty and monarchy has been the source for friction in modern times, which has increasingly questioned the notion of a international commonwealth. During 1994, Daniel Kang made a bold political act by firing blank pistol shots at Prince Charles during a speech he made on Australian Day.

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The moment Kang fired two blank shots at Prince Charles.

Kang justified his action by implying that the act was a political demonstration against the poor treatment of Cambodian asylum seekers in Australian detention camps. At the time many people used this incident to reignite the debate between monarchy and republicanism. But I see this act differently, it could be argued that Kang was trying to coerce the British monarchy in using their influence as Australian’s head of State to improve the condition of Cambodian migrants. As if to say ‘You’re the official head of this state why don’t you do something about this’. But the fact that many people interpreted his protest as an act of republicanism just shows how vulnerable and sensitive the position of the monarchy is. But we can’t look at this incident as an event of the distant past, we are currently witnessing Asian refugees in appalling conditions in many Australian detention centers. During the next royal visit, it would not be a shock to witness political protests occur against the Australian government’s refugee placement policy. If we couple this together with a recent AJPS study (Australian Journal of Political Science) showing that 53% Australian citizens favor a republic, we would could possibly return to the sociopolitical mood of the mid-nighties, where republican hostilities could become much more radical. I have always hated the term ‘history is repeating itself’ as the context of certain circumstances never remains the same. But the divisive nature of Australian society and their mixed feelings towards the British commonwealth and the monarchy is opening the door towards conflict not progression.

Canada, to a lesser extent is the other former Anglo-colony that needs to be discussed. The nature of republicanism within Canada is much more severe and apparent than many other countries within the Commonwealth. This is probably because they share a region with a nation that has the reputation for holding one the most famous revolutions. But like Australia, the anti-monarchical sentiment is somewhat muddled. Recently the Canadian republican pressure groups; Republic Now. Made a plea to remove the Monarchy off the any coins or stamps in circulation and replace them with a Canadian figurehead. While this is an honorable act in defense of Canadian patriotism, it misses out the important legal aspect that the Queen is the Head of State in Canada. She is sovereign over legal and political administrations within in Canada, so if anything there is an overriding  justification for her to be the face over all of the currency. In my opinion this symbolizes a divide between the attitude towards the monarchy and the actual role of the monarchy herself. On the one hand we have a body of people who oppose the monarchy vehemently but there is also a body of misinformed people about their own political structure. This is a worrying trend that has occurred for at least ten years, as a poll in 2008 showed that 42% of surveyed Canadians believed that the Prime Minister is the actual Head of State. So overall we can witness a continuity of confusion and mixed feeling towards the monarchy.

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The Queen of Canada. Politically accurate, but is she politically credible?

I believe that this sort of misguided republicanism is part of the framework for the origins of radicalization in Canada. As most of us know many Canadians fall into two main ancestral groups, those of French origin and those of British origin. But historical events have ensured that the those two ethnic groups have not lived in relative equality. The Seven Years War and the 1763 Treaty of Paris ensured that most of Canada would come under the governance of Britain including its French inhabitants. Since then a period of British colonization ensured that all citizens would follow English laws and English customs, including having an British monarch as its head of state. This has got me thinking, the Canadian citizens of British origin would have initially been fairly happy to adhere to English customs, but what about the French citizens? Would they be happy? After all unlike their British counterparts, their french legacy would symbolize one of defeat and failure. And I believe this inferiority mindset has carried itself over into 21st century Britain. It happens to be that most Canadian Islamic radicalism resides in the French speaking part, and we know that one of the main root causes of radicalism is marginalization. Could it be that the french speaking youth in Canada have no national attachment to Canada and its British Monarch and therefore seek more radical and extreme ways to belong. I am not saying there is a direct link between republicanism and Islamic radicalism. But, it does beg the question….how much legitimacy does the British Monarch have over its commonwealth nations.

Finally, I would to like to briefly mention the historical origins of the British commonwealth and how it ‘relates’ to the Commonwealth of the 21st century. It was during the aftermath of the English/National Civil War, when the Monarchy was abolished that a Commonwealth was founded. Only that it was supported on ideas of republicanism as opposed to Monarchism. The commonwealth was built on a notion of moral public duty and the idea that there is a contract between the ‘governor’ and the governed. These ideas were also supported by a seventeenth century ideology called Humanism. Humanism was essentially a paternalist type of thinking that looked to improve the overall quality of society, either through better education, charitable activity and the better instruction of religion. Things like tyranny or political inequality were not seen as rational and thus were not good for society. Republicanism fitted in quite neatly with mindset; as it meant that all citizens had to contribute to the improvement of society as opposed to one particular thinking, as Historian J.P. Sommerville has commented:  ‘the best form of government resulted from the participation of all citizens (by which they meant a select group of wealthy males) in decision-making.‘ The English republic of the 1650s created a Commonwealth based on these ideas. Could it be classed as an hypocrisy that the Commonwealth of today is led by a monarchy and not by individuals from the representative nations? After all most countries from the Commonwealth of Nations belonged to the British Empire, and European Imperialism was not exactly the example of how to create a good society. The Commonwealth of Nations claims to hold values of democracy, tolerance and equality. But with an unelected figure at the head of this system, one muse question the credibility of that ethos. To add, I do find it interesting though how the meaning of a commonwealth has changed and evolved to mean something quite different today than what it meant back in 1650.

At the start of this post I wanted to explore the role and perception of the British Monarchy from an international perspective and not from a domestic position, and I think we can see how the lack of political understanding and apathy towards the Monarchy has placed the idea of Commonwealth in complex position. On the hand it wishes to be espouse the ideals of democracy but on the hand it created an imbalance in terms of legal equality in the courts. The monarch attempts to use its deep cultural roots within all of the nations to create a sense of unity, but as we have seen each nations history and journey towards independence has created a sense of hostility towards outside foreign powers. These disputes are beginning to touch other nations such as Spain and Thailand who growing with anti-monarchical sentiments. The debate between monarchy and republic has in my opinion become relevant now than ever before. With questions over how refugees can assimilate in a British patriotic culture that is built around the monarchy, to questions regarding political independence and the EU, the role of Commonwealth needs to be challenged.