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Thou shalt not talk

There seems to be a move in Hong Kong to add an 11th commandment to the 10 that we have become accustomed to striving to set our lives by, Thou shalt not talk.

From what was a distant rumble a couple of years ago, talk of an independent Hong Kong in some form or other at some time or other has become an almost daily topic of conversation in the political columns of newspapers and some hot spots of even mostly conventional thought.

Despite repeated attempts by the powers-that-be to quell what are variously described as unrealistic or trouble-making voices, they continue to rise in volume and expand in numbers.

Continued calls from the chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, to keep the spoken word strictly within the parameters of the Basic Law fall on deaf ears, partly because people believe that he is sprouting an instruction from Beijing, but mostly because it is an appeal that is alien to Hong Kong culture.

This could be likened to a Church banning discussions on atheism. But a state constructed on an ideology needs in-built protection mechanisms against heresy and simply banning even talk of dissenting opinion is the simplistic way of holding the line.

But while we have not seen the end of the era of ideology, it has mostly ceased to be compelling, tempting many governments to replace it with calls to nationalism.

However, this is a dangerous way to go, as the former French president, François Mitterrand, said, “Nationalism means war.” And he has been proven time and time again to have been right.

Nationalistic tendencies in some societies have left people of almost every country living in a dangerous environment.

Neither ideology nor nationalism will lead to peace and both are well out of step with the culture of life in free societies. Even in the field of religion, the era of rigid apologetics has been replaced by dialogue.

Herman van Rompuy, a former president of the European Council, told a forum at the Catholic University of Leuven that in today’s world seekers of truth are open to dialogue.

“They have their own beliefs, but they are open to listen to others,” he said. “Listening is more common now… All are concerned about the current climate of our societies.”

However, the quickest way to kill tolerance and to close ears to the opinions of others is to forbid discussion. This begs the question, is the self-identity of the administration in Hong Kong so insecure that it fears the power of questioning words?

Does it really believe that people do not have the best interests of Hong Kong at heart and does it really lack the needed humility to admit that by trying to ask all the questions and dictate all the answers it is doing itself and its people a great disservice.

Every chemical reaction can be reversed, including the setting of concrete, although it is extremely difficult to create the necessary conditions. The Basic Law may be set in concrete, making it extremely difficult to change, but is not the 11th commandment, while not talking about it is fast becoming so.

God forbid that the climate of dialogue be transformed into a climate of nationalistic fervour. JiM