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Monday, July 14, 2008

What is Pharisaism?

BY PHILIP OCHIENG'

When Parliament crucified Amos Kimunya, it recalled a gospel story that I am very fond of. Some Pharisaic males brought to Jesus a woman “caught in the very act” and demanded that the Galilean teacher impose a fitting punishment.

After their tirade, Jesus bowed his head as if in deep thought and, without looking up, advised those who had never committed that “sin” to hurl the first stone. Public stoning to death was ancient Jewry’s method of tackling capital offenders. But when the magus finally raised his head, all the accusers had vanished. Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes were the three major Jewish sects when Rome captured Palestine in 63 BC. The Sadducees disappeared in Titus’ holocaust which consumed Jerusalem in 70 AD.

Holed up in the Dead Sea fort of Qumran, the Essenes were the Jewish branch of a Nilotic Gnostic or Christological movement, the one which the Romans hijacked and transformed into Euro-Christianity. Most Pharisees fled abroad to reappear, in Europe, as Talmudic (or rabbinic or synagogical) Jewry. Indeed, all modern Jewry is Pharisaical in origin. But, although this adjective refers to that objective ancient entity, nowadays it alludes also to the subjective speciousness, spuriousness or insidiousness which anyone may speak or preach. A “Pharisee” is any self-righteous and hypocritical person, a definition derived from the holier-than-thou attitude expressed in the New Testament parable I quote above.

So we must put Mr Kimunya’s case in perspective. For he is by no means the nigger in the woodpile. He merely helps to bring out the Pharisaism of all Kenyans. How many MPs can pass the test which Jesus set for the misogynists in the story? No, I do not defend our erstwhile minister for Finance. Ever since his days at Lands, I have publicly criticised his apparent insensitivity to the poor, especially the landless. I have questioned the extreme arrogance that issues from his mouth, the utter absence of political finesse. But I must ask: Is the Kipipiri MP guilty as charged by his colleagues? To be sure, something looks seriously wrong with the manner in which the Treasury has sold off some public assets. But equally certain is this: Were I in Daniel’s seat, I would not subpoena any MP as a prosecution witness.

FOR, IF THE CHARGE IS MISUSE OF PUBLIC FUNDS, HOW can that charge be lodged by a group of people who have fleeced Kenyans throughout their legislative career by criminally dipping fingers into the same Treasury to pay themselves salaries and perks which break the backbones of other Kenyans? If the aim is to protect the public from robbery by any state organ -- such as the House -- then I would be keenly interested to know how Bonny Khalwale, Ababu Namwamba, Otieno Kajwang and others voted on Mr Kimunya’s proposal to tax the MPs’ emoluments.

Is this how the Young Turks are going to behave when Mr Namwamba leads them into a “Grand Opposition” in Parliament? Indeed, many Kenyans have commented that the MPs nailed Mr Kimunya merely because he tried to tax them, to make deep inroads into their fat bank accounts.

So the question is ineluctable: What is the difference between a minister irregularly selling a public hotel -- as the accusation goes -- and an MP voting to continue fleecing the public by not paying the taxes that might contribute to lifting the same public from the abyss of hunger? No, in principle, I fully support Parliament’s responsibility to declare its loss of confidence in anybody who may use his public office to do things which look like personal ingratiation at the public’s expense. But when an exceedingly avaricious and tyrannical parliament accuses a minister of avarice and tyranny and punishes him for it, the MPs show unacceptable imperviousness to logic and self-contradiction.

They express incredible absence of justice, public morality and good manners.

The MPs see mortal sin in every one of President Kibaki’s Cabinet ministers. But they see nothing iniquitous in their own itchy fingers. This hypocrisy, this moral ambivalence, this intellectual duplicity -- this is what is called Pharisaism. It is what enables politicians to listen so carefully, but with such cynicism, to just such sermons at church every Sunday. Like Taban lo Liyong’s Eating Chiefs, they continue, outside the shrine, to stuff their pockets full to overflowing with squalid money. By failing to stand up consistently and forcefully against this depravity, the priests show that their own moral fulminations are but godforsaken Pharisaism.

Clearly, however, as it is now constituted, Parliament is the cancer number one in our body politic. Kimunya or no Kimunya, if we do not redefine and rebuild that institution -- devising a water-tight means of controlling it -- we shall remain slaves of “parliamentary democracy” all our lives.

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