Who are we to lecture people of Mauritius about justice?
Natural sympathy for McAreavey has morphed into indulgent hostility towards a small nation, writes FIONOLA MEREDITH
YOU’D NEED a heart of stone not to feel for the family of Michaela McAreavey. They have behaved with admirable restraint under the most distressing of circumstances. Although “inconsolable”, and understandably so, they have maintained their silent dignity.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of a substantial section of the public, who have been vociferous, and increasingly indiscriminate, in their outrage.
What started out as a reasonable expression of sympathy and solidarity with the bereaved families has now become open season on the entire island of Mauritius and its people.
Calls to “boycott Mauritius”, in the wake of the trial and the subsequent publication of leaked photographs of the dead woman’s body, have become more strident and inflammatory with every passing day.
As ever, in such cases of mass hysteria – because that is what this is – reason flies out the window and febrile emotion takes charge.
Travel agents refuse to sell holidays to the island and social media is awash with hostility, with numerous people characterising the place as “medieval and barbaric”, a “backward country” with a “biased and corrupt judicial system and government”.
By implication, we – the decent, upstanding Irish people – are cast as the unimpeachable guarantors of justice and the rule of law, and the Mauritians as incompetent savages, or worse.
There is no doubt that the Mauritian authorities have serious questions to answer about the police investigation into this case and the tactics used.
Amnesty International has long-standing concerns about allegations of torture and ill-treatment of suspects by Mauritian police. As for the publication of the crime scene images, all the revulsion is quite justified – as long as it remains directed at the offending scandal rag in question, or at whoever leaked the photographs in the first place. We have a problem when it starts spilling over into wild generalisations, scattergun xenophobia and crude cultural stereotyping.
That’s a dangerous road to start along and it ends in a dark and self-diminishing place.
The story of Michaela’s life and her terrible death has a powerful visceral impact, tapping into ancient currents of fear and desire.
There is an almost mythic quality to the story: a ghastly, twisted fairytale. No wonder it reawakens the old ties of nationhood, tightens the loosened bonds of family.
We are an emotional people, with a strong streak of sentimentality, and this feels personal.
Michaela was one of our own, and there is a half-formed urge to avenge the dishonour done to her, which finds a contemporary outlet in anonymous online rant.