The Politics of a Contronymic Secularism in Fiji

During Fiji’s 2012 constitution-drafting process, the Christian State debate repeated as a site of public division. Whereas the constitution commission, the military regime, liberal Christians and Hindu and Muslim Indo-Fijians argued a secular state was necessary to secure political equality and freedom to all Fiji’s citizens, many indigenous iTaukei demanded the establishment of Christianity as the national religion. Yet in the public hearings, it was often the term ‘secularism’ itself that prevented dialogue and entrenched a mutual suspicion. This is because in Fiji ‘secularism’ is contronymic. It refers to (at least) two separate meanings that are contradictory: secularism-as-fairness and secularism-as-materialism. Arguments would rage about ‘secularism’ and yet often they were at entirely crossed-meanings. Moreover, it was often to the political advantage of elites on either side, secularists and nationalists, to perpetuate this contronymic confusion.