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Execution Chamber II

Denis Solomon • 1,035 words

What I was in fact putting across in the column is that Trinidadians and Tobagonians of all stripes dislike themselves to so much that they assume this country to be inferior to all others. Their feeling is that whatever other countries may do about the death penalty, we are so far beyond the pale that arguments applicable elsewhere do not apply. In the group which the Chamber may be said to represent, this takes the form of a siege mentality.

I am not one of those people who think they can never be wrong. But what ideas I have, I flatter myself I present logically. That is a writer’s courtesy to his readers, as well as the scholar’s responsibility to express himself in terms that can be refuted by superior argument.

Despite this, any unfavourable responses I get to my column are always so fanatical and so poorly argued that if I were to reply to them point by point I would spend more time on that than on the column itself. My policy about replying can therefore be summed up in Schiller’s phrase: “With stupidity the gods themselves battle in vain”.

I have decided to reply to the Chamber of Commerce column in the Express of April 29 for two reasons. One is that it gives me a chance to correct the headline of my March 28 column, the column with which the Chamber finds fault. I had entitled the piece “Execution Chamber”, for obvious reasons. Somewhere in the Independent’s editorial process the headline got lost and was replaced by the relatively meaningless “Executive Chamber”.

The second reason is that I like the idea of articles in another newspaper steering readers to the Independent, and I want to accelerate the process as much as I can. Even in that context, the Chamber writer shows his or her narrow-mindedness by referring to “a recent weekend newspaper”, presumably on the assumption that the Express would not want to mention another newspaper by name. I doubt that that is the policy of the Express, and as for the Independent, when we mean the Express, we say the Express.

The tendentious illogicality of the Chamber article surfaces first of all in the paragraph that calls me “another of those liberals in society, whose philosophy is to ensure that no one is ever responsible for their action or inaction and the consequences thereof, and that everything is excusable or justifiable”. Now, how does a position against the death penalty, or anything else I have ever said or written, translate into such a philosophy on my part? Surely the writer cannot mean that the several hundred countries in the world that have no death penalty are governed by a philosophy of irresponsibility. Or that imprisonment for life is not a serious recompense for murder.

Further, the mindless (yes, I repeat the word) genuflexion to conservative American dogma that characterises those whom Lloyd Best once called “the half-literates in the Chamber of Commerce” is demonstrated by the use of the word “liberal”. It is only in the United States that the word has a pejorative meaning, and there only on the far political right. I urge the writer to put down for a moment his or her copy of Fortune Magazine or US News and World Report and read something a little more relevant to the world at large. Or else get out his/her green card and head for God’s own country, where social responsibility is enforced by lethal injection and the electric chair, though so far without noticeable success.

The crux of the Chamber article is that my sentence “…the Chamber of Commerce wants to keep the white man’s court as long as it doesn’t prevent us hanging black people” shows me up as a racist.

I am reluctant to think that the Chamber of Commerce can sink so low as to follow the Prime Minister’s example of throwing that word like a brick at anyone who annoys him (I note that I am not even a pseudo-racist, but a full-blown card-carrying one.) But with the best will in the world I cannot see how that statement could be racist unless I was implying that the Chamber of Commerce was composed of white people, or at least of people of some race other than black. And please note that my phrase was “prevents US from hanging black people”, not “prevents THEM (or IT)…”.

I think, though, that the writer realises this, and that some other justification for the epithet must be found. Hence the tortured references to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the supposed obligation on this country to outlaw racist remarks by Equal Opportunities legislation. This, by the way, is a veiled attack on another article of mine, in which I criticise the government’s lumping of “insult” with “discrimination” in its Equal Opportunity Bill as an attack on freedom of speech, and as unworkable in practice. But even if racist remarks were legally outlawed as well as morally repugnant (which they are to me), what is the racial group that my remark insults? The white people’s court I referred to, as the writer knows very well, is the Privy Council. In the last paragraph the Chamber article implies that my “racist” remark was directed against a minority group. I repeat, I have no conception of the Chamber of Commerce as composed of anything but a cross-section of the races in this country. All I can think of is that the Chamber is projecting its perception of itself on to me.

What I was in fact putting across in the column is that Trinidadians and Tobagonians of all stripes dislike themselves to so much that they assume this country to be inferior to all others. Their feeling is that whatever other countries may do about the death penalty, we are so far beyond the pale that arguments applicable elsewhere do not apply. In the group which the Chamber may be said to represent, this takes the form of a siege mentality.

This analysis is not racist. If it had been attacked as a class one, I would probably have had to plead guilty. The phantasms that inhabit the minds of members of the Chamber of Commerce do not include being murdered by Anthony Amoroso Centeno or Brad Boyce, or even by Dole Chadee, unless they are involved in drugs, which I am sure few of them are. Their fears are directed at a faceless subhuman mass that in their minds can be kept at bay only by hanging and flogging. And this mass, like the majority of the members of the Chamber of Commerce, is black.

Copyright © • Denis Solomon • Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association • www.humanist.org.tt/humanist/forum/solomon Page Top