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Distorted Visions

Denis Solomon • 1,006 words

Keith Smith complimented me on last week’s column about the stupidity and impertinence of the Thusians. He said that in my condemnation of them I had gone even further than he had gone in his Express column, because I had agreed with Sat Maharaj that they should be given a good cut-arse if they continued to harass Hindus with their insults and importunities. (In fact I went further than Sat Maharaj, because Sat’s words did not necessarily imply physical violence).

So I was amused to read in Rajnie Ramlakhan’s column in the Express on Monday her praise of Keith for his forthright stand. Not a word of my forthright stand. Perhaps Rajnie doesn’t read the Independent, or doesn’t read my column. But I think the explanation is slightly more complicated than that. I not only condemned the Thusians, but, while expressing my loathing for all missionaries, defended freedom of speech, and warned against attempts to legislate respect for religion in Equal Opportunity Acts. Neither Sat Maharaj nor Rajnie Ramlakhan seems particularly enthusiastic about freedom of speech (at least outside the Inter-Religious Organisation) and both have called for the Equal Opportunity Bill to be enacted to “protect” Hinduism. They even suggest some kind of amplification of the law against blasphemy, which I consider to be an anachronism in any form. In a nutshell, Maharaj, Ramlakhan and the Thusians all want, in their various ways, freedom from other religions. For which read political domination by their group over all other groups. I want freedom of religion, with freedom from religion as part of it, and freedom of speech to underpin both. Which can only be achieved by wary tolerance, not legislation; but which is the only condition that can bring the reward of progress for everybody.

Anything else condemns this country to be a perpetual battle-ground, a country riven by what is at once the most anachronistic and the most modern cause of conflict, religion. Anachronistic because in many places it has been dominated, if not entirely overcome, by the ethos of twentieth-century liberal capitalism and parliamentary democracy. Anachronistic, because in others, such as the former Belgian colonies in Africa and the ex-Yugoslavia, the lifting of external control has rekindled atavistic hatreds as religiously-defined groups compete for power over limited resources.

In this atmosphere the first thing to go by the board is objectivity, the ability to see the whole picture, to accept both sides of the coin. Sat Maharaj’s limitation of droit de cité to member groups of the IRO is an example of this. So is Rajnie Ramlakhan’s call for the Equal Opportunity law. Any real concern for equality is contradicted by Rajnie’s quotation of Vidia Parmasad’s poem, which, despite its passing obeisance to the “many paths that rivers take on their journey to the sea”, is a call for Hindu domination, expressed in images of fire and steel. Equal Opportunity legislation is obviously acceptable to Sat and Rajnie only if it is administered by governments which they see as the spearheads of that hegemonic process. Such as the present government.

If some people, like Rajnie, are driven by their political agendas to discard balance, others are impelled by their fears to the same behaviour. A few weeks ago I tried to show in a column entitled “Selected Reading” how desperation breeds a lack of detachment that in turn induces a skewed understanding of texts. On February 5 the Express published an editorial which took essentially the same line on the Thusians as my column, though it did not advocate violence. The editorial evoked from a Mr. Theodore Lewis a letter to the Editor in which Mr. Lewis criticised the phrase “Thusians will have only themselves to blame for any hostile reactions their misguided campaign may arouse” as a possible pretext for violence. The proper role for the newspaper, Mr. Lewis says, “is to call for restraint, and to say that violence is not to be tolerated even by those who feel provoked”.

But that is just what the editorial does. A sentence in it which Mr. Lewis did not quote was “...the interest of social harmony is best served when the ignorant fanaticism of a small group is met with intelligence and restraint”. It goes on to warn Mr. Sat Maharaj against over-reaction that might “trigger unforeseen disasters”. Further on it says that “calling for violent resistance is a recipe for disaster”. And all the other points made by Mr. Lewis in his letter – the defence of freedom of speech, the political roots of Maha Sabha militancy – are also to be found in the editorial. Yet all Mr. Lewis sees in it is the violence distantly implied in one sentence.

There is no question but that Trinidad and Tobago society is in a bad way. The daily pictures of screaming, wining blacks chopping one another in never-ending, mindless Carnival fetes must instil despair in the hearts of more than Hindus. To me the militancy of Thusians, Pentecostals and Baptists is only another manifestation of the same tawdry, desperate intellectual squalor. But on the “other” side the picture is no less frightening. Morgan Job points out that the cocaine trade and its associated criminality is almost a Hindu monopoly. The “culture” that Indo-Trinidadians push is as far removed from India as Selwyn Cudjoe is from Senegal. The idea of blacks who constitute fifty percent of an independent country having to be given self-confidence by Emancipation Support Committees and Associations for the Empowerment of African People is pathetic, but so, at bottom, is the invocation of the kind of Hinduism that sees “messages” in milk-drinking murtis. And the other races are insulated from their ignorance and lack of culture only by their money. As Lloyd Best has said, the only future for us lies in accepting ourselves as the centre of the universe, not outposts of a non-existent Africa, India or Europe. We will certainly not achieve salvation by legislating to protect ourselves from one another.

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