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Moving Backward Into Slavery

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
October 19, 2011

Addressing the 15th Divali Celebration organized by the United National Congress Siparia Women's Association last Friday, the Hon. Prime Minister offered the following remarks to her followers: "I thank you for your support, for your prayers and the adjustments you have made to your lifestyles during this period of the State of Emergency [SOE]."

"That demonstrates to me much more what it means to be put nation first and self thereafter, if reflects a maturing of the national mind towards unity and national will..." (Newsday, October 17, 2011).

Many silly things have been said about SOE but the above statement beats them all. How can the abridgement of our civil liberties, something we have fought for over the last two hundred years and something we should be fighting to expand, be seen as an example of the maturing of the national mind? It might be that since the East Indians arrived on these shores fully fifty years after the initial struggle for civil rights and freedom commenced that it is difficult for them to imagine how painful it is to see those fundamental rights melt away before our eye and then call it "a maturing of the national mind towards unity and national will."

What in heaven's name can this mean?

It is significant that the PM made her remarks in Siparia since few persons, if any, from Siparia have been held under the SOE and hardly any Indian women have felt the wrath of the SOE which leaves me to wonder if any of those women really understand what a state of emergence entails. I am also tempted to ask what sacrifices UNC Siparians have make the SOE effective and how do these sacrifices, to the degree they have been made, qualify as a major leap "towards sacrificing [to build] a better nation."

It might even be an interesting question to pose to Stern John, a national soccer player, who was held just after 11 p.m. within a compound surrounded by concrete walls which created some logistical problems for the junior police officers. "Should we lock him up or not," they queried? They locked him up anyway in the name of national unity and the maturing of the national mind.

Although the PM is a lawyer and is surrounded by other lawyers-the AG selected six of the most high-powered lawyers to guide them through this fiasco-she has little conception of what freedom entails, how civil societies work, and what constitutes democratic freedoms. Using a state of emergency to solve a crime problem which should have yielded to better policing is a blot on the nation. Even Hilary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, is demanding that Egypt lift its state of emergency so that people can begin to enjoy their civil liberties.

But knowledge is one thing, know how another. The acquisition of legal skills is an important accomplishment, but an understanding of the philosophical basis upon which a citizen's freedom is based is the product of a much more caviling instinct. It does not come by a process of osmosis. Serious scholars of political science know that the development of the human personality and a respect for people's inalienable rights lie at the heart of all democratic communities.

These are concepts that those who have not drunken deep from the cup of human wisdom rarely understand. And youthful enthusiasm does not always help us better to appreciate these concepts.

It is not for nothing that Dr. Martin Luther King's bust was unveiled on the Washington Mall this weekend, the feature speech being given by President Barack Obama who recognized what Dr. King had done and what he means to the United States and the world. Dr. King learned much from Mahatma Gandhi about the power of redemptive love. He also learned from Gandhi that there are just laws and unjust laws; man made laws and natural laws, a distinction that any potential revolutionary must understand and be prepared to act upon. It is their response to and an understanding of these differences that made them great men.

There is no point in talking about the maturity of the national mind if one does not understand the fundamental basis upon which democratic society is built and the danger of pursing policies that are meant to divide a nation on the basis of race, religion and culture. C. L. James was correct when he reminded us that "historical tradition [and] education in the sense of grappling with the national past" has been sadly lacking in our societies.

Perhaps our PM should re-read James's The Black Jacobins and the titanic feats of heroism Black people performed during the Haitian Revolution to ensure their liberation. Toussaint, the leader of that revolution, feeling a deep and passionate sympathy for his people, always said "it is always the blacks who suffer most" in any system that was been based on the enslavement of African people. The Haitian people sealed their liberation with their blood. Even today they continue to shed their blood to obtain their freedom.

I am sure that the people of Siparia have had their share of suffering. Yet, they cannot know what black people in the New World endured to be where we are today. Words, such as "the maturing of a people," may possess a rhetorical flourish that make the PM feel she saying something profound but they are empty words. In spite of her histrionics, the PM and her cohorts do not really overstand that black peoples' freedom is cemented in a pact they made with their blood. This is why we look back upon our achievements with so much pride and venerate the achievements of Toussaint, Dessalines and Christophe.

A maturing people understand that a respect of a people's constitutional right is a supreme value. Anything other than this is stuff and nonsense that should be sho-shoed away in the wind and allowed to die an ignoble death.

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