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Raffique Shah


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Victim of Zealots

By Raffique Shah
September 29, 2013

Really, it's a messed-up, mixed-up world in which someone like young Ravindra Ramrattan falls victim to indescribable madness, to savagery clothed in religion. Even as I ponder the enormous possibilities that were terminated in murderous gunfire in far-off Kenya, I take comfort in my agnosticism that has kept me aloof of the zealots of one religion or other, and my revolutionary spirit that soars above the ideologues who manufacture and manipulate madmen for whom no life is precious, not even their own.

Put bluntly, ah vex, ah damn vex. Young Ravi did not deserve to die the way he did. The savages who stormed that mall with death and destruction on their warped minds will never understand how much they have hurt not just Ravi's family and friends, but humanity—and I make this bold assertion without reservation.

Before the tragic events and news that a Trinidadian scholar had died in the mayhem, I had no idea who Ravi was. I will have noted his achievements back in 2002, another academic notch for my alma mater, Presentation College, Chaguanas, but nothing more. Usually, you next hear of scholarship winners like him when they complete post-grad studies and move into top corporate positions, commanding six-digit salaries and aiming for the stars, meaning mucho dollars.

From all I have read following his death, Ravi was very different. On the academic side, he seemed to have been pure genius: a first degree at Cambridge, a second at Oxford, and another at the London School of Economics. It doesn't get better than that—except that in his case it did.

He chose to apply his genius not to acquiring personal wealth, but to alleviating poverty in parts of Africa where tens of millions of people are condemned to living their lives in persistent poverty. Oh, it's a common denominator in most developing and semi-developed regions of the world—Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and even parts of North America and Europe. So Ravi could have returned home or closer to home to try to develop economic and monetary policies that might help break this vicious cycle.

Instead, he chose East Africa, where, based on what his friends there wrote, he was comfortable working and living. In so many ways, his was a unique choice. Such selflessness was commonplace in the halcyon days of the 1960s and 1970s when many people of my generation pursued altruistic goals by dedicating their lives to the upliftment of the less fortunate in their own countries and the oppressed in faraway lands.

Materialism soon put paid to that altruism, and I thought it had died when we matured and faced reality—children, families, bills. However, it seems to have survived in the heads and hearts of a few brilliant young people, Ravi being one. What is more remarkable in this case is that his family does not appear to be wealthy, a luxury that would have better allowed him to pursue noble but financially unrewarding goals. So he did what he chose to do out of caring for humanity—only to be cut down in his prime by sub-human slime.

Reports are that the group that has claimed responsibility for that act or terror is a Sudanese arm of Al Qaeda that goes by the name of Al Shabab. It was supposedly a reprisal attack for Kenya's military intervention in Sudan (as part of a larger African Union force). If so, why did they not attack a military installation? They didn't because they are cowards, and by some warped thinking, they see civilians, and in this case foreigners, as fair game.

How can that ever be right? Yet, it has become the norm in this bitter war between extreme Islamists and their enemies, imagined or real. The ironic thing is that the West and Western values that they wage war against are what created them.

By now most people know the story: America, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia worked together from 1979 to finance, promote and arm Islamic fundamentalists in the lawless Pakistan-Afghanistan border territories. Initially, the Mujahadin fought against a leftist government in Kabul. Then the Soviet Union entered the fray and the West upped the ante, providing the Islamists with more sophisticated weapons and military training.

Afterwards, the Taliban and Al Qaeda expanded exponentially, spreading Islamism (as distinct from Islam) with horrendous savagery. While their notoriety stinks, they are not the only zealots who have committed atrocities in the name of religion. Just about every denomination has had its savages, from Christian crusaders of medieval times to murderous Milosevic of yesterday. Hindu fanatics routinely attack their lower caste brethren and Muslims. Now, even Buddhists in Mynamar are burning and killing.

Poor Ravi was “collateral damage” in this unholy war that has no borders. That angers me.

(This one is for Valdez—Brigadier Joseph Theodore—an outstanding military commander I had the honour to work with. He was firm but fair. He stood by his troops and served his country well.)

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