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Raffique Shah


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Ebola: panic paralyses nation

By Raffique Shah
October 26, 2014

President Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona, to give the man his full handle as Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar never tires of doing, is convinced that my fellow columnists and I are "bulldogs in a ring", uncouth, devoid of intellect, stuck in the "same ole, same ole" mode, and engaged in self-aggrandisement and worse.

Tom, if I may immediately exercise my lack of couth by invoking a familiarity common among canines, warned graduating university students to never in their professional lives descend into wasteland that commentators like me inhabit. Be the "gush of fresh breeze", he implored the youngsters, as he summarily dismissed us, dinosaurs all, who are not deserving of the hereafter, far less the here.

Whew! What a tongue-lashing! Tom is a very angry man who has determined that media commentators are at the root of a societal decay that has enveloped Trinidad and Tobago, stifling progress, inducing rot.

I refuse to believe that his venom towards scribes, if not Pharisees, erupted following a fight he jumped into with radio host and comedienne Rachel Price. Since I hardly listen to radio—I tune in only to a few newscasts and occasionally sports coverage—I do not know what Price said that offended the President.

I gather it's something to do with Mrs Carmona's attire at a recent function at the United Nations in New York. I saw the photograph in newspapers, and I thought she was somewhat under-dressed for such occasion. But who am I to comment? I live comfortably in shorts, bareback, slipping on a T-shirt or polo only when I have visitors. So both my belly and button are on permanent display in the confines of my shamba.

When the brouhaha between the President and Price became a public issue, it occurred to me that Tom was engaging in a fight he did not need, one that is much like mud-wrestling. Win or lose, he will emerge with slime on his thin skin.

I should add that from the little radio I listen to, I am unimpressed by the levels of discourse, if talk shows can be so categorised, and absolutely disgusted with what passes for music. So I simply switch off. If I'm not listening to CDs of my choice, I tune in to YouTube where there is an almost inexhaustible compilation of world music to suit any mode or mood.

Back to the President's frontal attack on columnists and commentators: of course he has the right to disagree with all of us, and to pronounce that we produce "tatah" week after week. A writer's opinion is a very subjective expression. I have repeatedly stated in my space that I expect readers to disagree with me, to criticise me. I hardly ever respond to criticisms, even when I feel they are not justified or they are based on falsehoods.

So the President is entitled to brand us as "bulldogs", although if I were in his position I would use the more demeaning "pothounds" or "mongrels".

But while he pokes at the motes in our eyes, he is blinded to the beams and cataracts that impair the vision of those who hold the highest offices in the land. Nepotism, corruption, grand theft from the public purse and abuse of office abound, but Tom stays silent. Tamper with the constitution to facilitate their friends or gain unfair advantage in elections—and Tom utters not a word.

The President's powers to remain silent on issues that are of national importance are so powerful, they are deafening. But his powers to attack scribes who are forced into service as the voice of the voiceless are loud, if not reasoned or clear. His mission seems to be to shoot the messengers with heavy, presidential artillery, but dismiss the messages as the ranting of a bunch of grumpy old geezers.

No, Tom, no!

Across the board, we scribes have been kind to you, too kind some might argue. Now you condemn us collectively as the root of all evil in the society. It's just not fair.

You blame us for an absence of intellectual discussion. You did this at the university, the seat of learning in the nation, an institution where politicking overrides reasoning, where the paper chase supersedes learning, where billions of taxpayers' dollars produce, in the main, half-baked professionals who pursue materialism with unmatched passion, a campus where human compassion has no place.

The majority of graduates before whom you cussed us have no sense of history, of belonging, and, I dare add, patriotism. You called for enlightenment in an area of darkness, if I may paraphrase Vidia Naipaul. Few are the lecturers and students who will put country first, and party and self behind.

No, Tom, no!

We scribes, many of us, are indeed old, maybe even tired of trying to pull the nation together as the politicians tear the races apart for their narrow self-interests. But we have a fierce commitment to continue the fight to make this land a better place for everyone, from President to pauper, transient to permanent.

At the very least, sir, show us some respect.

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