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Raffique Shah


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Stoking the fires of racial discord

By Raffique Shah
Apr 23, 2019

As I watched the mayhem unfold across Sri Lanka last Sunday, the death toll from multiple bombings at churches and hotels mounting from the initial count of 160 as some of the severely injured succumbed to their injuries, I thought of how fortunate we in Trinidad and Tobago have been thus far. More than that, I wondered if the purveyors of divisiveness, those who routinely stoke the fires of racial, religious and political discord in this otherwise harmonious society, realise the dangers to which they expose us all.

We have long established that for all the liberties we enjoy, the fete mentality that allows us to "jam and wine" our way out of crises that would trigger implosions elsewhere in the world, we cannot escape the fact that ours has become a very violent society. Or put more succinctly, there some very violent beasts-in-human-form in the country whose feral instincts are so base, they would think nothing of unleashing the kind of bloodshed we see only on the news and movies channels on television.

All it will take is one madman to go on a rampage against perceived tribal enemies identified by some irresponsible leader, and in a blink a conflagration erupts that could consume us all since the combatants would be identified only by texture of hair or colour of skin.

I'm painting this grim picture not to frighten the population, but to warn people about dangers that lurk in the venomous vitriol that is spewed by supposedly influential persons with a recklessness that betrays the heights of irresponsibility. It's as if, in the midst of a crime-spree and a breakdown of law and order, they are inviting open rebellion, damn the consequences.

In this scenario, Sat Maharaj is not the sole offender, but he is the most visible and vocal. His denigration of Tobagonians, especially men from the sister isle, was tame by comparison with other loaded messages transmitted from political platforms, especially the unregulated social media where misinformation and disinformation abound.

A few months ago I wrote a column in which I accused some prominent Tobagonians of living off subsidies and wanton freeness from Trinidad. I was so fed up of these politicians and captains of commerce complaining about the frequent breakdowns of both sea- and air-bridges, about how they were starving for food and services, I advised the central government to hurry up and give them full autonomy, a golden handshake and a fair share of revenues from any oil and gas resources that may technically be in "their" waters.

Then, leave them to swim or sink-with no lifeline in Port of Spain: let them handle their own ferries and stories.

Of course, my language was not as coarse as Sat's, nor can anyone accuse me of being racial, far worse a racist. In contrast, Sat reeks of racism. Even so, his offensive comments on his radio station, Jaagriti, might have gone unnoticed had the Prime Minister not made an issue of them. Who tunes in to that station anyway? Even among Hindus, only a handful. Most Indians (and a surprising number on non-Indians!) watch Zee TV, mostly for the soap operas.

PM Dr Keith Rowley should have long learned that Sat thrives on being outrageous, on making remarks that will propel him into a fight that, in turn, will bring him into the spotlight. He will not apologise for his utterances-more media exposure. And he will play the politicians, both Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Rowley, like putty in his hands.

A few months ago, he threatened to withdraw "the Hindu vote" from Kamla's UNC. Sat does not control "the Hindu" or any other vote. Based on his electoral record, I suspect some members of his household did not vote for him when he ran. Regarding his suggestion that Tobagonian men rape white female tourists, he had to be joking. Sure there are rapists in Tobago. But are they proportionally more than the sadists in India who gang-rape their own women, and maim and murder large numbers of victims? Hardly a day passes that we don't read about, or see on television news, reports of the savaging of women in India-and Pakistan, Bangladesh, several countries in Africa and elsewhere in the world.

Rape is one of the commonest crimes in the world. It cuts across race and religious boundaries here in T&T, as it does in developed countries.

Laziness, too,, is a universal trait: Sat cannot tell me that somewhere, sometime in his life, someone, maybe his mother or wife, did not brand him "korhee". I agree, though, that there should be a national campaign to eradicate laziness, to improve productivity across the entire country, regardless of the workers' race. I have long argued if we ramp up productivity to, say, 75 percent of our potential, our economy will magically improve-far in excess of the meagre one percent Finance Minister Colm Imbert crows about.

I make these observations because I know when Sat responds, he will ask those who condemn him whether or not his charges were unfounded. In fact, Watson Duke who has commandeered the Tobago pulpit, claiming to represent the views of most Tobagonians, makes Sat look like a saint, such is the volume of manure that emanates from his mouth. And even his bombast pales by comparison with the island's female MPs, one of whom plunged into the latrine pit of politics when she told a tall story about Rowley's antecedents, another advising Tobagonians how to purge Trinidadians when they dare set foot on the sister isle.

I don't know if these people don't think before they speak, if they don't recognise the dangerous seeds of discord they sow, or if they just don't care about the consequences of their reckless rhetoric.

Jah, Jesus, Hanuman, help us.

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