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Nizam’s conspiratorial theories
On January 20, 2011 I wrote an article entitled, “Mother Trinidad and Tobago” in which I strongly rejected the People’s Partnership’s position on multiculturalism. I emphasised that Dr Williams’ cultural policy as enunciated in his “Mother Trinidad and Tobago Speech” seemed a better position from which to base a national cultural policy rather than the nebulous, ill-informed multicultural thrust that the PP adopted. On January 20 I received the following response from Nizam Mohammed:
“Eric Williams and Africans like yourself had this master plan to eliminate the Indian fact from this country, so you all set about to import Africans from the small islands lock, stock and barrel, without a second thought, if some were criminal elements or not, did not care were (sic) they will live, or how they will work or eat, as long as they shored up the African population, and voted for the dominance of all Indians, by forcing this half-baked idea of calypso and pan which, by the way, is not even indigenous to this country, down Indians throats. Well it has backfired, those same people make up the majority of poor in this country (because only poor [people] migrate for better living conditions) and are holding this country to ransom, especially their own African brothers.
“Nine out of every ten crimes committed in this country by an African is against his own kind. You and your kind refused to see, if it was not for Indians, who rent their homes and land to so many of those new arrivals there will be plenty more people living on the streets.” “You sir, continue to stir up this racial hatred, but rest assured, Indians know how to give back as they get, for whatever is dished out.”
I was shocked at the conspiratorial nature of this charge. I was shocked that this thinking was coming from a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, the highest legislative body in our land. He supported multiculturalism and argued that “as human beings, we all have two signatures that follow us around all our lives, our nationality (where we were born or reside, eg Trinidad) and our race (Asian, African, etc.) We can change our nationality every Monday morning, (This is why we are allowed dual-citizenship). A passport today is worth the same as the paper a ship registration is worth, nothing.”
“To prove this point just let the USA open its doors to visa-less entry from here and half of the people will be out of here by Monday morning.”
“But our race. A stranger coming into contact with one of us for the first time does not see a doctor, lawyer, or our religion. What he recognises immediately is our race, so why can’t you?” “Be proud of who you are, and forget statements like ‘There is no Mother India, or Mother Africa’ or ‘Don’t think for one minute you will not have to give up your heritage for Caricom to survive.’ We live in a global village now, so celebrate your heritage.” Nizam’s real problem lies with the context of his statement and his inability to understand that statements can mean only within a given context. When Dr Williams argued there can be no Mother Africa or no Mother India he did not mean that one should be unmindful of one’s original heritage. He meant to argue that people have multiple identities. although each identity comes to the fore depending on the situation.
Nizam fails to understand that one can be an African and Asante (an ethnic group) simultaneously. So that when one looks at an African he may see a black skin; when he looks at an Asante he also sees a black skin. But within that black skin there are at least two identities that have nothing to do with the colour of his skin. The first (his Africanness) has to do with his geography (he is African because he is born in Africa) and he is Asante because of his culture; that is, the particular way in which he organises his life. It is therefore a folly of tremendous proportions to imprison someone in their colour or their race with the bland statement that we should be “proud of who you are and forget statements like ‘There is no more Mother India, or Mother Africa.”
It is precisely because Nizam is trapped irredeemably within his race that he is unable to see that Trinidad and Tobago cannot be only about race and that when see racial imbalances within the society or in any of the professions, we ought to inquire why it is so and how it came to be the way it is.
The real problem comes down to this: should a citizen who is tasked with looking over the fairness within the Public Service be so trapped in his racial identity that he is unable to see beyond that boundary. And should a person so tasked impute derogatory motives to those who are not of his own “race?”
How comfortable are we with an official placed in Nizam’s position who is informed by a philosophy that says “Africans in this country had a master plan to eliminate the Indian fact in the country;” that Africans sought “dominance over Indians;” that calypso and pan “are not even indigenous” to Trinidad and Tobago and that Indians know “how to give back as much as they get, for whatever is being dished out to them.” Nizam’s statement was/is not a casual statement. It is noteworthy that his fellow commissioners let him know that he was/is on his own with that particular brand of thinking. And while I am not included to condemn him, (he is free to say whatever he wants to say) I find it difficult to allow someone with those particular views to be the chairman of one of the most important commissions in the land.
Nizam’s statement demands that all of us, myself included, look at our beliefs and biases and ask how well they conduce to making Trinidad and Tobago a more harmonious and tolerant society in which to live and do such views bastardise our Trinidadian and Tobagonianness even as we take pride in our various heritages. Nizam is more concerned with practicing his Indianness. That is a good thing. However, he should not remain as the chairman of the Public Service Commission.
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