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Going overboard abroad
What should have been an historic moment of national pride was instead another season of bacchanal and contempt. And it’s a shame on so many levels. Two weeks ago, T&T celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence. It should have been a year-long celebration and perhaps it was, officially. But, among the people, it was really just a shame.
Banners “dipped in curry,” “desecration” of the national flag and “corruption” of the national colours took the place of saying something, anything patriotic. Some people, and one opposition-aligned Facebook group in particular, pissed on any and everything that attempted to invoke a sense of belonging and patriotism in everyone. While masquerading as critical thinkers advocating for a “revolution of the mind,” the group and its 6,000 subscribers not only shamed themselves but also robbed others of an opportunity at feeling happy about being Trini.
We all have to be responsible with what we say. Certain privileges, political or intrinsic, make us believe that such a right to freedom of expression in unconditional. It is not. Parliament privilege protects the people inside parliament chambers from litigation. They can say whatever they want. In a T&T politician’s career, he or she can easily make hundreds of unfounded accusations with impunity. This is why the Parliament Channel makes for surprisingly enjoyable viewing.
Beyond our shores, a US ambassador was murdered in an apparent 9/11 anniversary terrorist attack. The tragedy occurred in the midst of massive, days-long riots outside the US Embassy in Libya over something utterly unrelated: an Internet movie.
One CBS reporter said “amateur” would be a “generous description” of the little Internet flick. The movie depicts Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, buffoon, womaniser and madman “in an overtly ridiculing way, showing him having sex and calling for massacres,” according to ABC News.
The number of people who saw the movie prior to September 8, 2012, could probably fill a Mini Cooper. A TV personality in Egypt found the movie on YouTube and played it on air for the single purpose of increasing his ratings. And the inconspicuous film took on mammoth proportions.
It was not a responsible exercise of freedom of expression by anyone involved. Its consequences mushroomed far bigger than any other Internet flick could. And the indignation of those associated with the film, many of whom are fundamentalist Christians (they said they had “no blood on their hands”), show that sometimes we don’t know the power of our “inalienable” rights.
Like another publicity-hungry TV personality in T&T, people say and do stupid things all in the name of power and greed. A small, uneducated mind won’t always know the consequences of his actions. Similarly, the political Facebook group mentioned above, whether intentionally or not, has perpetrated prejudice against not merely the other political parties but also the people who support them which, incidentally, are of another ethnicity to the group’s owner.
I’m sure the owner would reject any notion that his group’s work is frivolous; its latest slogan calls for “a revolution of the mind.” But what such mindful revolution could be evoked by statements such as “Volney...The Anointed Goat,” or “Anand, you are a fool!” or “Jack ‘Ask Yuh Mudder’ Warner.”
Dipped in curry
This group has been receiving increasing attention not only on the social media site but also on the local media. And for what? Recently, photos of T&T independence paraphernalia and buntings that the group, in its utter naivete, construes as “blasphemous” or a “desecration.” Gold trim on banners for a country’s golden anniversary is a UNC thing, Indianising the population and dipping the national colours in “curry,” as the page’s fans said. Instead of trying to build the country with something constructive, the group made a mockery of every government effort at instilling national pride.
Today, more people in T&T have achieved university education than ever before, ostensibly producing a critical-thinking population. Communication technologies from broadband access to YouTube skills have become so widespread that nothing is missed, not even an unimportant speech by an ambassador or a minister taking a breathalyser test.
But the former really hasn’t come to pass and the latter is used irresponsibly. When the two come together, as they do every day in this and other online and face-to-face groups, the result is much ado about nothing, plenty people getting vex, a heightened sense of racism and vile, bigoted commentary masquerading as intelligent thought. All of our collective education and access to technology has brought about little beyond making fun of others and increasing the perception of racism.
Politics is no trivial matter. Nation-building is no trivial matter. Many of us missed out a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at feeling some real national pride. Let’s hope in 50 years we learn how to filter out the noise.
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