Watch those red flags


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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 06 Jan 00

“1999 turned out to be the most murderous year in the second half of the most murderous century. Rarely has a century ended in such a terrible fashion.”

The Guardian Weekly


It is said that it was once official British foreign policy to view Trinidad, and to a lesser extent Tobago, as a cultural experiment in the New World. Let’s throw all these people together and see what happens. They soon forgot about it but it worked. All of humanity is here.


We were forced to be mimic men and women since 1498.  But what to mimic? By the time the British colonised us in 1797 we were already confused. For 300 years we had been a Spanish controlled provision port for El Dorado, following Spanish law. African slaves were working in cotton, cocoa, sugar plantations run by French royalist settlers. Add to this concoction indentured East Indians, Chinese and Portuguese labourers, Syrian merchants, a handful of surviving Amerindians, and a tiny band of Jews who had escaped the holocaust. Now we’ve got the new breed of colonisers, the investors of energy and property from America and Europe. But if they’re able to outwit us, they deserve to stay. Because the identity of the majority of the imported population was wiped out, our various languages erased in exchange for a missionary education, (and we know that language is the key to all cultures in a real way) we had a clean slate with which to mimic them.


The uprooted peoples of four continents summoned only the surface memory of their original cultures, of food, song and dance, and added it to the pool of our fledgling and still mutating identity, while remaining untouched by the atavistic religious and ethnic hatreds of their original homeland.


In this experiment, races continued to procreate amongst themselves, but there was also intermarriage, and permutations of all races and religions of the world emerged and we had ourselves another proud breed, that of a “true true” Trini. A single name here can be Hindu, Christian and Muslim. A single face can reflect four continents in its features. We may have had a “Black power” uprising in the ‘70s which was necessary to shake up an unfair status quo, and a traumatic but failed coup attempt which ultimately conformed our overwhelming commitment to democracy and the rule of law.


In this election year, the six ‘marginal’ seats, which will determine the sway of power between the two ethnic based parties will, as always, have nothing to do with issues: the provision of basics - jobs, water and housing, controlling runaway AIDS, crime, corruption at high levels, drug trafficking, or attempting to close the widening gap between the swelling numbers of those who live beneath the poverty level, and the elite whose income can feed and house whole villages.


The stakes have risen. And although we believe God is a Trinidadian, an aborted coup did take place here. The voices of the fundamentalists Hindu, Muslim and Christian, African and East Indian are already rising with evangelic zeal, carrying with them the weakest and poorest, the forgotten people who have nothing to lose, and will grasp at any phantom of hope that will take them away from the squalor of

their lives.


We may yet be ‘one lovely nation’ but watch those red flags whipping around in our faces, at home and in the continents from where we have sprung.


The Guardian Weekly has called last century the age of barbarism, and used the following examples to prove it:


In Eritrea and Ethiopia, 50,000 people were killed in the trench warfare.

In Angola, egged on by Jonas Savimbi who openly defies the elected government and the UN, 800,000, (and still counting) were butchered in the past 25 years.

In Sri Lanka the Tamil Tigers have killed hundreds of government troops in their fight for independence.

In East Timor, Indonesian troops and their armed militias have unleashed “a fury of ethic murder.”

In India and Pakistan, Asia’s two newest nuclear powers are perennially poised to strike one another over Kashmir, the latest manifestation of it being the hijacking of an Indian aircraft.

Ethnic cleansing, the shocking butchery of entire villages in Bosnia, was committed on an unimaginable scale. We have witnessed two world wars and a holocaust of systematic murder of six million Jews.


There is more, much more, and it is easy for us to be splattered by this mass spillage of blood in the name of land, religion and race.


It is easy for us, given our demographics of the voting divide between Africans and Indians, to deteriorate into Fiji, what was Guyana, and then worse, but we haven’t succumbed to that. Yet.


Out of the ashes of colonialism, slavery and loss of home and language, out of a randomly mangled people of many continents, rose the phoenix that is this country which makes it among the biggest success stories in the world today. To keep it that way we must, as a people, reclaim our collective power, inject issues into our politics, so that the system works for us rather than the few we put up there in exchange for empty promises. In this election year we must be on red hot alert. Vigilant. Prevent ourselves being used by race and religion so the powerhungry can gain power for power’s sake.


Watch those red flags creating pools of blood in our shut eyes. Heed their warning. This experiment must not fail.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur