When a friend of mine with the last name
of “Khan” told me he is routinely frisked and taken in for questioning
upon entry at JFK in the US, for no other reason than he has a Muslim
name, I thought of the global ripple.
The age of technology has brought with
it the loss of the age of innocence. My grandmother always said a little
knowledge is a dangerous thing. And that’s what we have now. The world
is a mangle of live, crackling criss-crossing wires. All shock and sound
bites. No space for substance. We are all, especially the young and
impressionable, dangerously connected and prone to the many land mines
provided by technology—from porn to terrorism.
Whether or not you meticulously seek out
world news, it is now part of our collective subconscious. Take the
Middle East: The wars came at us like 3D computer generated effects of
sci-fi blockbusters. States in turmoil—Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Israel
and its occupied territories, have whipped passed us like flying
saucers. In them we have seen piles of corpses, battered cities,
refugees, terrorists, freedom fighters, invaders, the UN, beheaded
journalists. We have seen Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy and most
populous country, battered by the militant Islamist movement, Boko Haram.
Even Germany’s bombastic economy seems
to be faltering. That’s just the man-made stuff. As a journalist or
human being, it is impossible not to be affected by the pleading of the
wife of British hostage, aid worker Allan Henning to the Islamic State
of Iraq to please, please, spare her husband’s life. Her language is
conciliatory, placatory and careful; a woman walking on wafer thin ice.
Barbara Henning is painfully aware that
Isis has already murdered two Americans, James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
The videos are ostensibly produced by
Isis as a warning to the US to stop air strikes against the group in
Iraq. Barbara Henning implored the militant group to “open their hearts
She appealed to them, not as a desperate
Westerner bewildered by their barbaric acts but as a friend of Islam,
reminding them gently that a Sharia court had found her husband innocent
of being a spy.
What’s this got to do with us?
Everything. We are all connected (In one of the beheadings it was
rumoured that a Trinidadian accent was heard for a start). It’s time we
acknowledge a few things, take stock. We don’t want to be caught with
our pants down.
Like Iraq, like Libya, we are an
oil-rich State. What happened to those States? Their institutions were
weak, the rule of law broke down, and citizens had no faith in the
police, the armed forces or the courts. Certain sections of the
population felt they didn’t have equal opportunities. The State favoured
certain factions—at times Shia, at others Sunni, leading to the
disenfranchisement of pockets of society.
The lost souls surfaced. In this void,
young men with no hope were the easy prey of Islamic extremists and
militants who gave them guns, ammunition, bombs, power over those weaker
than themselves. Finally, they had a reason to live, and die. With the
mentality of children on a violent video game they literally blasted the
innards of these societies.
They felt better. Thousands suffered.
Countries collapsed. In this weakened space extremist organisations like
the Isis thrived. No, no, you say, we are not like that? We know that
Iraq is an extreme case. That Libya is an extreme case. That Isis is an
extreme case. But let’s examine what we are sprouting. The US Department
of States Crime and Safety Report 2014 has warned diplomats and visitors
that crime in T&T has deteriorated to a “critical” level and is a
“principal threat to visitors,” with a rising murder rate—405 murders in
We have (a) an alarming murder rate (b)
a tiny spike in Islamic extremism imported from and exported to
Pakistani madrasses— that’s all we need, a small spike can be deadly (c)
weakened institutions (d) loss of confidence in the police (e) certain
factions feel disenfranchised not over religion but over access to
political and economic power.
Still in the big picture, there is a lot
that’s right with our world. Unlike parts of Europe, we have no extreme
right wing parties. Unlike places like Greece, our protests are
peaceful. Unlike Pakistan, our women and girls are thriving in our
education system and not short of career opportunities.
Our politicians are careful to be
inclusive of our multicultural society, careful not to incite ethnic
hatred. Our people aren’t unruly yet. But that could be because the oil
is still flowing. Let’s get back to our streets. Now we are embarrassed
because the US government is pointing out that murders day after day is
not the norm. They are warning visitors against coming to our country.
We are living in a State with a sign that says, “Enter at your own
risk.” Our state witnesses are intimidated, murdered or simply
disappear. We need to watch our young boys, protect our state witnesses,
keep a close eye on terrorism, strengthen our institutions, spend more
on health and education, and let people know straight up what could
happen if the oil runs out.
We are connected to a crumbling world.
We have to prepare to walk on thin ice.