Prepare to Walk on Thin Ice

 

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Category: International 28 Sep 14

 

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. Both journalists.

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 and minds.”

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 2013.

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. 

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur