I braced myself against the wind, stinging rain on my face,
circumventing puddles on the pavement shiny slick with water, reflecting
the dark on a lone street last Tuesday. I got to my doorstep, shuffled
around for keys, looked down and saw on the pavement written in large
red letters NOT IN MY NAME. I missed the anti-war demonstration but the
protesters left their mark on my doorstep. I let myself in, feeling
shaky and called home. I never thought Trinidad which has surpassed its
murder rate for this time last year and remains the top tenth most
murderous nation worldwide would feel safe.
"Whatís going on?" I said, burrowing inside blankets. I calmed down as
my husband and son talked. There was mutual laughter across the lines at
the absurdity of a Ďwhiteí, snowy Christmas crŤche greeting visitors and
people who were coming home for Christmas at Piarco Airport. A snow
scene is part of a colonial hangover, that perhaps life is elsewhere,
that we didnít have a proper Christmas, with a real tree and fireplace.
We rejected Naipaul for his contempt but here we were, still mimic men
and women. There was nothing menacing about it. Just sad, as it was so
unthinking people. We are a tolerant people, but we donít pride
ourselves on our intellect.
Derek Walcott, who won a Nobel prize with Omeros as an entire paean to
our people and landscape, once declared that we live Ďfrom the waist
down.í We donít particularly pride ourselves on our intellect. We donít
care much for books, theatre or the arts. There is an inner circle of
the intellect that is widening but it is far from being mainstream.
Walcott hit the nail on the head. We live for entertainment. "Whatís
that droning noise" my family asked from Trinidad. "Helicopters," I
replied, "circling London, flying low."
"Trinidad sweet too bad. Gold sunsets. Cool breeze. The northern range
was lush, green. Christmas weather nah." I slept with this image. The
next day, I grabbed an Evening Standard from a newsstand and saw that
two separate security scares sparked the mass evacuation of buildings
close to BBC Broadcasting House and London Bridge station. There were
sniffer dogs about, after a Ďsuspicious packageí was found.
My nerves jangled running down to the tube. People were jittery. In the
tube, two women were wondering how the debate to strike Syria would go.
They hoped that the Conservatives would see that it would feed
fanaticism, create more refugees, kill civilians and mostly, that
bombing hadnít worked in Iraq.
It was better in the park. The trees were shedding their rust gold
leaves, stamping their colour and image on pavements. The women and
thousands of British people who felt like them didnít get their way. A
day later, we saw the worst of politicians under pressure. The British
Prime Minister, David Cameron, refused to apologise for calling his
opponents "terrorist sympathisers." The Opposition Leader, Jeremy Corbyn,
made a feeble call not to go to war.
The moment belonged to Hilary Benn, the Labour "shadow" foreign
secretary, in a speech the UK Guardian described as his "epiphany", a
"Sermon on the Mount" to his labour colleagues. "What we know about
fascists is that they need to be defeated and it is why, as we have
heard tonight, socialists and trade unionists were just one part of the
International Brigade in the 1930s to fight against Franco.
"Itís why this entire house stood up against Hitler and Mussolini. Itís
why our party has always stood up against the denial of human rights and
for justice and my view, Mr Speaker, is that we must now confront this
"It is now time for us to do our bit in Syria and that is why I ask my
colleagues to vote in favour of this motion tonight." MPs voted by 397
to 223 in favour of sending Tornado jets to seek out Isis targets in
Just like that, the British played into the hands of the terrorists.
Within hours, four RAF Tornado jets took off from Cyprus carrying out
the "first offensive operation over Syria." It is grand theatre in the
Palace of Westminster. But this beautiful city is on alert. They say
they can't stand by and do nothing.
But what will air strikes do? Strike at civilians who will be used as
human shields. Create refugees. Breed more fanatics who are willing to
blow themselves up. It was convenient in this grand theatre to forget
that there is little intelligence on the ground, that the targets are
moving, that all it takes is one or two or four Daesh with explosives
strapped to their chests to kill hundreds in any capital.
Itís posturing to strike from the air, harder to do the work on the
ground. Ironically, while Germany has taken over 100,000 refugees, the
UK has a 10,000 quota which it hasnít filled. There have been over 500
cases of harassment of the refugees in Germany. The backlash to the
Muslims has begun. This may feel far from sweet T&T, parang, pastelles
and sorrel. But remember this day.
We are breeding a few fanatics
ourselves. Perhaps we can start at home, by being alert to our own
fascists, showing compassion to our own poor, looking outwards and
seeing ourselves in the context of a shrinking and terrifying new world.