An Easter Meditation On Crime And Social Change
Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2006
By Linda E. Edwards
"Be careful of the stuff on which your mind and spirit feed."
"Idle minds are the devil's workshop."
There was a news item today, Saturday, April 15th, that sent chills through me. It was on the scale of the Sean Luke murder, but it occurred in an American city.
A man, her neighbor, was arrested in the disappearance of a ten year old girl. Her mutilated body was found in his apartment, as well as barbecuing tools and a hacksaw. Apparently he had cut off pieces of her and eaten them. The man was twenty-seven years old. Both are of European ancestry. I put this last fact down to say that race is most often not a factor in barbaric behaviour; opportunity is. He wanted to kidnap, murder and cannibalize, and she was nearby. Yet, many in Trinidad and Tobago raise the dust cloud of race rather than deal with the issues of brutality and rampant barbaric behaviour, especially in the young.
The apartment complex where the girl died did not look run-down to me. It did not look like a drug hangout for coke-heads. There were no "welfare mamas" walking multiple babies while not working; a false picture of African Americans that the American media likes to depict.
There were no hordes of illegal immigrants of whatever hue living there. The crowd gathered in response to this new horror, were all of European ancestry. The little girl was a chubby blonde child with a smiling face. Details are sketchy. An amber alert had been issued, and the body found soon after.
For six days now, Equi-search of Texas has combed an area east of Houston, looking for a three year old boy last seen with his father, with whom he did not live. He is believed to be dead, and his father is in custody. When the child disappeared, the father had made a call on his cell phone from the wooded, swampy area where the search is being conducted. It is infested with alligators.
Children are in danger all over the world, but the most horrid situations seem to be arising in the US and Trinidad, its little satellite to the south. Both countries share a love of mayhem and chaos as entertainment. The bloodier the murder scenes in a movie or video, the higher the ratings. Others, as well as myself, have written reams about the impact of violence in entertainment on children. Each time, there seems to appear an article arguing the opposite view, probably by a paid hack of the entertainment business.
So here is a simple test any parent can perform. Use granny's blood pressure monitor if you have one in the house, or simply hold the child's wrist for a few seconds until he is calm, and take his pulse. Then expose him to either a violent movie, or cartoon. Then take his blood pressure again. Pressure will be up, blood pumping, and he is primed to act out the violent scenes he just saw. Let something annoy him, some simple thing like you coming into the room and turning the set off. He will most probably shout, yell, kick and scream at the top of his lungs. If you deliberately keep him from going back to the TV set, but you let another child go to it, he is likely to attack that child either through loud talking or physical violence. This is learned behaviour from his favorite playmate, the TV set. Neither the blood pressure nor the verbal/physical violence would have gone up if he was reading a book. He may have been angry about a book being taken away, but the way he acts out the response would be quite different. A small child's brain is a sponge, soaking up and storing images and vicarious experiences for later, in the same way young predatory animals learn to hunt and young ducks learn to swim. When we feed children a diet of violence, we are asking for it, as a family; as a society. The Gods of Entertainment and Mayhem are kind. They give us what we ask for. It's only a movie. It's only the lyrics of a song. Really?
You can tell a lot about me by the fact that my favourite movies of all times are The Sound of Music, Gandhi, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Not a child I have taught in the last sixteen years have seen them or heard of them or would want to see them. Not enough blood. Not enough people screaming at each other, too much love and laughter. Soppy stuff. They want graves opening and pulling people in, headless men walking, or they will create their own.
In Britain, a rapper is being tried for three murders. (Was he listening to his own lyrics, or were these practice sessions for further lyrics?) No other branch of the entertainment business, except perhaps ice hockey, is so violent; but our Trini children are not fans of Wayne Gretsky and his ilk, but of violent music that calls women all the offensive names in the book, as if these rappers were born of men alone. Of course not every rapper produces violent music, but those who do drown out the sober voices. In Britain too, people are moving to avoid crime, but they are not leaving their country, not applying for refugee status somewhere else, just relocating to another neighbourhood away from abject poverty. I guess they know "there'll always be an England."
In the aftermath of the Sean Luke murder, some Islamic people were calling for Sharia Law in Trinidad, as a deterrent to crime. Now read this.
I spent two weeks in Saudi Arabia in May-June of 2004, as an educator trying to understand another culture. It's a beautiful, fabulously wealthy place, where Sharia Law is in effect. Across the top of my visa document was written this statement, in red: "The penalty for drug use in the Kingdom is death." Know before you go is a good policy, I think. It did not frighten me. All my prescriptions are in my name and I travel with copies of them as part of my travel documents. I became fond of reading Arabnews, the English Language paper of the Kingdom, published to meet the needs of the tremendous number of expatriates living there. (www.arabnews.com)
Today's front page, Sunday, 16th April, had this story about a nine year old Makkan (Mecca) girl who was murdered.
This is the gist of it. Her mother, with the aid of her parents, had divorced her father while pregnant with the girl, due to his abusive behaviour. They had to return her dowry to get the divorce. The wife returned to her family who helped her raise the child. When she was seven years old, Islamic Law, Sharia Law, required that she be handed over to her father to be raised by him. That is when the pattern of abuse that led to her death began. He and his new wife tortured her to death. They starved her, beat her, and when she was found dead, she had broken ribs, front teeth knocked out, bruises all over her little body and had choked on her own blood. Both the father and the step-mother admitted to torturing the nine-year old.
The mother had tried to contact social services, and the police, but the father refused to let them into the house. So, the child had walked from an apparently loving home with her mother and grandparents, into a chamber of horrors and death.
King Abdullah, whose fault this is not, is the Custodian of The Holy Places of Makkah and Medinah, sacred to all Muslims. Millions go to Makkah each year to make the Hadj. None of that could have saved this child, living in what is easily the holiest city to one fifth of the world's people, and the richest country in the Middle East. The mother has written to King Abdullah asking for the death penalty, which of course will be by beheading. But her child is dead for all time.
Yet Islamists in Trinidad see Sharia Law as a solution to the crime problem.
A people in crisis turn everywhere in search of instant solutions as if the problem of too much money and too little mental stimulation, to great a gap between the haves and the have nots, began last night. It has been more than thirty years in the making. We saw it coming, but like President Bush and Global Warming, we are in denial. We are reluctant to believe that our behaviour as a society contributes greatly to the problem of crime, nihilism, a death of family values, and the intellectual pap grown people feed their spirits on. In that same Arabnews paper, another headline on the front page said that all orphans in the Kingdom are guaranteed a college education, by the King's decree.
Now, what if such a promise was made by the government of Trinidad and Tobago? There will probably be stunned outrage from many quarters.
"Jes because he mudder and father dead, he go benefit, and not we?" "Orphan wey, he parents and them skip town a long time. I hear dey in Canada". "Dat is jes a election ploy to suck up to dem drug dealers and gangsters in Laventille, who forever tryin to killout each other. Is a CEPEP for kids. They doh even have to cram for it." "And when de money done, what next?"
Few will salute it as an exemplary program to help the neediest in the country, the parentless. Now, if a child knew that he was guaranteed a college education if he qualified, and college education still mattered in the society, do you suppose he might study to qualify? What if he was supported by counselors, educational diagnosticians, reading specialists and other professionals who were determined that he would succeed, the way a parent would if they knew how, do you suppose he would thrive?
The debate in Parliament will be no loftier, alas; because we have not cultivated a sense of charity, which in all religions translates as "Love One Another". In the Christian Church we add "As I have Loved You". Loved enough to make the ultimate sacrifice, to be nailed on a cross, and die, even after anticipating and fearing the agony so much that in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed that the cup would be taken from him, but in the end, he walked to his fate, and gave us hope.
Now, what are we doing with that hope twenty centuries later? Running around like chickens with their heads cut off? I think not, but our efforts may seem directionless, because there still is the tendency to blame crime on the present political directorate.
What is each individual's responsibility towards crime in the society? What do we do about neglected and abused children? About wife beating? About giving short measure - a few pebbles thrown into the rice and dried peas sold in bulk go a long way, meat in the market, thrown hard onto the scales would make them vibrate towards the correct weight for a few seconds. About price gouging, about work contracted for, partially paid for, but never completed? What of the oil companies who draw down on our national treasury for humongous profit? Are they doing their share to help develop the society, or are they simply furthering their profits in a colony of exploitation?
Fifty years ago, corporations invested differently in poor countries. The Augustus Long Hospital at Point-a-Pierre and the Amoco School are testimonies to that. Is it all about windfall profits now? How many of them are training a Trinbago national to take the place of the expat in the technological field? (Forget that nonsense about not finding qualified people). TELCO, now defunct, had technical transfer training as a bright feather in its cap, despite corruption. I am also particularly concerned about those who come in without their wives. Where are their sexual energies being spent, on other people's wives? Or on young girls whom they will never marry, but keep passing from one to the other until they become stale looking whores hanging out at a bar in St. James and copulating in parks in Woodbrook? Are we turning a bemused eye while Venezuelan and Columbian women are imported in to this "Public sector service area"? I have a friend whose parents live in the village Shell built in Point Fortin. Every time she comes home she talks of the new values of that village. It's another Jean and Dina situation; one Arima went through when the American base was at Fort Read. Has the need for sex with young girls irreparably corrupted our secondary schools? What messages are observant children getting, when they are seeing the same things on TV and can now download these images to their cell phones, along with violent lyrics?
We really need to look again at the stuff on which our minds and spirits feed, and know that our children are imitating us; watching us. They learn to navigate the world of adults, by absorbing the world they see around them. We need a series of national conversations about where we are going, that are not about the next election, but a soul searching attempt to redefine the values we will attempt to inculcate in the society to turn the downward spiral of violence around.
Never before has the term "tomorrow's adults are being raised today" been so scary. They are apparently being raised without the component that makes us truly human. That component is called compassion.
This is a frightening thought, on which to end an Easter Meditation, but that is how it is.
Linda E. Edwards
April 16, 2006
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