By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 30, 2018
“Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not.” — Jeremiah 5:21
Any party that has any pretensions to be relevant to its people needs to take time out to listen to what they are saying. The recent by-election came and went. The United National Congress won a seat—it increased its margin of victory-and the People’s National Movement (PNM) lost a seat—its margin of victory decreased. One would think the ruling party would examine why it didn’t do as well as it wanted to.
Faris Al Wari, attorney general, accused Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Leader of the Opposition, of playing “a significant amount of politics for the sake of the Barataria election. And that has, in my view, contributed to the outcome.” The Prime Minister accused her of “fear-mongering to create racial and religious strife for political advantage” (Express, July 18).
Nafeesa Mohammed, a Muslim and one-time deputy political leader of PNM, protested “the treatment meted out to them by the government and its self-serving statements.” She warned: “The election results should send a message to Prime Minister Rowley that the party has lost ground in its strongholds because of his insensitivity to the Muslim community and the issues facing the country.…It is easy to point fingers and make statements to suggest that people want to divide this country along race and religion. We voted last night [to say] we pass that” (Express, July 18).
Mohammed voted with her fellow Muslims against the government although she was reluctant to say so. This is significant. Followers of Islam, one of the three major Abrahamic religions—Christianity and Judaism being the other two—have always supported the PNM. It has been a faithful element of PNM from its inception except when its members, with other Indo-Trinbagonians, bolted the party to support the election of Basdeo Panday.
Why didn’t the PNM foresee this revolt by Muslims in the recent election? Given the volatility of the Islamic issue internationally—and the disproportionate presence of Trinidad jihadists in ISIS,-— it is difficult to see how PNM’s political strategists left the government’s treatment/relationship with the Muslims out of the electoral equation.
Xander Causwell wrote in Georgetown Security Studies Review: “Violent Islamist extremism in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) has endured despite improbable odds and ineffectual domestic militant operations. Nonetheless, T&T extremist groups will likely continue supporting foreign jihadist operation until the former are dismantled” (“Islamist Militancy in Trinidad and Tobago,” March 8, 2018).
He continued: “Unless the government of T&T succeeds in eliminating the militant network [of jihadists], the world can expect T&T to remain a latent source of violent Islamic zeal.” He praised the government for “initiating reforms specifically targeting local extremists.” Given this trajectory one can expect more rather than less ideological and propagandistic encounters with the Muslim community.
Our political leaders can learn a lot from industry. When Darren Woods took over the leadership of Exxon from Rex Tillerson, the former U.S. Secretary of State, he realized that his company faced a few challenges. He initiated what he called “engagement, discussion, debate” to tackle those problems. He told the Financial Times: “The way you get the most out of people and the way you get to the best solutions and the best ideas is by engaging in constructive debate with a diversity of opinions and ideas” (July 26).
The solution to the breakdown of relations between the PNM and the Muslim community lies in greater dialogue between these two communities. Each party ought to listen more carefully to what the other is saying and recognize the challenges that each party faces. The government has certain international obligations which it is bound to uphold for the greater good of the whole whereas the local Muslim community must do more to restrain the enthusiasm of a small slice of its members.
This is why I was happy when the AG decided to open up a discussion with those citizens, ten thousand strong, who asked that consideration be given to legalizing marijuana in the society. The same opportunity should be afforded to those groups who feel strongly about the archaic nature of the buggery laws.
The Prime Minister needs to exert stronger, hands-on leadership in these and other initiatives. On Wednesday, Sergio Marchionne, chain-smoking, espresso-drinking, chief executive of Italy’s Fiat Company, died. An editorial in the Financial Times noted: Marchionne “deserved to be called a leader. He had a vision of what needed to be done to return a troubled company and industry to health, worked relentlessly to realize it, and brought many others along with him” (FT, July 26).
PNM leadership finds itself in a debilitating bind in terms of the economy, its relationship with the various groupings, and the demands of citizens. It needs to listen more attentively to what its members are saying. The only way out of its dilemma is consistent “engagement, discussion, and debate”
The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know and what they see. The old people used to say: “Why take a flambeau to look for something at night when you can see it in broad daylight?”
“Open yo’ eyes and ears, PNM.”