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HUMAN RIGHTS INDEED by Burton Sankeralli

posted 6 Oct 2011, 11:46 by Gerry Kangalee
This article was written on September 9th 2011
Having a limited state of emergency is like being a little pregnant. So the police will only shoot you once and not empty the clip? More particularly if you are of a certain economic background, skin colour or live in the wrong neighbourhood.


 Now we seem to be swerving close to race. And really and truly the so-called “race’ question is in our context unavoidable. But it is also a term flung around the place here to augment the noise static bacchanal and general kankalaaa that seems to be the Trinidadian’s natural element (and I deliberately leave Tobago out of this).


So let’s instead talk black and white. Not race – power. Now of course in our Caribbean context power is all about violence: genocide, slavery, indentureship, the subjugation of oppressed peoples. And what we euphemistically call “independence” is merely a consolidation of this colonial power relation, skin colour and hair quality of the new overseers notwithstanding.


But let us now juxtapose this with the great deal of the formal discourse opposing the state of emergency. Ye old liberal democracy crap. The talk of human rights. The errors of the European “Enlightenment” and its fictitious “individual”.


Now don’t get me wrong, this human rights talk can be very useful. And Trinidadians make great use of it when it comes not to liberty, equality and fraternity but to fete, lime and carnival. Human rights indeed. And no government will take God out of its mind and cancel carnival … crisis, murders, states of emergencies be damned…


The real state of emergency in our region began with Columbus and our present police force is merely picking up the slack where the plantation left off. Terrorizing the population is the work of the police (and I say this with all due respect to the significant number of policemen who actually manage to be decent human beings). At least now there is a measure of media scrutiny and we hope this continues after the state of emergency is lifted.


As for the modern Western discourse of liberal democracy and civilized capitalism well this is proving to be a failure even in the societies for which it was designed. The economies of America and Europe are in crisis and as for England well let’s just say that Guy Fawkes Day came a little early this year. 


We in the colonies witness the farce of history repeating itself as democracy is used to mask the oppression of poor people. So what are we left with?


Well if we look at the public reaction to the state of emergency it is or at least was quite favourable. And this tends to confirm the suspicion that our people are only committed to this democracy nonsense when it suits them. But let us not flinch from the implications of this. Given the rising tide of overt physical violence in the society and public fear the regime makes a strong case.


Put starkly and bluntly, in the absence of a credible alternative we must either be immersed in chaos or be prepared to embrace a moderate fascism. So the words of our very own prophet CLR James have come to pass, it is socialism or barbarism (of one kind or the other). We must make a commitment to a truly just society where we dismantle the inherent class warfare and violence that constitutes the core of our Caribbean reality. And this is all socialism means.


But to make such a commitment is easy enough what does this mean on the ground? Permit me to make just one initial proposal.


While the fiction that is the individual and its inalienable rights has been adequately exposed by contemporary Western philosophy itself (so much so that I need not even argue it here) we in the activist movement have been arguing for “community rights”. Now this very notion of “right” is indeed, philosophically speaking, ontologically vacuous but it can and does here articulate a communal ethos of our people that continues to survive centuries of violence, oppression and 21st century globalization. 


Interestingly enough the present regime got elected on such a platform, even trotting out the “Chief Servant” Makandal Daaga as some kind of guarantee of the genuineness of its commitment. But sad to say this is precisely the kind of radical promise that politicians have no intention of keeping unless they are compelled by the masses to do so.


Yet here is the real democracy – direct democracy – government by the people themselves rooted in their communal ethos. Toward this I further make one practical proposal that I think we can all agree on: that we bring pressure to bear for a serious sustained country-wide community grounded discussion on constitutional reform.


Whether this will achieve the desired result is, at least in the short term, doubtful but this very process I think could carry us to a better space. Or will we just continue crashing into myriad states of emergency?