Tue | Sep 19, 2017

David Muhammad: From Trinidad to Jamaica with love

Published:Sunday | May 1, 2016 | 5:00 AM
David Muhammad
Imam David Muhammad converses with Shanique Myrie, who won a legal challenge in the Caribbean Court of Justice against the Barbados government regarding improper treatment by immigration authorities.
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Over the last week, there have been many disturbing statements coming out of Trinidad regarding our Caribbean Jamaican family. Things have been said that have come across as inflammatory, prejudiced, and even hateful. Jamaican citizens have been branded and labelled as burden on our society, criminals and illegal aliens.

We seem to not appreciate how far and wide ignorant statements spread, especially when they are used for sensationalism. People across Trinidad and Tobago are disgusted and incensed over these cruel and unkind remarks.

There are some factors that we must consider as this discussion continues. We are one with the people of Jamaica as it pertains to our status as citizens of the Caribbean. Furthermore, both T&T citizens and Jamaican citizens have the CARICOM logo on our passports, which facilitates a degree of freedom of movement in and out of each other's territory without discrimination.

 

STANDING IN SOLIDARITY

 

I stand in full solidarity with the Jamaican people who legitimately attempted to enter T&T who were disrespected, mistreated and denied entry. During the reign of the 2010-2015 UNC Government conditions were put in place whereby Indians from India had more free rights and access to Trinidad and Tobago than our own regional neighbours. And while Jamaicans were being either detained and sent back to Jamaica, or only being given a few days in our country, at the same time, Indians from India were allowed to stay in T&T for up to 90 days without any restriction whatsoever.

So we began to see an unexplainable and unjustifiable hostility against Jamaicans that some felt was based on a paranoia that people of African descent from other Caribbean islands may become fully naturalised and support the People's National Movement party as opposed to the Indo-based United National Congress. These were concerns that were felt as far back as the late 1950s and early 1960s during the time of the Federation of the West Indies when the Democratic Labour Party in Trinidad forcefully opposed the idea of unity of the Caribbean nations.

But now we are in 2016 with a new PNM government, but some of the old political sentiments appear to be lingering in some state institutions, even under the new regime. The current government should really be on the forefront of this issue, defending the principle of Caribbean unity, especially since there are deep historical roots that connect the people of the Caribbean even after slavery.

It is estimated, for example, that 'most' people of African descent have near relatives from either Grenada, St Vincent or Barbados, and most of us born in the 1960s, or before that, would have either a parent, grandparent or great-grandparent from one of the other Caribbean islands.

This is our heritage and legacy, and it must be respected, the children in the schools must also be educated on the ancestral Caribbean connection and how we are bound by a common past. But instead, an ignorant loathing, and a divisive poisonous narrative, has been spewed to create an unnecessary rift between people who should be coexisting in harmony and working together.

 

JAMAICA'S INFLUENCE

 

Jamaica, probably more so than any other Caribbean territory, has put the English-speaking Caribbean on the map, making the entire region very proud, and we always celebrate together in our victories, except, of course, during the moments of competitive rivalry. Our youth population listens to more music from Jamaica than they do their own Trinidad music, except during carnival, and Jamaican culture is loved and embraced in general by T&T.

Jamaica needs to understand that the negative sentiments that are coming out of T&T are by no means a reflection of the thinking of the majority of people of T&T, but only of a few who hold just as much contempt and scorn for 'other' Trinidadians.

So, my Jamaican friends, while you may come into conflict with some of these hateful Trinidadians who give our country a bad name, we have to live with them daily and put up with the disdain and discrimination in our own land.

What complicates it even more is when those who should know better jump on the bandwagon and utter the same divisive thoughts without even realising that they are hurting, not helping, the situation.

As far as the decision to boycott T&T products is concerned, I will respect whatever decision the Jamaican people make in their taking a position fighting for dignity and self-respect. I admire the Jamaican people for that, and if such a move raises sensitivity levels to the cause, so be it.

My book, Black Studies, has been sold in at least seven different bookshops and other outlets across Jamaica, but the consciousness contained in it is geared towards uniting, rather than dividing.

 

COMING TOGETHER

 

What Trinbagonians need to understand now is that the Jamaican Government is standing up for its citizens in a way that our government might not stand up for us if we were caught in the same situation in a foreign land facing deportation.

Finally, with the entire Caribbean being a region of immigrants, it is quite ironic that some CARICOM governments seem to be so anti-immigration. Trinidad & Tobago, in particular, cannot afford to underestimate the contribution of Caribbean immigrants to the building of our nation.

For example, the leader of the trade union movement who inspired revolutionary change in this country, Uriah Buzz Butler, was born in Grenada. One of his greatest colleagues who helped strengthen and spread the movement, Clement Payne, was from Barbados. the leader of the Negro Women's Association.

T&T's greatest calypsonian, The Mighty Sparrow, was born in Grenada. Iconic carnival Mas band leader Peter Minshall, with eight Band of the Year titles, was born in Guyana. The same migrant mix also applies to other Caribbean nations.

Therefore, I hope that when the dust clears, these two magnificent nations, Jamaica and T&T, can return to being sisters at different ends of the Caribbean.

- David Muhammad is a Trinidadian imam and Black Agenda project director. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and davidmuhammad