Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Brian-Paul Welsh | Keeping up appearances

Published:Monday | May 16, 2016 | 5:00 AM
Brian-Paul Welsh

CNN news anchor Ashleigh Banfield opened her report on the gruesome murders of two American missionaries in Jamaica with the following words: "It's astounding to think that a lot of people think that Jamaica is a paradise, but it is an extraordinarily violent country with a remarkable murder rate."

This has enraged Jamaica's online defence force, gangsters with Wi-Fi, who have since been waging a bloody war of words to protect our island in the sun.

Grand dame of media, Fae Ellington, recently shared the words of her pastor on the matter, and, strangely, they have found resonance and are being reiterated ad nauseam, spreading like a head cold among my friends on Twitter, the new uptown verandah.

The corrective observation was: "Jamaica has pockets of violence. We are not generally known to get up with machine guns & walk into schools & theatres and shoot up people [sic]."

Essentially, this position excuses Jamaicans for being really principled savages who are far more discerning in committing acts of violence than their American counterparts. So devout are we in the discipline of modern warfare that we carry out our dastardly deeds in dedicated zones, like election rallies or street dances, only rarely in sacred spaces like church. Besides, we don't murder people inside the actual schools or theatres, we execute them on the outside like civilised people!

You see, Jamaica is the best at everything, ever, and if you disagree, then a pox on you, and your mother, too!

Banfield's use of a negative conjunction is, for me, the only technically problematic part of her statement. If I were to offer a modification, it would read: "Jamaica is a paradise AND it is an extraordinarily violent country with a remarkable murder rate." True or false?

For the past 20 years, our annual murder statistics have hovered at around 1,000 deaths, placing us among the top 10 violent countries in the world. This is an extraordinary feat relative to our size and population; but as a clear sign of discontent with this international ranking, our own home-grown renegades have recently begun intensifying efforts to improve Jamaica's placement.

 

BAD NEWS SPREADING

 

So far, they have succeeded in creating news headlines in places where people still believe Jamaica is somewhere in The Bahamas and settled by an uncivilised tribe that swings from trees, sleeps in caves, and smokes ganja all day.

My own personal proclivities aside, I accept the general point about the localisation of Jamaica's violence, though that is seemingly self-evident based on our social stratification. But in my view, this is merely a comforting illusion that is not at all reflective of Jamaica's endemic and widespread culture of violence.

In this country, we greet each other with insults and humiliate our children to teach them kindness. As a result, by school age, most Jamaicans are already fluent in the language of hostility.

In response to the murder of the missionaries Minister of National Security Robert Montague said: "We want it to be known and very clear that what happened here does not represent Jamaica, and we are going to do what has to be done, not only in this case, but in all other cases of murder."

Except that the overwhelming majority of murders will never be solved in this country. Killers take comfort in knowing they are unlikely to face any real consequences for their actions and so they rather take their chances in the streets. Some will live in infamy, legends of the underworld that might one day find immortality on a community mural; while others eventually get their wish for a spectacular and brutal demise, their blood providing nourishment for the next generation of criminals.

There was once an intense debate about the politics of media optics and whether there is a collective responsibility to protect Jamaica's image in local reportage. This came after a local newspaper published a cover photo of a young man who was murdered and tied to a utility pole. Later, when the decapitated head of another young man was paraded around town on a stick, the debate was reignited.

Chronixx shared his thoughts about Jamaica's cannibalistic nature and got his head chewed off, but soon thereafter, one of his fellow cultural ambassadors got into an unruly tussle with a police officer while on mission abroad.

Life on this paradisiac rock can sometimes be difficult for us to make sense of with all these contradictions. We spit bile at those who take a closer look at what's inside and dare to describe what they observe. We cannot put our best face forward by continuously burying our heads in the sand.

• Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and brianpaul.welsh@gmail.com, or tweet @islandcynic.