The things we ought to fear
Garnett Roper, Guest Columnist
Recent events have made it clear that the management of information is a key instrument of development that secures the greatest good for the greatest number. Perhaps nothing better illustrates the way lack of information, distortion of information, or just plain forgetting can distort the good sense of a country than the truth about Yasin Abu Bakr of Trinidad and Tobago, who was recently deported from Jamaica.
The talking point of the whole affair has to do with the cost of his passage back to the twin-island republic. The Government of Jamaica hired a private jet at a cost of US$36,000 (J$4m) to transport Abu Bakr, who had been refused entry into Jamaica as a threat to national security, back to Trinidad. However, the cost of his passage has become the focus only because Jamaica has forgotten who Abu Bakr was and what he did.
In 1990, Abu Bakr led 114 members of the Jamaat Al Muslimeen to attack the Red House, the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago, taking hostage its prime minister, A.N.R. Robinson, and all Cabinet ministers that were present in Parliament that day. The siege by Abu Bakr lasted for six days, and during that time, 24 lives were lost. The militants surrendered only after Robinson, who had been shot in his leg and was still being held at gunpoint, signed a letter granting amnesty to the militants.
Abu Bakr escaped the death penalty only because the Supreme Court in Trinidad held that the letter signed under duress by the PM was valid and upheld the amnesty. The Privy Council later invalidated the amnesty. However, neither Abu Bakr nor any of his followers was made to pay for their crimes. The view that the mere passage of years has rendered Abu Bakr a lion without teeth is at best unfounded, and at worst, abundantly naïve.
The Government of Jamaica ought to have been congratulated for not only refusing Abu Bakr entry, but also for resolving the matter with expedition. Four million dollars is a small price to pay in the circumstances. The sanctity of the Parliament and the symbols of our democracy may be lost on others, but it is a solemn trust which we must spare no effort to protect.
I do not, however, share the view that it was the correct decision to have denied entry to the leader of the Muslims in Guyana. He has no chequered record so far as I am aware. The issues facing black people are radical in themselves. Jamaica has had a spotty record in the treatment of black radicals, for example, Marcus Garvey and Walter Rodney, and I do not support the People's National Party continuing in that vein.
The hysteria surrounding the danger of Ebola coming to Jamaica has also benefited from lack of perspective and too little information. Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are in the throes of a severe crisis that has cost 4,500 lives. Ebola is a deadly disease to which too little attention has been paid and, therefore, there is an undeveloped epidemiology for Ebola.
We must also pay attention to the fact that since the recent outbreak, Senegal and Nigeria have been declared Ebola-free. That is to say, the public-health measures taken in those jurisdictions, without the leadership of the Western health-care system, have made gigantic steps in the resolution of that matter.
I may be the last one standing, but I do not join the mass hysteria of a real and present danger of Ebola coming to Jamaica. There are too many hoops to go through for it to get here this time around. I expect that now that Ebola has got the attention of the North, the present crisis should be behind us in a matter of months. Precaution is good, and it certainly does not hurt to have taken all the measures that we have. However, the actions that Jamaica has taken appear to have been born of a type of incipient xenophobia mixed with a type of sadism. By that I mean that we do not like to like things African and also we like to import other people's misery and make it our own.
Perhaps what has played up the hysteria concerning Ebola is the epidemic of chikungunya. The view is that chik-V is an African virus. It may well be; but it is endemic in Asia. Chik-V could just as easily have come to the Caribbean from the Indian subcontinent as it could have from its relatively recent return to the African continent.
The big problem with chik-V is that by the time Jamaica started to pay attention to the information concerning the virus and to take the basic steps that were within the control of each of us, a full third of the population had already been infected.
The real issue, therefore, is how to keep before the public the information that matters. How do we ensure that there is the raising of consciousness and the development of perspective? The sound bite culture, with tweets and the democratisation of information through social media, has not resulted in enlightened conduct.
Maybe it is time to give attention to the management of information as a matter of central consideration. Maybe it is time to develop what is called a metanarrative, a big story.