'Driver' Buju stopped
Ian Boyne, Contributor
"Driver, don't stop at all/ drop this Arizona roun' a Alba Mall/ Driver, don't even hitch/ collect da likkle food deh yah and come back quick/ Driver, just rememba di damn speed limit/ caaw if yuh run in di Feds, my friend, dat is it."
- Buju Banton
Buju's advice eluded him, as the Feds caught up with him in Florida. Sadly, he might be hitched for some time and won't be able to "come back quick". Much of the nation was plunged into mourning last Tuesday as its hopes for Buju Banton's release were dashed and its roller-coaster emotional ride settled on pause as it navigated between denial, might-have-beens, anger and conspiracy.
The Buju Banton trials and conviction graphically illustrated the philosopher David Hume's dictum that "reason is the slave of the passions". People's reactions - irrespective of their intellectual pedigree - provided a classic demonstration that emotions generally trump reason, that love usually triumphs over law, and faith over facts. Our capacity for self-delusion is enormous. Evolutionary psychology has cast serious doubts on the Enlightenment notion that humans are rational creatures who make decisions on the weight of evidence.
There are some highly intelligent people, like Professor Carolyn Cooper, who will tell you quite forthrightly that she believes that Buju is innocent, no matter what any court or evidence says. Full stop. She stakes her belief on faith and love. Most Jamaicans did not give one hoot as to whether Buju was actually guilty as charged. They wanted him released, innocent or guilty. They love him. He is, as some see him, 'The Voice of Jamaica'. To hell with what others and those dirty, inconvenient things called 'facts' say. We love him and we want him home, for he is our beloved Gargamel.
It is not hard to love Buju. Self-confident and self-assured, without being arrogant or obnoxious, his deeply analytical mind and articu-lateness would impress anyone. He is, undoubtedly, one of our brightest and most conscious artistes. I met him when he had just 'buss' and I was very impressed with his mind and his sharpness of wit. He had a charisma from then that was totally captivating. I remember the day he came to see me at my office at JAMPRO. How could I forget! In my 38 years of interviewing local and international celebrities, very few have ever had that star quality and evoked that kind of rapturous public response that Buju did on that day. It was pure pandemonium at JAMPRO that day! Everyone wanted to meet him, to catch his attention, to touch him, to tell him how much he was rated.
And to watch his performances was something else. His Superjam experience, when he performed as part of The Three Bs - Buju, Beenie and Bounty - was simply awesome. (Incidentally, too, it was one of Beenie's greatest performances I have witnessed, and I have seen him many times, including at Sting.)
There has always been something about Buju, even before 'him sight up Rastafari'. He was always ahead of his age and time. Buju's loss to dancehall, especially at this time, is tragic. He is one of our finest practitioners and only those who don't know about Jamaican popular music or about this particular artiste would not be saddened at what happened on Tuesday.
But we must not make Buju out to be a hapless victim of circumstance and conspiracy. Buju made his choices, and he has to live with them. As to what factors influence humans' final choices, and whether we truly possess free will, is still hotly debated in philosophy and psychology. The law, however, does not have the luxury of agnosticism. It is premised on the philosophical foundation that, generally, adults have choices, however constrained and mitigating those are.
We have to decide whether we want to live in a law-governed society where there are standards and rules, or whether we want a society where decisions are made on the basis of whom we love and have ratings for. Law cannot be based on celebrity, artistic accomplishments, honorific or iconic status. Societies have evolved too long and hard to revert to that. A rules-based, law-governed, objectively based framework - with all its limitations and lack of absoluteness - is much preferable to a society based on whims, fancies and favouritism.
Broadcaster Fae Ellington was very passionate on 'Jamaica Speaks' last Tuesday morning. She noted the hue and cry over Buju's sentencing and the general disregard, indeed contempt, for any law of evidence or reason. She took strong exception to a statement made by Tony Rebel - who later balanced what was perhaps a slip - that whatever the circumstances, we all wanted Buju home. Ellington was rightly critical of that view - which is the dominant perspective.
Ideas have consequences. We must be careful how we spout them. When we show that all that matters is that a person is well-loved, charming, charismatic, intelligent and a high achiever - and it really doesn't matter whether he is drug dealer, an embezzler, a whatever - then we send the wrong signal.
innocent - Even when proven guilty
It is the same attitude which causes people on our nightly news to stoutly proclaim the innocence of relatives alleged to be - and sometimes proven to be - brutal murderers. Whatever we polite society want to think about Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, you'd better believe that, for many persons in Tivoli Gardens, he is still their hero and god, and their love for him has not diminished one bit, despite whatever evidence they might gather about his alleged drug trafficking, gunrunning and other nefarious criminal activities. It's love over justice, faith over fact, and emotion over evidence.
In Buju's case, we have his actual voice making damning admissions. Not even Buju's lawyers claim the voice was not his. His own words condemned him. He was videotaped tasting the coke he said he was only running up his mouth about. But who the hell wants to be confused with the facts? Who cares about facts, evidence, and truth? Buju is a great artiste, a beloved Jamaican, 'The Voice of Jamaica'. We love him. To hell with the facts and evidence that some white guys and homosexuals set him up to get.
Former socialist activist-turned-Rastafarian, Arthur 'Sluggo' Newland, was on television last Wednesday night, going way back to Oliver North in the 1980s and the wicked American imperialists who were really behind the drug cartels and who are allowed to run free while poor Buju is made a scapegoat. Even he had to admit that he could not contest the facts of the case. But that did not prevent him from proclaiming his faith and for damning the Americans for hypocrisy. Dionne Jackson Miller had to ask him, politely, what all his historical recounting and conspiracy theory had to do with the instant case. It was worse than standard non sequitur reasoning and ad hominem.
But it is the usual victim-psychology nonsense that some social scientists like to espouse in their defiance of reason. Let us say Buju was set up, entrapped, ambushed. Did he have to give in? Did he have no will at all? Was he himself drugged into saying what he did and in tasting the white lady? (I mean the coke!) Remember, Buju was not convicted for a small amount of coke for his personal use, so it's not a matter of leaving the youth to enjoy his cocaine. Five kilos is not a small amount.
Buju made his choice
And Buju was no 'sufferer' exploited by Babylon, hence he had to find a way to get some of Babylon's money. Buju was not starving, though the gays were working actively against him and had cut into his earnings. Buju was living far better than most Jamaicans who are hard-working and who could never be entrapped by any white guy anywhere. If ordinary Jamaicans who had never tasted any glory and fame could resist, why couldn't Buju? Why don't we start talking about people's taking responsibility for their lives rather than praying and fasting and speaking in tongues, as some people did at the Florida court, for God to let off someone who had conspired to sell coke - which destroys black lives? (What do people take God for?)
On my friend, Annie Paul's, blog ('Active Voice'), there is a an article from Andrea Shaw, 'Buju Banton: Set the Captive Free', which says: "To single out Buju Banton, who is reggae royalty in his country; to decide to frame him, not even catch him red-handed, but frame him with some two-bit, low-life informant ... that's just pathetic, and only something stupid America would come up with." Yet Buju himself admitted that it was he who was stupid.
Then Shaw goes off on the kind of infantile tirade Sluggo engaged in on television: "You want to bring down the coke trade, America? Go focus your God-forsaken missiles and war-mongering arm on Colombia. Putting Buju Banton in prison is not going to even put a tiny dent in the coke trade."
The Gleaner website will be littered, no doubt, with passionate, vitriolic, hate-filled responses to this article, in demonstration of their undying love of their fallen star. There will be no attempt to reason. What are the lessons from Buju's conviction?
When Babylon is out to get you, don't walk into their trap! Be circumspect. Don't be entrapped by greed. It was alleged that the FBI showered drugs among black radicals and black youth in the 1960s at the height of the struggle against American racism.
That's why the Black Muslim movement was important to the black struggle in America, and why the secular left needs spiritual resources to fight oppression in any meaningful and sustained way. You need that to beat down Babylon. You need an ethic unhinged from American materialism and hedonism. You need discipline. You need strength of character. Forget about whether criminalising coke is misguided or not. It's the law in America. And brilliant artistes like Buju need to be law-compliant to continue to chant down Babylon.
Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.