A moment for Caribbean reflection
David Jessop, Contributor
Four weeks ago, this column urged the Caribbean to begin to think the unthinkable. It suggested that there are some individuals whose values are not those of the vast majority and who mean harm to those who live in the region or who visit.
That column pointed out that the world is now entering a new and dangerous phase in which fanatics are prepared to act across borders in any way that might damage those they believe they are at war with, or against those who do not believe their extreme interpretation of a religion that encourages selfless and peaceful universal values.
Sadly, the news of the last week has confirmed that in the region, and beyond, there are young men, and possibly women, of Caribbean parentage who are now fighting for ISIS in Syria or Iraq. It is news that requires governments, the media, religious groups, and others like lawyers to act carefully and responsibly and for everyone to consider the implications.
The story began on October 8 when the Trinidad Government confirmed that an Illinois-based Trinidad-born teenager had been held by US authorities as he allegedly sought to join ISIS.
Later, it was reported by the Trinidad Express and confirmed by government that this individual is one of a number of resident Caribbean citizens, or individuals of Caribbean descent, living in Europe or North America who have been radicalised - with all that implies.
The news was followed by further stories that identified two Trinidadians fighting in Syria whose images appeared on line.
Subsequently, the mother of one was quoted by Trinidad's Sunday Express newspaper as saying that her son had gone there to fight on behalf of ISIS, prompted by "the inadequacy of what his life had become in Trinidad and the need to find a greater purpose".
The Trinidad Guardian spoke to a local Muslim group, which confirmed that some of its members had gone missing from Trinidad and that others
were contemplating going to the Middle East to support ISIS. It also reported that Trinidadian Islamic leaders have been appealing to its community to make clear that ISIS is un-islamic and to keep their younger members from going overseas to fight.
In understandably cautious public comments,
Trinidad's National Security Minister Gary Griffith made clear that
there is a growing awareness of the danger that such individuals may
pose should they return home.
He was also quoted as
saying on a radio programme that there were "several nationals now
linked to the group"; that if there was clear evidence that people have
gone abroad and involved themselves in terrorist activity, then the
government will have to make "very serious decisions" on how to treat
with such people.
Earlier, he had said Trinidad was
"looking at the formation of a counterterrorism unit to deal especially
with these matters".
He and the foreign affairs minister, Winston
Dookeran, also noted that these developments were why Trinidad was one
of two Caribbean nations to co-sponsor a UN Security Council Resolution
proposed by the United States outlawing terrorism - a decision that in
part enables the real-time exchange of information about the nihilistic
young men who are now travelling to the Middle East and who may return
to the region.
Understandably, this raises concern
about the impact on civil liberties, the cost of policing and security,
and the exchange of intelligence information with states outside the
However, these are matters that before long,
in one or another way, every Caribbean nation will have to become more
heavily engaged in if they are to protect national security and their
own and the region's long-term economic
This may be regrettable, but it is
unavoidable as there are suggestions that the issue may already touch
Suriname, Guyana, and Jamaica.
Unfortunately, what is
now happening makes the need for a response by all governments and more
general preparedness unavoidable.
In nations where the
rule of law, freedom of speech and personal freedoms are highly
regarded, developing laws and regulations that respond to threats of the
kind that may emerge are challenging, and as has already been seen in
many developed Commonwealth nations, have resulted quite rightly in
legal challenges, judicial review and in some cases outright
That is why there is also much more that
needs to be done to explain to a sometimes sceptical public why new
measures are being introduced, and assurances given that any new powers
that are being adopted will not be used capriciously or in ways that
benefit those in power.
These are not issues to be
taken lightly in a region that is the most tourism dependent in the
world and in which increasing numbers of states are selling passports
and what amounts to Caribbean citizenship.
In this latter context, it is worth noting
that governments in North America and Europe are beginning to look more
closely at such citizenship for investment schemes, after a small but
growing number of incidents have raised concerns about who passports are
being issued to.
Apart from the need for every state
to protect its own citizens, some 25 million tourists visited the region
in 2013 by air or sea, generating a US$49 billion contribution to GDP,
nearly two million jobs directly and indirectly and very high levels of
The Caribbean, whether it likes it or not,
is joined to the rest of the world in real time and has to respond if
it is to protect its own interests.
It will not be
good enough to react on an ad hoc basis if a terrorist event or its
genesis is shown in some way to have been facilitated within the region,
be connected to one of its citizens, or to have touched it in its
planning or execution.
Now that clear evidence of such
activity is emerging, all Caribbean governments need to reflect and
prepare in a considered way the steps necessary to remain
David Jessop is director of the Caribbean
Council. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.