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Wednesday 21 March 2018

Making a business of despair

Sharda Patasar writes a weekly column for the Newsday. 

Trinidad December 2017: Murder rates purported to be over four hundred and fifty and counting.

In other news, the slave trade in Libya has been resurrected. This time it is real because someone caught it on camera. Individuals and nations have come out in fierce condemnation of the act but the issue isn’t new. Since the 2015 refugee crisis men, women and children escaping war in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, headed to Europe for sanctuary, many, dying in their attempts. Today Libya’s slave trade is just another spin-off from that crisis.

People being sold for as little as US$400 dollars, raises again the age-old hurt of the slave trade that saw many dispossessed and traded in exchange for money to increase the wealth of empires. Today although the trade is supposedly the work of mercenaries, one isn’t quite sure whether governments are also not involved in the racket. Many times, even those who claim to be our leaders, seeing the opportunity for personal profit, are enticed by the prospect of riches.

Libya is important to our world history for the mere reason that it became the first developing country to earn the majority of profit from its own oil under Gaddafi’s efforts to provide equality for his people. (BBC News http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-12688033).

Interestingly enough, Gaddafi and Mugabe both share one thing in common – the need to free their people of foreign oppression while in turn themselves becoming their people’s oppressors. One wonders whether the revolutionary is truly interested in justice for the people or whether it is a narcissistic persuasion. We also wonder about the characteristics of nationalism, for should there be a genuine form of nationalism, then there cannot be, by extension, any genuine form of care for other humans outside that national ideal. And perhaps this is the USA’s ailment.

Nationalism as a preoccupation, as I see it, constitutes internalising ideals and predispositions such that we are unable, by habit then, to truly understand the other. The only time that we look outward is to make the distinction between “us” and “them.” It’s an insular concept. To break this down, think of nationalists as a cult. Anything outside the cult must be socialised into our ways, remain on the fringes or be destroyed. Unless of course, the idea of the cult is itself a large idea and welcomes difference within because it recognises the dynamic nature of change and development.

The main thought that arose as I learnt of the Libyan slave trade was that here again was an instance of people’s helplessness being made into a business. From a local perspective, we also have such a trade in existence. Human trafficking and exploitation of refugees make up a part of our national business and should I take the liberty to project this into a fictional future, this perhaps might be the government’s main source of income. What better business than that of capitalising on the sense of hopelessness and despair among citizens and refugees? It seems profitable for important players that we maintain a healthy level of crime. After all it is a business, based as it were on a sense of helplessness, and anger born from despair. It has been a tradition throughout the ages. Question is, when does the “supposed” nation, claim its right to feel safe and enjoy a standard of living that democracy is supposed to ensure. This is where nationalism comes in. But it seems that we Trinidadians do not even possess a sense of nationalism that allows us to be kind even to ourselves.

Ours is a convenient nationalism, one squandered on trite markets like Carnival, chutney, cricket and “tourism” (if the latter even makes it off the floor in years to come). When there is actually a call to invoke a nationalistic instinct, nationalism hides its face under a blanket of excuses. I do not even assume this emotion to be fear, but rather a tendency to write off our plight by comparisons that say “things are not as bad here as it is in other countries” or that “there’s nothing we could do, just ride out the time until election.” These are mere excuses for I do not believe in comparing my problems with anyone else’s. The emotions that we feel are real – the fear for lives, the anger of living under governments that care only for themselves and the resignation that things will never get any better.

Perhaps I should not be the mouthpiece for anyone else. For myself I say that this space is a wasteland, laid bare by criminals, corruption and a tradition of haphazard governance. We engage in our daily activities, really just waiting out our time like sitting ducks until the gunman finds himself at our door.


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