N Touch
Tuesday 21 January 2020
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Too close to ground zero

The victims tell a tale. Among them were five friends from Argentina who were celebrating the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation; a woman from Belgium who was travelling with her mother and two sisters; and two US citizens — a 23-year-old software developer who recently started his first job out of school and a 32-year-old man out for a bike ride between meetings when he was hit by the terrorist’s truck.

Tuesday’s dastardly attack in New York, the deadliest terror attack in New York since 9/11, affected US citizens, yes, but more so members of the international community.

This is a demonstration of what we all have at stake when it comes to dealing with terrorism and national security matters.

It is very easy to become impatient with anti-terror measures and the degree of checks to which we are often subject. But we must realise that terrorists can strike any place and at any time and that their attacks are truly indiscriminate.

New York accounts for a large proportion of the total number of the Trinidad and Tobago diaspora and anyone of the eight victims could just as easily have been a Trinidadian or Tobagonian.

Not that the nationality of the victim should matter in the first place. We all have a stake in the murder of fellow human beings, be it on local or foreign soil.

And, as a member of the international community, Trinidad and Tobago has a particular responsibility, given its place within Caricom, to support and advance any measures designed to bolster the global response to this problem. That includes matters at the diplomatic level.

But what is most chilling about Tuesday’s attack is its location. Police said the truck used by the assailant drove south along a bicycle track reserved for cyclists and pedestrians, coming to a stop near Stuyvesant High School, not far from the One World Trade Center site. Not only were ordinary tourists and citizens susceptible, this was uncomfortably close to the site of 9/11 and demands thorough action by US law enforcement authorities. Indeed, the suspect has already been detained and charges laid in court. He has made his first appearance before a judge and the legal process must now be allowed to unfold.

The unfortunate response of US President Donald Trump, however, has added a further pall over these grim developments. Trump continues to remain a study in what not to do as a world leader. Instead of seeking to unite his country and galvanise its response to this atrocity, Trump sought to score points against politicians and a policy which he has all too often demonised.

“A Chuck Schumer beauty,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday, blaming an immigrant visa programme, signed into law by George HW Bush and supported by Senator Schumer, for the fact that the terrorism suspect, an immigrant from Uzbekistan, was in the US as a legal resident.

But blaming a senator and the Diversity Visa Lottery for this atrocity is like blaming all the members of a household for the wrongdoing of a family member: it makes no sense. The principle of the lottery is one that enhances democracy, that acknowledges the multi-cultural nature of the world, and that bolsters ties between societies in a way that lends itself to better understanding and, therefore, global harmony. One bad apple does not spoil the whole batch.

Trump’s rhetoric, however, simply fans the flames of his racist, xenophobic base, upon whom he has increasingly become reliant given his shambolic performance thus far in office. More worryingly, it hands a kind of victory into the hands of the terrorists who seek to reshape the world, turning it into a fundamentalist, intolerant place. Ultimately, Trump is being reckless with global peace and security for short-term political gain.

Trinidad and Tobago must stand ready to support its allies in combating this issue and must continue to be a beacon of multiculturalism and democratic governance. For now we breath a sigh of relief that no nationals are known to have been harmed. But that is no reason to relax.

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