Editor's note: This story was published in 2018.
BUSINESSMAN Gerald Aboud yesterday publicly apologised for his social media post describing Indian Arrival Day and Corpus Christi as “two stupid holidays” the country may not need. His comment prompted a fire-storm of condemnation online.
In angry reactions online, some commentators told Aboud, who is of Syrian-Lebanese ancestry to, “Go back to Syria!”
This all follows the recent hijab row between the Hindu group Maha Sabha and Muslim OJT Nafisa Nakhid, and after Oilfield Workers Trade Union head Ancel Roget last year hit, “the one per cent”, after businessman Mario Sabga-Aboud told American TV host Anthony Bourdain that the Syrian-Lebanese were almost TT’s “most powerful group.”
Aboud in his first Facebook post of apology yesterday said his remarks about “two stupid holidays this week” were not an attack on anyone, but a comment on a lack of productivity and other challenges facing businesses due to excess holidays.
He cited TT’s two first national watchwords of Discipline, Production and Tolerance. “There was absolutely no disrespect meant to undermine celebration of our East Indian heritage yesterday, or of Corpus Christi today. I myself am a Roman Catholic. I am and have always been a huge supporter of the equal treatment of every creed, race, gender and religion.
“I humbly apologize if anyone was offended it was not my intention. Of course they were never intended against any race because I would be insulting myself. Honestly, I am quite hurt by the way this matter was handled. In highlighting with what I think is broken in society, the matter was turned against me.”
His post attracted mostly-positive comments, one typically saying, “I didn’t even think twice about it being offensive. Wow, people can be super sensitive.” In a third post, Aboud said his remarks had expressed his personal views to his friends online, but someone had taken the comment differently and posted it in a malicious way to sensationalist web-site.
A Starlite statement defended him from a “malicious” attack whereby his personal remarks on the state of the economy were “taken out of context and twisted into a racial issue.” The statement lamented that a group had photographed his remarks for wider circulation and when he had asked them to delete it they threatened to “up the tempo” and demanded an apology.
“We at Starlite do all we can to promote good business practices and actively support our local entrepreneurs irrespective of the colour of your skin or religion you choose.” While saying they can’t fully be protected from those hiding in the dark to create anarchy, Starlite vote to continue to work in the light towards goodness, honesty and integrity. News got “live” reactions.
IT WAS INSENSITIVE
Aranguez-based Pundit Satyanand Maharaj criticised Aboud. “It was a very culturally-insensitive statement notwithstanding that TT needs a review of the number of its holidays.” Maharaj said Indians had changed TT’s landscape, so their presence should be celebrated. “I’m perturbed and upset.”
Asked about the vitriol of some racist barbs against Aboud, Maharaj said, “I can’t the victim of bias and then practice bias. It was equally wrong to attack his community as it was for him to make those remarks where he was alluding the holiday has no meaning for anyone.”
Maharaj said Indian Arrival Day generates much commercial activity for Indian businesses that Aboud may have been unaware of when complaining of low productivity/activity on holidays. Aboud was defended by his father businessman George Aboud.
“My son is 45 and was born here. My father came to Trinidad in 1905. I’m 70 and have never gone back over. Trinidad is our home. We put everything into Trinidad.” George Aboud said many critics of his son pay no taxes but live off the Treasury. “Trinidad has too many holidays, 10 to 12 a year, so how will it progress to First World status?”
George Aboud said he personally would not have apologised. “He just meant there is so much work to be done and the Government is closing down the country for two days by these holidays, even as many people are unemployed. As a businessman, he thinks differently.”
‘MY SON IS DECENT’
George Aboud said businesses find it very hard to get workers as the only people who really want to work are Venezuelans, even though he feared some immigrants are involved in crime. “My son is a very, very decent boy. He just made a stupid comment but he did come back and apologise and did not answer them back, and even got a lot of good comments online.”
Activist and businessman Gary Aboud was upset at the racist taunting directed to Syrians yesterday that violated the TT Constitution and National Anthem, likening it to the use of the N-word against Africans or the C-word against East Indians. “It was a knee-jerk response of hate.” Gary Aboud said Aboud’s criticism of the number of holidays in TT had raised valid questions that now need a debate. He said each holiday costs the country $324 million in lost economic activity. Gary Aboud said if a top East Indian business person had uttered the remarks instead of Aboud, there would have been no public outrage.
He said Aboud was right to open the debate on holidays but said he also needed to be careful of the sensitivities of those who cherish those days.
However, Gary Aboud added, “The public outrage against him was disproportionate.” Gary Aboud sensed a wider hostility towards Syrians. He said a subliminal civil war against Syrians will send them fleeing, as he recalled personally suffering racist remarks as a schoolboy at the time of the 1970s Black Power riots.
Saying some people hate Syrians for their race, he said, “That is simply evil.”