RACE and religion have been at the forefront of public discourse particularly in recent weeks. All of it demands a closer look at the mechanisms in place to foster harmony in our diversity.
At times, the din has become relentless.
In the last four weeks alone, a caustic row over the wearing of the hijab broke out, there was social media uproar over comments about the Indian Arrival and Corpus Christi holidays, the vote on a new Police Commissioner led to allegations of racism, security operations on a mosque triggered allegations of Islamophobia, a group of religious officials were accused of bigotry for their stance on gay rights, and gang warfare in Port of Spain forced officials — Islamic or otherwise — to warn against the distortion of belief systems.
In her message marking yesterday’s Eid-ul-Fitr holiday, President Paula-Mae Weekes had cause to warn the population against Islamophobia.
“It is alarming to observe the distortion of the message of Islam practised by some in TT and around the world, who have been drawn into lifestyles of brutality and contempt for human life,” said the President.
We endorse these views and go further. The actions of a few bad apples should never be taken as representative of any barrel.
Within any group, there will always be a variety of perspectives and stances. Diversity is not just an abstract thing that exists on a national level. It is part of the fabric of our society and is a principle within each and every group.
It is true the actions of Islamic terrorists have, particularly since September 11, 2001, forever changed the way we regard matters of national security.
A major result of that appalling moment in world history has been a tightening of security measures as well as the unfortunate tarnishing of Islam as a whole.
We believe that the security apparatus must be allowed to take whatever steps are deemed necessary in the interest of ensuring our safety as a whole. Those steps should always be proportionate to the risks identified. No religion or group should be treated favourably.
At the same time, it is wrong for people to use religion and race as political bargaining chips. While no one should condone any action that encourages prejudice, it is equally true that people should not stoke hate and division to seek political points.
In this stead, what we should focus on is bolstering constitutional and statutory bodies. We should support bodies like the Judiciary and the Equal Opportunity Commission. They are the organs that help us as a society to maturely address our differences. That would be more productive than just old talk and hate.