GENUINE APPRECIATION VERSUS TOLERANCE OF CULTURE
BY PREM MISIR
March 29, 2004
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Opposition through protests to any government is quite acceptable and is a right, but each right carries with it an obligation to behave in accordance with the rule of law. In effect, in a democratic context, human rights violations, as morbid as it may sound, in essence, are a product of poor social relationships between the stakeholders. The relationship becomes 'sour' because protestors fail to meet their obligations (lack of reciprocity) and promote a perception of wanting to replace the governing body through undemocratic means (imbalance). A social relationship as an exchange relationship is based on the principles of social reciprocity and operating under democratic rules. But in the context of Guyana, marches and protests violate these principles and rules, as evidenced through their aggressive and violent actions. The consequence, far too often, is that East Indians suffer as victims of violence. The East Coast villages are a recent case in point.
Intent of protests
Marches and protests are chartered through a relationship between the core elements of the protest and the rank and file protestors. But this type of relationship does not have to culminate in negativity. However, in the case of Guyana, the relationship manifested through protests and marches has had numerous dates with violence in this country's history. Today, we see history repeating itself through a conglomeration of forces against the Government. This motley collection of forces has no other intention but to remove the Government of Guyana as happened in the 1960s. But this time history may not be on their side. Guyana as a modern state has its legitimation from the political system as a democratic constitutional state. People conveniently set this aside in their hungry quest to secure back-door entrance to political power.
Cultural worlds of East Indians & Africans
Last week's piece represents a small portion of what I said at the panel session. This week I want to present only a chunk of the brief remarks that I made at the opening of the Conference partnered by Former Prime Ministers of Trinidad & Tobago and Fiji, Mr. Basdeo Panday and Mr. Mahendra Chaudhry, respectively, Congressman Gregory Meeks, St. John's University Vice Provost Dr. Brian Nedwek, and Chair, CLACS, of St. John's University Dr. Alina Camacho-Gingerich. Here goes.
I think we have not begun to understand what it is to be an East Indian and an African; we still have not understood that particular political leaders continue to exploit the colonial discourse to sustain the perception of racism; particular political leaders use the race-ethnic card to gain electoral advantage; these particular political leaders fail to present the fact that powerful cultural bridges have been constructed; the people of Guyana have to see the potential for pluralism without a loss of each other's culture; the people of Guyana have to first understand and then appreciate the different worlds of the East Indian and the African. Indeed, it goes without saying that this thinking must apply to other ethnics.
Basdeo Panday had his moment of enlightenment when he discovered the worlds of the Afro and Indo Trinidadian. This is what he said in travelling to Laventille in 1989: "As I drove up these hills, I began to experience something which was unbelievable. It was as if I was in another world that appears to be even strange. Then I wondered that if I, who was fighting so long for unity for 24 years, can feel a world like yours so strange - how you must feel if you go to Caroni? And how can a man from Caroni feel when he comes to a place like Laventille? He must feel, I am among strangers as you feel when you go to Caroni."
Caroni represents the world of the Indo Trinidadian and Laventille the world of the Afro Trinidadian. Similarly, there are ethnic worlds apart that we could 'sus' out in Guyana. These worlds seem different and they are different. But they do not have to remain different. The differences in such communities are not racist. But as Panday pointed out, "...they can be expressed via a racist world view but the differences lie at the heart of the world of the urban Afro-Trinidadian and Indo-Trinidadian of the plains of Caroni...These worlds transcend geography and demography for it is the essence of what it is to be Afro and Indo Trinidadian in Trinbago."
Genuine appreciation of culture
We need to develop an informed consciousness of Guyana's history of its people and the responsibilities and obligations required to effect real pluralism, a co-existence of different sub-cultures. Developing progressive pluralism, however, will require more than tolerance for other people's culture. In fact, our education system should not be structured merely to enable people to tolerate a culture. The education system, including the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels, must work toward promoting an understanding and a genuine appreciation of another's culture. However, nothing of significance will happen, if there is no political will to eliminate the perception of racism. A lethargic and 'PNCR-paused' constructive engagement between President Bharrat Jagdeo and Mr. Robert Corbin, cannot produce a mature political will to extend the discourse beyond petty politicking and gaining cheap shots.
The political will would need to develop a universally-shared civic culture of Guyana, which will recognize and accommodate all cultural differences. This universally-shared civic culture really will become the political culture. I will continue this discourse next week.