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OFF CENTRE: Muslim eye-opener for Barbadians?

Sherwyn Walters

OFF CENTRE: Muslim eye-opener for Barbadians?

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Is true: there is no law against any set of people setting up an “exclusive” housing community in Barbados. But . . . .

The raising voices in alarm at the recent revelations regarding the establishing of what could be a Muslim community in Husbands is not without some justification. One cannot simply take a legalistic view of the matter.

We must never forget context. For instance, in an age of terrorism, we can’t with sense talk about individual privacy in the same way that we talked about it before these frightening times. Neither should we talk about individual rights and the law without taking the actual circumstances into consideration.

The aftermath of the infamous 1997 shootout in North Hollywood, California, in which 11 police officers and seven civilians were injured and somewhere in the region of 2 000 rounds of ammunition were fired, and after which three of the officers involved committed suicide, pointed up a strange tendency of too many towards letter-of-the-law thinking.

This battle raged between two “armoured” bank robbers – Larry Phillips Jr and Emil Matasareanu, covered with special armour and armed with illegally modified weapons – and outgunned, shocked-to-their-socks members of the Los Angeles Police Department, who had to borrow weapons from a gun shop to engage with some hope.

These men had been arrested about three and a half years previously for, among other things, possession of a virtual arsenal of weapons, smoke bombs and improvised explosive devices. Before and after that incident they had robbed two armoured cars, killing one guard, and held up at least two other banks, becoming known in the process for their terrifying weaponry.

These two guys entered into a confrontation of epic proportions with the police who, with their (in this situation) almost-toy guns, were nearly scared witless (careful how you say that). It was like a war zone as two seeming super-soldiers took on scores of police shooters (including SWAT), their armour deflecting bullet after bullet.

Eventually one robber-soldier-science fiction robot’s gunshot to his head coincided with a sharpshooter’s bullet to his spine, ending his terror.

The other was eventually literally brought to his knees as police apparently found a chink in his armour and delivered shots to his patella. He was handcuffed and as he lay there waiting till calm was secured – the police said there were reports of a third gunman – he died before an ambulance was allowed to his aid.

The other aftermath: His children (maybe I should say a lawyer put his children up to it ’cause they were only ages four and eight) sued the police and a particular officer and some people felt that a great injustice had been done to Matasareanu by not urgently availing him of medical attention.

I related that (I hope it was an interesting story) to say this: We can’t simply judge a situation legalistically.

Which of us, having a family member who had to live through such unimaginable horror, and the palpable prospect of not coming home to us, would be so legalistic as to merely think that the officers should have made sure that help got to the man who made their lives flash before them?

You know dat is a rhetorical question. So why should we then judge such a situation dispassionately?

You would know that I am not suggesting callous recourse to unlawful actions on the part of authorities or anybody else, for that matter. I am simply saying that some things must be taken in context.

The negative response to the perceived exclusive Muslim community is, in my view, one of those things. This is not to give succour to any igrant anti-Muslim sentiment. Oh no! But in today’s world a delicate balancing act is required. So far it is the non-Muslims whom we have mostly been asking to do the adjusting. Oh?

On the other side – the human side – of legalism is the reality that some have not convinced us that they are truly for us (and “with” us). Get real: if you want to be strikingly different in a population, it would probably help to be strikingly involved – if you want to avoid suspicion and its dangerous consequences.

Given our history and experience, those who want to be among us with their differences must also attend to shaping a unity with us.

That, I feel, is the kernel of the negative response to this housing project. And the Muslims would be well advised, as would the Whites in Barbados in relation to Blacks, and migrants in relation to “natives”, to bear context ever in mind. Simply trading on your rights and your culture and your origins (country or whatever) is to be indifferent to context and human reality. Those former things will not minister to the next human being’s desperate need to feel that the other can be trusted to be for them.

Taking dissonant sectional interests too seriously is the cause of the most chilling human strife all over the world.

Maybe that is what Barbadians are waking up to.

Today it might be quiet words of concern, even suspicion. Tomorrow . . . .

So Muslims, you could guh long and build yuh “community”. There is no law against it and you may mean no ill, but yuh better show the rest of us Barbadians that you are for us and with us in a big, big way. Many have not been quite convinced so far in these “different” days.

Of course, we are not without guilt.

We have failed to place values (not artefacts, not folkways) at the forefront of our construction of ourselves, a key feature of which would be the sense of belonging together and of bonding not simply to create individual or sectional ends but, crucially, being united towards the best national ends.

And we have let our youngsters “pledge” their allegiance to the values of others (from Jamaica to the ghettoes of the United States) and those values rub abrasively up against our long-time ones, fracturing us (no matter the knee-jerk nationalism, which ain’t patriotism, far less kindredness), disconnecting the generations and bringing distrust.

Also, we have taken on the CARICOM project with only economic and multicultural eyes – like if we en have we own soul that must be kept intact and respected.

And now, if we en careful, that housing project gine mek things worse.

• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor.