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Monday, May 22, 2006

Mr. Browne


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Good morning Antigua and Barbuda. I have to tell you I have not always called you Antigua and Barbuda. Antigua was all I used to say until I wittingly added Barbuda in order to rescue my journals from finding shore on some distant land. For over the past 2 years the new and promising UPP government has been trying to come to terms with the demands of a hotchpotch nation, a disparate brew of insipid, pepperpot people bent on forcing the government to satisfy all earthly and heavenly demands at once. Abracadabra!

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to find the soul of Antigua and Barbuda. Some agents claim that it is within the governing, UPP party but others maintain it resides within the opposition, ALP organization. I have to tell you too that it is also alleged by experts, to be a figment of the imagination, a banana of some mindless fool.

As always, should you or any of your forces be caught or killed in this mission, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. Since this newspaper will not self-destruct in 5 seconds or 5 minutes, hours, days, years or decades, you must destroy it in the usual manner. Good luck, in your mission, Antigua and Barbuda.

Normally, as in all Mission Impossible cases, I take my leave at this time. However, because of the complexity of this important mission, I must go on to advise you that you will need the help of an agent, Melanie Phillips, a journalist from Britain. She comes highly qualified because she has been investigating a similar dilemma in Britain. In particular, she is concerned about citizenship and immigrants. It might surprise you that you have a more serious problem than Britain and it is again made more complex by your scarce resources to identify and enunciate the problem, let alone to find the solution to it.

Melanie Phillips will tell you what the economist, Professor Robert Rowthorn observed recently in a lecture about the dangers of unlimited mass migration. He reminded, ‘A nation is a community of mutual obligation that is based on a shared history’. This fact will force her to tell you that unless there is a rigid grasp of the true history of Antigua and Barbuda, civic obligations will have no bedrock in which to root themselves, and hence nationhood in this twin island state will become an effete, banal nonsense.

As the clamour mounts from all and sundry in this babbling land of new, free radio, Melanie Phillips will help you to argue that few Antiguans and Barbudans and fewer residents realise that citizenship is not about what the country owes to an individual, but what an individual owes to the country. Very few people truly understand this imperative and glibly quote President John F. Kennedy. It means that the obligation to the nation and to fellow citizens and to law and order must come first. Then and only then can you twist and shout and limbo and babble all over new, free radio about your rights, your demands, your medical benefits, schooling for your children, and your passport.

This is why the soul of the nation must be identified and held up high for all to see and behold; for without it, there is no Antiguanness, no Barbudanness, no anything but a wild bunch of assorted local, Caribbean and international neaga.

So how do you deal with immigrants, since to varying extents, we are all immigrants at some point in time? It is “a simple thing” (as the Analyst would say). You are welcome in my house, you can practise your religion and espouse your culture but my national culture comes first and foremost. This means that when the immigrant culture collides with national culture, the traffic police will automatically give national culture the right of way. Anything else is a recipe for collision and disaster.

But what is this national culture? What is this Antiguanness and Barbudanness? It is not just the food and music and the dance and the “distinctive customs, achievements, product, outlook and way of life” as the dictionary states. It also requires an honest attention to, and constant review of our history, for culture is both static and dynamic.

How then, in this hotchpotch nation can one pitch a large tent over this assorted mass of babblers? It seems that one may be better off holding on to the indigenous people and pronouncing their history, their rules and regulations, their requirements and expectations so that all visitors and welcomed non-nationals will, in time and under their own, smaller tents, do likewise as they look and see Antiguans and Barbudans meeting and surpassing the fundamental tenets of national life. Only then should one pitch a wide tent.

It is the failure of us Antiguans and Barbudans to stand up and be counted and to identify ourselves on the side of what is right, and claim what belongs to us that affords, fuels and effects the disintegration of our society.

The irony of political life in Antigua and Barbuda is that what at first might seem like a good thing, a national umbrella under which the nation can shelter, might, in fact be the wrong medicine. We now know from medical science that the same medicine does not work the same way for the same sickness, in different patients.

Meanwhile the opposing forces will have to come to terms with the simple fact that New Labour will require a more honest and critical examination of the past, with even a public reconciliation for the past misdeeds. Only one young man amongst them seems to understand this, especially in the glaring afterglow of his public tranche of election offerings from the man from the sun. How ironic it would be if that one young man becomes the Joshua of the national soul as the Moses folds up beneath the wide, frail, falling tent. So while the rose and the thorn adorns and pricks the jocular vein on babbling radio, the opposing forces will one day come to see and know that the ALP will only win again when all the leaves are brown.

Mission Impossible?

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