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Thursday, November 4, 2010


Give Them Work To Do

Dr. Lester CN Simon-Hazlewood

When I was a little boy attending primary school, I was quiet and rotund and called all sorts of names. I was an easy target for the bullies, until I engaged the superhuman strength of one of my female cousins. Just the mention of her name and that she was from Cedar Grove would send them packing. The sequence of insult, damage or punishment followed by my call and her response, was so remarkably efficient, effective and Pavlovian, I wondered if I had deliberately and gratifyingly provoked them.

One of the bullies and his Gordian knot of infidels would assault poor, little, innocent me, after I had nervously removed from my own anatomical shoulder, a blade of grass he had harvested from nature, transplanted and called his cultivated own. He might box me and I would display a pensive (and expensive) countenance; and then bawl out for my cousin. It was early training at thinking outside of the box.

Some people just love to fight. They fight when they are right. They fight when they are wrong. They fight all day and fight all night long. Some people just love to jump over fences. They will scale high walls with a garland of barbed wire to enter a free function. And, on discovering the function was free, they will bellow mouthfuls of expletives and gracefully exit the very same way they came in.

Someone has to tell some members of our tribe that the old revolution is over. It was televised. A new revolution is on. But they know this. They also know and believe that, based on all the fighting (and jumping fences) they have done historically, they are the only ones who can run things. Or, can it be that the clamour, the chatter and clatter, and promises, if provoked, to batter and shatter, are mere symptoms arising from and disguising the essential heart of the matter?

A revolution is said to be a large change in a short time. Our independent nation, twenty-nine years old, needs another revolution. Call some members of our tribe what you like. Subtract whatever, whichever and whomever from their past leader. And subtraction and division are in order but you know how they are afraid now of mathematics. They will still have a past to reckon with and a future to fight for.

Warriors do die but they die very badly from inaction. Atrophy sets in and gnaws their lives away. Look at the elderly cast aside with nothing to do but think. Thoughts without deeds are like ploughs without fields. Their arthritic hands and feet disappear and they soon go tumbling after.

When the cry goes out for nation building and nation building stands still, it is not because people are not nation builders. We have to understand this very clearly lest we spend stone-heaps of time firing at a target that does not exist. We are all nation builders but we want to build the nation the way we see it. And the way we see it is uniquely different from the views of others, if views they have at all.

We know the answer to our problems. When we had a problem with the snake, we brought in the mongoose. After the snake died, the poor mongoose, with nothing to do, started to feed on the chickens. Pity they did not have a mongoose to eat the first snake, or wish that Adam had been smart enough, and not a vegetarian, to refuse the apple and barbecue the snake instead.

I remember the May 68 protests in France. Two of the graffiti from that era that bear recalling are: “Those who lack imagination cannot imagine what is lacking” and “The future will only contain what we put into it now.” Can we imagine what we have to do to shape a prosperous future for Antigua and Barbuda? Let us assume that the others members of our tribe are found guilty of whatever they are accused, and more even. What does it gain Antigua and Barbuda to go through these bruising battles in court after court and end up with national concussion at best or Alzheimer’s at worst? If we can do mathematics inside the court now, surely we can do the same mathematics outside the court and use subtraction to save long division.

In war and in politics, strategy is vital. Sometimes you have to do the unexpected. Before the days of adequate and affordable security I used to contemplate my response to a burglar breaking into our home; through a window perhaps. Might I express sincere gratitude to him for proving right my suspicions about the vagrant window and solicit his able assistance, at a negotiable price of course, in finding the notorious carpenter (probably his friend) who had done such a terrible job installing the windows?

The local political battle is hot and sticky. The country is tired and weary. Combatants are approaching that point when, if provoked, they warn, they will hawk and spit in the beverage for no one to drink. A large change is required in a short time: A revolution. You know their strategy, so calling their bluff will be too easy for your right and might. No. That is not a revolution. That is simply going round and round and round.

Drop your weapons and leave them with theirs. It is not a sign of weakness. It is the maximum strength and the moral high ground of which you boast that force you to compel them to do the same. Throw down the gauntlet of peace and reconciliation and force them to take it up. Give them work to do. Give them really hard work to do.

Monday, November 1, 2010


The Enigma of Independence

Dr. Lester CN Simon-Hazlewood

I should be ashamed to report that some years ago I asked another West Indian national if we could exchange nationalities. The negative response was not because my friend declined to accept my nationality. It was arguably that it was six of one and half a dozen of the other. We are all the same, one West Indian people with similar cultures, politics and problems. I beg to differ.

Can it be the wrong premise that to become a West Indian and embrace a West Indian nationality I have to first become and express my island nationality? As a musician, I am aware that I have to be able to express myself well on my individual instrument before I can join, understand and really enjoy the collective sound of an orchestra.

What then do I do when I find myself in need of West Indian nationality whilst I am trying to find and come to terms with my island nationality? How can I be part of an orchestra when I, like many of the other players, am still learning my basic craft? This is where many of us find ourselves on the twenty ninth anniversary of our independence. As we write and re-write our political and cultural narratives we are arguably the most assorted West Indian nation per square mile.

The struggle for nationality and its expression post-independence is being pitched against the expressions and livelihoods of the masses of West Indians and other nationalities in Antigua and Barbuda. It’s a very delicate battle that can be lost easily on both fronts. And like all battles, strategy is essential for victory.

We are upset over the way many of our guest Caribbean nationals were shuttled and chaperoned here to alter the political landscape. Ironically, many of our politicians have little regard for and pay scant regard to them, except for their voting fingers. We argue a strange logic that says essentially that we can be bribed at elections but they shouldn’t. This is probably a corrugated corollary of the warped philosophy that some parents can beat their children (almost to death) but that these same parents should not even raise their voices at strangers.

Our guest Caribbean nationals are already here, regardless of how and why some of them bang water to come here. In life and in dominoes, you have to play the hand you have. After a while, when you will have exercised and exorcised your point, you have to, as the English say, “get on with it”.

In getting on with it, we have to escape the paradox trap set for us. We cannot afford to decry and debase our guest Caribbean nationals in order to praise and purify our nationalism. If we do, we will end up losing the soul of the very nationalism we seek to find, declare and display. And then we will end up like those who set the trap in the first place; indeed worse. The plotters will laugh and point with giddiness and say, “See, they don’t love Caribbean people. They don’t even love their own selves”.

Good strategy and tolerance in a democratic state inform us that we should contend with ultra-nationalists who blindly see nothing and no one else. We will also have among us our native, Caribbean nationalists who by dint of travel, family, thought or otherwise will tell you that they have long gone beyond island nationalism, to the greater, more laudable, aesthetically enriching and economically rewarding Caribbean nationalism. But what of those, like swing voters, caught between two extremes, in two minds or with no mind on the matter at all?

National identity (and indeed West Indian nationality) begins in the mind and becomes culture when the expressions of the mind lead us to create, modify and inhabit the world around us. If this identity is perceived to be under threat, nationals will rally around it. Many Antiguans and Barbudans fear that we will end up last and lost as we redefine ourselves as the greatest assortment of Caribbean nationals in the smallest place. But rallying around the West Indies will force us to more clearly identify and crystallise who and what we really are. Maybe in doing so we will disabuse ourselves and others of idealistic notions of nationalisms, island and West Indian.

In the orchestra, steelband or other, there is constant dissonance and consonance (musically and otherwise) to remove inertia and give momentum to the music. It is within the orchestra that the true musician really begins to find and harness that individual voice. You are forced to listen to all others as well as your insular instrument, at the same time. This dialectic gives birth, with all its pangs and damns, to the epiphany that you can only find yourself in others. Independence becomes meaningful only when you selflessly accept this enigma.