Last Sunday of the Year: Sunday, December 29, 2013

It’s that period between Christmas and New Year when some of us get very reflective and philosophical. We look back over the past year, and look forward to the next; so there are endless “reviews” and “previews” in the media and elsewhere. As for me, I prefer to look forward, so no reviews for me. And I am really trying hard to live in the present. Like Arsenal Football Club manager Arsène Wenger, who likes to say that he takes it one game at a time.

Finance Minister Peter Phillips.

Finance Minister Peter Phillips.

More taxes looming? I noted in my last post that the government has hinted at the possibility of imposing General Consumption  Tax on gasoline. The mere mention of it made us shudder. Now the government has told the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that tax revenues have fallen short, so they think they must tax us some more (see the Letter of Intent dated December 3, 2013 on the IMF website). Well, of course tax revenues have fallen; the economy has been contracting over an extended period; imports have decreased; people are not spending. And how is adding more taxes going to help?

Dennis Chung. (Gleaner file photo)

Dennis Chung. (Gleaner file photo)

Now, there’s a very good article by financial analyst Dennis Chung on caribjournal.com (a website worth subscribing to) headlined “Jamaica in 2014.” Dennis is quite right. We can’t under-estimate the importance of confidence in almost any economic scenario (something I learned while working in the eurobond sector in London). The government must grasp this concept. Dennis also warns: The government cannot take the path of previous administrations and seek to tax our way out of the problem, as this will only lead to short-term fiscal gain and long-term loss. This has been the path chosen in the past and it has not worked.” But based on the Appendix to the Jamaican Government’s Letter of Intent to the IMF, this is pretty much what it plans to do.

Dennis talks about the two major hindrances to our economic growth: bureaucracy and crime. On the latter issue, former Contractor General Greg Christie has pointed out that the World Economic Forum identified government inefficiency, crime and corruption as major impediments to Jamaica’s economic growth. So let’s keep that in the equation, too.

No to debt swap: Minister of Finance Peter Phillips has ruled out the idea of a third debt swap. Well, of course that is a no-no, Minister Phillips. The private sector, led by Scotiabank Jamaica, made it abundantly clear after the last one that they would not countenance such a thing.

Save Goat Islands!

Save Goat Islands!

Eastern Caribbean floods: Our Prime Minister has sent her sympathies to the islands of St. Lucia, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines that suffered terribly from a Christmas storm and subsequent flooding. That’s nice, but could we perhaps have sent some assistance? Some Jamaica Defence Force soldiers or other manpower at least?

Relief supplies arrive in St. Lucia from Trinidad & Tobago. (Photo: Press Secretary to the Prime Minister, St. Lucia/Facebook)

Relief supplies arrive in St. Lucia from Trinidad & Tobago. (Photo: Press Secretary to the Prime Minister, St. Lucia/Facebook)

In my last post, I omitted to include a very disturbing story highlighted by Annie Paul on her blog, Active Voice“NOT dead on arrival! No Sir! I will not rest in peace!” tells the tale of a man whom the police thought they had killed in a “shootout.” On arriving at the hospital he sat up and declared himself not dead, meanwhile pointing out the policeman who had tried to kill him. He was then put under police guard in hospital. What has happened to him? Has INDECOM investigated? Read the story at anniepaul.net.

Deaths on the road: Despite the best efforts of the National Road Safety Council, fatalities on the road will end up higher than in 2012, which was 267 dead. What a terrible waste of lives – mainly through stupidity: overtaking, distracted driving, driving much too fast. Are we still considering legislation on cell phones and driving? I’ve noticed this is so common in Kingston – drivers cut corners, hardly even notice you on the road when they have a phone glued to their ear.

Macka Diamond (right) and Lady Saw in a heated battle onstage at Sting 2013. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood)

Macka Diamond (right) and Lady Saw in a heated battle onstage at Sting 2013. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood/Jamaica Observer)

Sting women: I believe Culture Minister Lisa Hanna told local press that the Boxing Day dancehall event called Sting (now celebrating thirty years) would be family-friendly. How terribly wrong she was. If people want to go to these shows, then it is their choice. But I think it is wrong for government to support any of these shows - whether the so-called Jazz Festival, Sting or whatever. The Jamaica Tourist Board sponsored this one for the first (and hopefully last) time. It’s a private sector thing. Moreover, I don’t want my hard-earned taxes to be spent on two women hurling obscenities at each other in the name of entertainment. I would rather it was spent on school furniture, or perhaps hospital equipment. (Did Minister Hanna attend this event, and if so what did she think about it? At the press conference, putting on her best Jamaican patois, she said: mi haffi deh deh”meaning: I have to be there)!

This was Sting 2013 on Boxing Day, sponsored by the Jamaica Tourist Board.

This was Sting 2013 on Boxing Day, sponsored by the Jamaica Tourist Board and endorsed by Culture Minister Lisa Hanna, who said she would have to be there. Was she? Did she watch this “performance” I wonder?

This question was asked on Facebook recently: “After decades and decades of violent crime in Jamaica, what do you do to protect yourself? I’m not talking about the grills and the burglar alarms and the gated communities and the not walking on the road at night. What do you do to protect your spirit and soul from the news every day of murders and rapes and assaults of men, women and children? When you or those you know have been personally affected, or when it is news reports about people you do not know?” I believe that I wrestle with this question week in, week out. 

Protest signs in August Town after police killed Dennis Levy. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)

Protest signs in August Town after police killed Dennis Levy. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)

Revenge? Residents of August Town say that the police killed Dennis Levy on December 20 as an act of revenge for the murder of a District Constable and the injuring of a policewoman a short time earlier that day. August Town is  a small community tucked into the high green hills of St. Andrew near the University of the West Indies campus. It has suffered from gang warfare and political strife in the past; however the crime rate there has decreased this year. “They decided that someone had to die for the police,” said one resident, according to a report in today’s Sunday Gleaner.  

Tiefs continue to flourish: Here’s an interesting photo (from our Prime Minister’s constituency) showing a light post festooned with “throw-ups” – that is, illegal electricity connections. I will not comment except to say that the Jamaica Public Service Company has its work cut out…

Illegal electricity connections in Kingston.

Illegal electricity connections in Kingston.

Kudos to…

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Yohan Blakeour lovely sprinter, whose YB Afraid Foundation has partnered with the private sector and individuals to help young people. In particular, the Foundation supports the Mt. Olivet Children’s Home in Manchester. It held some special events and a motivating workshop over Christmas. Big ups to the young man and wishing you great success in 2014!

Principal of the Lethe Primary and Infant School in St James, Anthony Murray (right), accepts the Jamaica Teaching Council/Ministry of Education and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Leadership in Education Award, from Minister of Education, Ronald Thwaites, at a recent ceremony at the school. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Principal of the Lethe Primary and Infant School in St James, Anthony Murray (right), accepts the Jamaica Teaching Council/Ministry of Education and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Leadership in Education Award, from Minister of Education, Ronald Thwaites, at a recent ceremony at the school. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

A young principal, Anthony Murray, who has guided his school (Lethe Primary and Infant School in St. James) to some great results. He recently received an award for his efforts from the government and UNESCO. We do know that there are many dedicated teachers out there! And yes, Minister Thwaites, the Effective Principals’ Training Programme is a worthwhile effort. It is a pity that 49 principals have refused to participate. In fact, it is very unimpressive.

Journalist and producer of the excellent “Live at Seven” show on CVM Television Yolande Gyles Levy, who produced an excellent feature on the fight to save the Portland Bight Protected Area/Goat Islands earlier this year. She gave an update from her perspective on the program on Friday night, as follows: Nothing much has changed. The government, she said is still waiting on a written proposal from China Harbour Engineering Company. Based on that, the government will conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment, which will be paid for by the Chinese firm. Transport and Works Minister Omar Davies spoke on “Live at Seven” about a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the logistics hub. When host Simon Crosskill asked if he could see a copy he said he could – but “Live at Seven” has not seen it yet.

The St. Mary Chapter of G2K (the young professionals arm of the Jamaica Labour Party), who held a Christmas treat for over 100 children from the Annotto Bay community over the holidays. And “big ups” to all those many organizations, both domestic and overseas-based, that brought joy to under-privileged Jamaicans during the period. I hope we will remember all our vulnerable and marginalized groups throughout the year, not just at Christmas.

The murders of two cousins in Clarendon over Christmas has caused much concern and anger, and has been reported widely abroad, since one of the young women, Franciena Johnson was a Brooklyn resident. The police are now suggesting that a jealous boyfriend may have been the cause. Just this weekend in St. James, a young woman and her infant son were murdered; the father of the child is being questioned. There have been so many tragedies involving young women, their infant children and jealous, vengeful partners. I have also noticed that women OF ALL AGES are murder victims, week in, week out – including, this week, a woman farmer in her sixties, in Sherwood Content, Trelawny (Usain Bolt’s home). So much pain. My condolences to all the families…

Renaldo Walton, 25, Parade Gardens (Tel Aviv), Kingston

Marva Henry, 56, Ebony Vale/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Ebony Vale/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Ramon Perkins, 20, Santa Cruz, St. Elizabeth

Eulalee McIntosh, 64, Shaw Park/Ocho Rios, St. Ann

Norman Comrie, 30, Runaway Bay, St. Ann

Melessha Evans, 20, Irwin, St. James

Jeliana Evans, four months, Irwin, St. James

Unidentified man, Springfield, Westmoreland

Fernando Woolery, 26, Red Ground/Negril, Westmoreland

Geraldine Powell, 65, Sherwood Content, Trelawny

Killed by the police:

Dennis “Evian” Levy, 35, August Town, St. Andrew (previously reported as “Heavy Hand”)

Arlene Robinson, mother of Nordia Fearon, holds a picture of her slain daughter, who went missing with Franciena Johnson on the way to May Pen in Clarendon. Her body was found in Salt River. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Arlene Robinson, mother of Nordia Fearon, holds a picture of her slain daughter, who went missing with Franciena Johnson on the way to May Pen in Clarendon. Her body was found in Salt River. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Franciena Johnson kisses her boyfriend, who has since been arrested in connection with her murder. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Franciena Johnson kisses her boyfriend, who has since been arrested in connection with her murder. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

 

Book Review: The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam

This novel is a sequel to A Golden Age,” which I reviewed on an earlier page. “The Good Muslim continues the story of one family – an intense, deeply personal story of the enduring pain and sacrifice of a bitter civil war in Bangladesh. It is the second book in a planned trilogy.

It’s a story that, it seems, will not go away. Current events in that country have brought the narrative into even sharper focus. Just last week – and even today as I write – at least half a million protesters gathered in Shahbag, an intersection in the capital Dhaka. They are demanding justice for atrocities committed during the 1971 war of independence from Western Pakistan and the death penalty for war criminals. The Bloggers and Online Activists Network organized the rally of mostly young people. According to the international blogging website Global Voices Onlinethe protests began after the Secretary General of Bangladesh’s Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami Abdul Quader Mollah was found guilty of war crimes committed during 1971. He was sentenced to life in prison on 344 counts of murder, rape and arson by the International Crimes Tribunal on 5 February 2013.” According to protesters, Abdul Quader Mollah should receive the death penalty under Bangladeshi law.

Huge crowds of protesters in Dhaka last week. (Photo: Andrew Biraj/Reuters)

Huge crowds of protesters in Dhaka last week. (Photo: Andrew Biraj/Reuters)

Almost immediately after the protests began, one of the most influential Bangladeshi bloggers, Ahmed Rajib Haider (who wrote under the pseudonym Thaba Baba – Captain Claw) was murdered. Meanwhile, people are asking: Why are young Bangladeshis so passionately engaged with events that occurred before they were born? The bitterness has carried over, somehow.
Bangladeshi blogger/activist  was murdered on February (Photo from his Facebook page)

Bangladeshi blogger/activist was murdered two weeks ago (Photo from his Facebook page)

I believe that Maya would certainly join the protests at what is now being called the Bangladeshi equivalent of Tahrir Square.

When we meet her as “The Good Muslim” opens in 1984, Maya has stayed true to the idealism of the war. A midwife by profession, she sits in the third-class carriage on her way back to the capital. She is returning after a long absence – several years – away from home. She has maintained an awkward, polite correspondence with her mother, Rehana Haque (the widow Rehana’s story of determination, sacrifice and patient love for her family is told in “A Golden Age.”) Maya had left Dhaka after the nine-month war of independence ended, to volunteer in refugee camps. She started her own clinic in the rural town of Rajshahi, working with and seeking to empower desperately poor women. But now, thirteen years after her country’s liberation, Maya’s liberal views are no longer quite so welcome in the town. She is forced to leave, followed by bitterness, anger and, above all, ignorance. She leaves with a scar, where a whip has caught her neck.

Dhaka circa 1984 has changed; the old city is festooned with huge posters of what the writer calls “the Dictator.” Maya returns to her once-beloved childhood home to find the kitchen filled with women in black burkhas, preparing to mourn the passing of her sister-in-law Silvi, whom we met in the first book. Silvi was one of the passionate fighters for the country’s liberation – one of the group of young people that Rehana worried about and cared for. Silvi married Maya’s brother, Sohail. And it takes a while for Maya to even find her brother, on her return. He is distant, in more ways than one.

Like Maya, we try to understand Sohail all the way through the book. After his belated return from the war, his mother and sister are grateful and happy; everything will be back to normal. But the beautiful, comforting routine of the house  only returns in fleeting glimpses: The delicious meals, the nurturing garden, the love they shared. And by the way, descriptions of the landscape and people of Bangladesh – a trip down the Jamuna River, a walk through a Dhaka market – are finely drawn, although not as rich perhaps as in the first novel.

But why did Sohail change, soon after his long-awaited return from war? Why did he withdraw, burn his books and become a charismatic religious leader, “worshipped” by his followers?

The sense of unease persists through the novel. Maya continues her tentative efforts to draw closer to her ailing mother. She rekindles a friendship with Joy (in this case, a man’s name) – a friend of her brother’s who had also fought in the war, and who has lived in New York for a while, driving a taxi. And her heart is captured by Sohail’s son, the vulnerable and neglected Zaid, whom she protects and nurtures. Through these relationships, she tries to find her way back to her beloved brother, who used to wear jeans and fall asleep after late night discussions on politics. She has lost him, she believes.

But has she really lost him? Families are complicated. Siblings grow apart, then together again. Is there still hope for Maya and Sohail? They say blood is thicker than water…

As the story weaves back and forth, from 1972 to the 80s and back again (which I did find rather distracting at times) several female characters appear and disappear. These women, none of them fully fleshed out, serve to illustrate the oppression of women. There is their terrible suffering during the war; and afterwards, the growing and insidious pressure of religious fundamentalism on their lives. The seductive power of fundamentalist religion – alongside the pretentious cocktail parties of the middle class – are portrayed like small, sharply focused windows into the world of post-independence Bangladesh.

Dhaka, Bangladesh. 11th February 2013 -- Activist Lucky Akter shouts slogans as students from different institutions join the protest demanding the death penalty for all war criminals at Shahbagh in the capital. Many brought flags and banners to continue the four-day protest. -- Shahbagh protesters have called upon their countrymen to observe a three-minute silence from 4:00pm to press home their demands for the death penalty for war criminals.

Dhaka, Bangladesh. 11th February 2013 — Activist Lucky Akter shouts slogans as students from different institutions join the protest demanding the death penalty for all war criminals at Shahbagh in the capital. Many brought flags and banners to continue the four-day protest. — Shahbagh protesters have called upon their countrymen to observe a three-minute silence from 4:00pm to press home their demands for the death penalty for war criminals. (Photo: Demotix/Global Voices Online)

When I was at school, I loved to play netball. I was captain of the school team. Then, one day I fell and injured my knee. The wound refused to heal; it opened repeatedly, became infected over and over. My netball career ended, and when the wound eventually healed, I was left with a large scar. A small piece of grit is embedded in it that is there to this day.

Sometimes wounds never heal. And some revolutions are never resolved. The only thing we can be certain of is change.

Related links:

 http://globalvoicesonline.org/2013/02/14/bangladesh-unites-at-shahbag-for-42-year-old-war-crimes/ Bangladesh unites at Shahbag for 42-year-old war crimes: globalvoicesonline.org. 

http://petchary.wordpress.com/book-review/ Petchary’s book reviews

Shahbag protesters versus the Butcher of Mirpur (guardian.co.uk)

With #Shahbag, Bangladesh Protest Movement Blows Up on Twitter (techpresident.com)

Portland to Shahbag: No War Criminal Can Escape (ireport.cnn.com)

The Female Factor: Bangladesh Protests Break Boundaries (forbes.com)

With #Shahbag, Bangladesh Protest Movement Blows Up on Twitter (techpresident.com)

Shahbag, Dhaka: The Beginning of Another Tahrir Square? (aisjournal.com)

The war Bangladesh can never forget (independent.co.uk)

4 killed in Bangladesh violence (gulfnews.com)

War crimes trial reopens Bangladeshi wounds (nzherald.co.nz)

Blogger’s death rekindles anti-Islamist protests in Bangladesh (nbcnews.com)

Tahmima Anam was born in 1975 in DhakaBangladesh.  She grew up in ParisNew York and Bangkok, because of her father’s position in the UN; and now lives in London and Dhaka.  She attended Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and obtained her Ph.D. in social anthropology at HarvardUniversity in 2005.  She maintains close ties with Bangladesh, where her father Mahfuz Anam edits the country’s largest English-speaking newspaper, the Daily Star.  Published in 2007, her first novel, “A Golden Age,” was the winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book, and has been translated into 22 languages. Read more about Ms. Anam, at http://www.tahmima.com/, where the author gives you a short video tour of the city of her birth and discusses “The Good Muslim.”

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One More Thing… Please, if you wish, vote for Petchary in the Jamaica Blog Awards. Thank you!!

My dear, long-suffering and loyal readers…

The Jamaica Blog Awards are here!  And the competition is hot…

My blog has been nominated in the Jamaica Blog Awards 2012 in four categories!  Thank you so much to all who nominated Petchary’s Blog – I am not sure who all of you are, of course…

Now, would you like to vote for me?  The links to vote for me in the categories are…
 
JUST CLICK ON “CLICK TO VOTE.” It just takes a minute or two to vote in each category.
You can actually vote once each day in each category; last day of voting is January 14, 2013. Please browse through the various categories and enjoy!  
If you have any questions about this competition (I think this is the third annual one), feel free to contact Jamaica Blog Awards at jablogawards@gmail.com.
 
Thanks so much for your support, and please do share with friends and contacts who might enjoy my blog and like to vote. I would really appreciate it…
 
With my very best wishes and thanks to you all.
Emma

Sticks and Stones

“Glad to hear Cliff Hughes describe the UTech episode as ‘homophobic‘. There’s far too much denial. ‘Oh no, We’re not homophobic! Not us!’ 

So noted a fellow-blogger from Jamaica, Annie Paul (check out her lively blog on Jamaican matters large and small at http://anniepaul.net). Yes, just as I was about to write another short, chirpy post-Sandy blog post, the “episode” or “incident” occurred. It popped up on Twitter around eight o’clock last night, in fact.

Let me backtrack a little first: Cliff Hughes is a local broadcast journalist, whom I have praised before for his strong focus on democracy and human rights – and for his probing, tough interview techniques. And UTech is the University of Technology in Kingston, Jamaica, where this all took place. All what, you may ask? Well, a video appeared on YouTube and almost immediately went “viral,” as the saying goes. The video was entitled “Beat di Fish 2!” - using the latest hate-word for gays in Jamaica. The video appears to show security guards beating up a young man in an enclosed area (the guard house of the aforementioned University) while a mob of mostly young men outside jeered, laughed and encouraged the guards to give the young man a good beating. Some of these young men begged the guards to turn him over to them so they could deal with him.

Why was he being beaten? The student was accused of having sex with another young man (who escaped – I hope he is very safe, somewhere).

UTech beating

Two security guards were fired. In this photo (or still from the video?) a third security guard seems to be watching quite happily.

The video was withdrawn from YouTube today as it violated their code. It was very hard to watch, and to listen to the baying of the crowd, like hounds when they have cornered a fox in a hunt. That eager yelping sound, that cry for blood. And many of the supporters of the video added their virulent, sickening comments (although thankfully there were more “dislikes” than “likes”). But another shorter, different version was posted on CNN‘s iReport today.

UTech beating

“They were all dressed in uniforms of brutality..” From Bob Marley’s song “Burnin’ and Lootin’ “…

There were many expressions of genuine shock and despair, locally. “I am ashamed to be Jamaican” was a common refrain among those with compassion for their fellow Jamaicans. Civil society groups, notably Jamaicans for Justice and the Civil Society Coalition, have issued statements condemning the incident. Some comments in the social media were more ambivalent, saying the two young men should have been more careful, and “this is how gays are dealt with in Jamaica, right or wrong.”  Other comments were more vicious. I will not repeat them.

Another Jamaican broadcaster noted the following on her Facebook timeline: “I am sad and sickened tonight. Security guards at one of our universities beating up a young man because he was allegedly found engaging in homosexual acts. I also continue to wonder at my friends with their heads deep in the sand insisting that we are not a homophobic society. Really? This young man is hit and kicked by a “security “guard” while excited crowds gather outside. And for those who will wilfully twist my words – you are adept at that – this has nothing to do with approval of or belief in a lifestyle. This is about a society that winks at barbarism and turns its head away insisting it is not happening, apparently all the reports of abuse are made up!!! And you wonder why we are seen as homophobic?”

Let us not deny this any more. Jamaica IS a homophobic society. It has been said by many outside and some inside Jamaica. And it is true. It is staring us in the face. 

So, what are we to do about it? Allow the mob to take over? After all, there have been several instances of mob attacks recently, under various circumstances. This is not only yet another example of human rights abuses against gays in Jamaica. It fits into a pattern of intolerance, violence and blind ignorance that keeps repeating itself over and over. It is like a tide washing over us, threatening to sweep us all away.

Have you ever stared into the eyes of a hate-filled mob? We once knew someone who did – a young Jamaican. It was the last thing he saw, as he did not survive the attack. None of us could save him. We read his name in the papers the next day.

Where is this leading us? Are we prepared to slip and slide down this slope? Or are we prepared to dig our heels in, right now? Are our leaders going to speak up, or remain silent? I remember not long ago, our elected representatives were sniggering and making jokes about “fish” in Parliament (the derogatory word for gays currently in fashion). Can we expect real, responsible leadership from them? What about our Prime Minister, who during an election debate last year signaled a softer approach to the issue? She has certainly avoided the topic ever since she was elected. And what about the churches? After all, the homophobic bigots frequently use a certain passage in the Bible to justify their hatred. What a lovely thing religion is! How it unites us!

I will end with a quote from someone who did know a great deal about bigotry and discrimination. He faced it fair and square. (Somehow, the deniers of our homophobia hate comparisons between gay rights and the American civil rights struggle; but I see quite a few parallels, myself). Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

Jamaica’s burden grows heavier each day.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A man not afraid of uncomfortable truths, and not afraid to express them.

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