Sunday, June 10, 2007

Stella Says…Guyana does not produce religious fanatics

by Stella Ramsaroop

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 10 June 2007)

It pains me to know that Guyana will suffer from this alleged terrorist plot even as I try to grapple with the notion that a nation that is probably the most religiously tolerant in the world could ever produce religious fanatics to the degree required to attempt to bring such extreme harm on others.

My first reaction to this alleged plot was probably the same as everyone else – this is not good for Guyana. Then I thought of how it would affect my family, both in and out of New York. However, something just did not click in my mind about all of this.

I could not put my finger on it, but it came to me while reading an article in the New York Times about the Guyanese community in New York. In the article, a Guyanese Diaspora named Dolly Z. Hassan said this whole thing is “very bizarre – very, very bizarre.”

The article quoted Ms. Hassan who said, “Nine out of 10 Guyanese don’t understand the conflict in the Middle East and they are not concerned,” and in regards to religious terrorism, she added that it “is not in the Guyanese blood. I have never heard of it even existing in Guyana.”

Ms. Hassan is right, most people in Guyana are very tolerant of the religious beliefs of others. Which is why this whole thing is so hard to swallow. My heart really goes out to those Guyanese living in New York. As if the whole immigration issue wasn’t making the situation in America difficult enough.

The Guyanese and Trinidadian communities released a statement this past week in which they ask others not to judge them by the acts of those involved in the alleged terrorist plot. The press release said, “We are shocked by this revelation and are saddened to learn that these suspects are of Guyanese and Trinidadian heritage. As a community, we vehemently condemn any and all acts of terrorism and call for the highest punishment under the law, we must also ensure that the legal system run its course.”

The statement continued, “We therefore cannot pass judgment on these individuals, except to assure everyone that we will join hands with law enforcement to ensure that all of us can pursue life, liberty and happiness in our great country. We ask our neighbors and fellow New Yorkers not to rush to judgment, and more importantly, not to paint every Guyanese and Trinidadian here in the USA with a prejudiced brush.”

Leaders and organisations within the Guyanese and Trinidadian communities signed the statement.

I share President Jagdeo’s obvious frustration about this issue. Saying this whole debacle has soiled Guyana’s image at the opening of the conference at the Guyana International Conference Centre, according to an article in the Guyana Chronicle from June 7, Jagdeo also said the unveiling of the terror plot by Guyanese “is not good since Guyana’s future depends on the linkages with the United States.”

For those of us who love Guyana and live in other places, this situation makes it even more difficult to persuade others to see how beautiful this nation truly is. For example, at a business dinner in DC last week, my husband found a new business acquaintance very interested in his country of birth.

He went on and on about Guyana with pride during this conversation since – like most people in America – his business acquaintance was unfamiliar with his homeland. This very positive event took place on Thursday evening. On Saturday morning, Guyana is all over the news in a very negative light and my husband is wondering what that person will think about him now.

While some Americans will let this whole story play out without judging Guyana or its people, just like every other county there are also some very shallow-minded people who will now discriminate even more than before.

When I did a search on the Internet to find news stories related to this alleged terrorist plot, I found 74 stories on just how the Guyanese in New York were dealing with this situation. There were news articles from as far away as the United Kingdom and Austria.

One article produced by the Associate Press and subsequently reprinted over and over by other news agencies pointed out several negative incidents that have taken place in the New York Guyanese community recently.

The kicker is that no one outside of New York would have known about these incidents had it not been for this alleged terrorist plot. Now the world knows. Americans are a very fickle people. Like Peeping Tom pointed out in a column this past week, they are very jumpy about things lately.

It used to be that trust was the assumption in regards to anyone who did not “look American.” Now the assumption is mistrust. It does not help that when we go to the airport there are signs and verbal announcements over the intercom requiring people to report any unattended luggage to the nearest security officer.

Before 9/11, the security in the airports was very light and relatives could walk right up to the boarding gate to see a traveller off. Now if car is dropping off a person in front of the airport and stays in one place for longer than two minutes there is a security officer chasing the driver off.

Moreover, much like how the Guyanese government plays on the racial fears of its citizens, the Bush administration does the same thing to Americans regarding terrorist activity to justify its unprovoked war. This makes people even more distrusting and for the lesser informed of the nation, the Bush tactic is even more effective.

What I have said in this column and so much more comprises the new dynamics that will reform the interactions of Guyana with the US – and more specifically, the Guyanese Diaspora with their neighbours in America.

My one great frustration is that Guyana has been making huge strides in infrastructural development, technology, tourism and other such necessary areas to become more appealing to the outside world. It is my hope that these alleged terrorists activities will very little negative effect on the positive future that was just beginning to dawn in Guyana.

It would be a shame for the world to think for one second that Guyana is a religiously fanatical nation when in fact it is probably farther from such a state than any other nation in the world. If this was about racial issues, then it would easier to swallow. But it is about religious issue and Guyana does not fit the profile for producing religious fanatics.

Email: StellaSays[at]

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