The significance of Muslim Coolie

I am part coolie and proud. Blame my grandfather. He is the one that led the charge to break the unspoken rules of race purity that people think should exist here. He saw a woman of Portuguese and African descent and decided he was making young Ms Ribeiro his wife. Of course it led to his family disinheriting and shunning him. But I hope it was worth it for him. All of his children, my father included, kept the misbehavior going and continued the tradition of making mixed children. In fact, my father went to the extent of ensuring that his children could lay claim to Tobagonian roots as well. So when we plant our feet on the soil here we have no qualms about saying we are Trinidadian AND Tobagonian. Shout out to Mommy! Perhaps it is this heritage that makes me feel I belong to this place and the place belongs to me. So when people like Jamal Mohammed make comments about being “insignificant Muslim coolies”, I  have to stop and wonder. You belong to the largest ethnic group in the country and are a part of the ruling government. How exactly are you insignificant?

The Indian male has always been a confuffling creature for me. VS Naipaul often describes the Indian male as weak and cartoonish, reliant on his privileged place in a patriarchal system; secure only in the rituals and traditions imported from India. Now to be fair, this isn’t an accurate description of all Indian males. But Naipaul’s description of more than 50 years ago give the impression that only when insulated by their specific sub-culture does the Indian male feel secure. Of course Naipaul is probably really referring to the Hindu male; just as Bhoe Tewarie does in 1987, when he too talked about Hindus still being insular and having a responsibility to open up an understanding of Hinduism to the rest of the country.

After 167 years, with all of their strides in business, education, culture and politics why do Indian men still feel so insecure here? Why too, after more than a century and a half of sharing the same space is there still a fear of mixing. I’m not making this up. Listen to any of the radio stations and the code is there. I have longstanding friends of Indian descent who admit sheepishly that they can’t take home a non-Indian boy or girl. When you probe further you find out though that non-Indian there is really code for African. Chinese, Syrian/Lebanese and European are just fine.

Mohammed’s “insignificant Muslim coolie” annoyed me on several levels though. You see, having grown up in a mixed family, in a predominantly Indian village of Hindus, Muslims and Christians, I can tell you that when it is so easy for an Indian to call himself “coolie” in a self-deprecating way, it is even easier for him to call someone a “nigger”. And Mohammed’s easy use of racial epithets in a letter to the head of news at a media house tells me that he probably uses the language more often than we can imagine. And this man sits in our Senate and functions as a government minister? When I consider too that the Prime Minister never came out to publicly condemn the statements and actions of the Mohammed, I am even more concerned, because it tells me that the leader of this Government is really past caring what we think of its behavior.

Mohammed’s subsequent apology rings hollow for me and I will tell you why. To write to Dominic Kallipersad in your unofficial capacity – whatever that means for a government minister – is to imply that you and Mr Kallipersad have an unofficial relationship. That perhaps the two of you are friends or former colleagues. There is nothing to suggest that. So, then, when Mr Mohammed says he is writing in an unofficial capacity, what capacity did he mean?

Further, you write a private email in an unofficial capacity using politically incorrect language and fundamentally threatening the media, and when informed that the intention is to let the e-mail go public your response amounts to a shrug?

I think Jamal Mohammed wanted that e-mail to be released to the public and for the simple reason of appealing to the party base. Jack Warner started this several weeks ago when he held up the Express with a story by Asha Javeed. In doing that Warner sought to achieve several things: begin a witch hunt of both Ms Javeed and the Express and distract the country from discussing Section 34. It didn’t work. I don’t want to make light of the idiots trolling and harassing Ms Javeed online; or of the public officials requesting the phone records of media workers; but even with all of these atrocities, the public’s attention remains fixed on Section 34.

In making his comment, Mohammed was again reminding the voter base, this time a direct appeal being made to the “insignificant muslim coolies”, that the enemy right now is the media: Tv6 and Express. This government never fails to take an opportunity to reinforce ethnic divisions in their quest to remain in office. A few weeks ago it was “get in yuh section” from the PM, now it’s Jamal Mohammed subtly reminding the Muslim voter base from San Juan that the government is under siege and they must rally to defend it.

Ignore the fact that this government has access to state tv and radio stations and regularly buys out air time to spread its message. No the focus must be the enemy. The enemy is CCN, and to make sure that people accept that CCN is evil he links the media house with the PNM. Anything linked to the PNM is evil and therefore makes it acceptable to rally against.

Don’t get tie up  folks, Jamal Mohammed’s outburst this week was very calculated. It was done to distract from the motion being brought against the AG that is linked to Section 34. Look out next week for another distraction in the lead up to the march. This government is now so desperate to cling onto to power that it will even call itself names and denigrate its identity. It will prostitute good sense, rely on racist slurs and epithets to rile up the electorate, all in a sad pathetic attempt to distract from their failings.

De Vice Cyah Done!