1 Nov 2009

Daly speaks

This is a dangerous time for us. Fundamental rights are under attack, as is the Judiciary, the primary arbiter of the extent of those rights. As my esteemed colleague, Selwyn Ryan, wrote in this newspaper two Sundays ago: "What we are witnessing is an unconcealed attempt at comprehensive executive aggrandisement." I would add that the attempt is intended to acquire power to whatever extent is necessary in order to mow down anything and smear anyone interfering with the executive aggrandisement plan.

The title of this column is inspired by something written by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times earlier this month, in which she wrote about how ideals "collide with harsh reality" and the dangers of excessive compromise of inspiring objectives. She was analysing the apparent wavering of Barack Obama, whose election to the office of President of the United States initially set the world on fire.

The focus of Maureen Dowd's column to which I refer was concern that President Obama's charisma might be diluted by his constantly reaching for common ground. She quotes the former President of the Czech Republic who warned that, "With minor compromises start the big and dangerous ones, the real problems." Ms Dowd comments that, one must be careful not to compromise so much that, "ideals get blurred out of recognition". You can "get smudged if too much is fudged".

This Government has been in a constant state of denial that violent crime is a serious problem for Trinidad and Tobago. It has consistently fudged dealing with the problem, often not even acknowledging that there is one. Unfortunately for us the fudging has taken us way past merely being smudged. We are experiencing grief in abundance. The population is traumatised, in fear of opening our doors or going out on routine business or for pleasure. There is no place that cannot be reached with impunity by the violent criminal element whenever they feel like it.

The fudging of the crime problem is backed up by a belief that the Christian God is on the side of the Government and will deliver its Ministers from evil and, perhaps, the rest of us ordinary mortals will receive the collateral benefit of our delivery from evil. There are obvious practical difficulties in mixing up politics and religion. It is plainly offensive in a plural society for any public official to lay claim to knowledge of who is the true God. The Constitution guarantees freedom of worship and we sing that there is an equal place for every creed and race.

However, in view of the claim of this Government that it is "drunk on God", (a blasphemy if I ever heard one), the difficulty of mixing politics and religion that concerns me most at the moment is the effect which reliance on religious belief has on the mind of the politician.

In a lecture given in 1932, Freud, the psycho-analyst, compared and contrasted the roles of philosophy, science and religion and said of the effect of religion on men and women that: "It assures them of protection and final happiness amid the changing vicissitudes of life, and guides their thoughts and actions by means of precepts which are backed by the whole force of its authority."

Put simply, a person armed with an assurance that everything will be all right does not need to embrace philosophy or science or to heed the views of others in an attempt to consider "how to avoid certain dangers or to combat many sufferings". Likewise it would seem to those politicians with God on their side that there is no need for meaningful democracy because the wishes of other people cannot trump the certainty of the religious revelation. Consequently, checks and balances on executive power are a nuisance and an impediment to implementation of the revelation.

Living in the midst of the misuse of religious fervour to gloss over bad politics and bad governance compels me, by contrast to many of President Obama's critics, to view his attempts to find common ground with sympathetic relief. I am comforted that the most powerful democratically elected official should first seek as far as possible to reconcile conflicting views on healthcare and wars being fought abroad, like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, before attempting to impose his will on the population who elected him.

The fact is we badly need a whole range of measures likely to bring peace and reconciliation in this small and divided nation of ours. We have fudged and smudged our path to a civilised quality of life. We have a huge amount of work to do to get ourselves off the road that is sign posted materialism only, and back on the road that is sign posted civilisation. The latter road is a broad and inclusive avenue, the former road is a dead-end, pun intended, in view of our disproportionate number of murdered dead.

Martin Daly

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