The content of the e-mail ascribed to Minister of Communication Jamal Mohammed sent to the TV6 Head of News is disturbing to me not so much because it may be seen as an insidious attempt to somehow influence the Express and TV 6 but because of the patent self-denigration contained in it.
The minister (and I am assuming here that he wrote it since it came from his e-mail address and claimed to be from him) termed himself "an insignificant Muslim coolie from San Juan". What could the Minister possibly hope to achieve by so describing himself? He could hardly be considered insignificant given that he is a Senator and also a member of the Government, our Minister of Communication. Further, what is the relevance of his being Muslim in this plural society of ours? And lastly, why call himself a "coolie"?
That term historically meant an unskilled Asian labourer and that I am certain he is not. He did not use it in a self-laudatory manner, descriptive perhaps of some musical item such as "Coolie gyul" which in today's world might be appreciated by the youth. Persons of the minister's generation must realise that that term was considered an insult to persons of East Indian descent in T&T, in much the same way that the "N" word is considered derogatory by persons of African descent. Even though the minister used it to describe himself the effect on many persons might very well be the same: they would find it offensive.
Now if there was a point to the minister so describing himself then one might factor that into the equation and perhaps come to terms with his use — but there seems to be none. He refers to himself as representing the "vibes" of an insignificant coolie in contrast to the official Government position. This is meaningless given who he is: not only is he a minister but he comes from a family where his relatives have been ministers of government (in both major political parties) and one that has been steeped in the politics of this country for decades.
This is not the first time that the minister has indulged in this kind of self-denigration. During his contribution to the budget debate in the Senate on Monday before last, sometime after 6 p.m., the minister apparently took pleasure in calling himself stupid. After having excessively congratulated the entire Senate on their contributions he referred to the fact that he had been appointed the same time as Ministers Howai, Coudray and Singh. Then a short while afterwards he talked about "happening" to join the Cabinet at the same time as these persons and said this: "Forget about me, I am a nobody, I am stupid but the other members of Cabinet who have just joined the Cabinet…" He was then interrupted by a Senator who said that it (his statement) was being recorded in the Hansard. Instead of laughing it off as a joke our Minister of Communication said this: "I am stupid and I admit that openly even if it is recorded in the Hansard."
I cannot fathom why he made this statement. It could not be naviety to elicit a contradiction as Minister Tewarie obligingly gave when he said, "That is not true" since this was such a minor interjection in the scheme of things. I am sure that most if not all of the Senators must have been as baffled that night as I was when I read the comment in the Hansard. And now he has gone further, calling himself "an insignificant Muslim coolie."
Of course it is entirely possible that the Minister saw this as a way of being disarming. It is noteworthy that on both occasions to which I have referred he continued by saying (words to the effect) that he would give his life for freedom of expression and then followed this up in a peculiar manner: in one case by announcing that the Government was going to exercise its right to free time in every media house and in the other case he accused TV6 and the Express of engaging in "misrepresentations about the People's Partnership as if there is an ultimate objective to make the Government fall".
If in effectively terming himself an idiot the minister hoped to catch the media off guard he sadly misled himself, judging by the swift reaction of the media fraternity. Furthermore, his statements could have a seriously detrimental effect on the Government that he claims to love.
First of all by deeming himself insignificant he seriously undervalues the Ministry which he heads. Any citizen may well ask — how important or relevant could this Ministry of Communication possibly be if it is headed by such an insignificant person? Secondly, by repeatedly declaring his stupidity in the very Parliament in which he functions this minister has undermined the Government. It begs the question, why has our Prime Minister included in her Cabinet someone who is brazenly stupid? Many persons may not be smart but there are very few persons we would term "stupid" (except of course when we are annoyed).
In any event we at least expect our ministers, our leaders by virtue of holding such posts, who are to represent our country's interest not only locally but regionally and internationally, to have a modicum of intelligence and some kind of savvy. If a Minister does not, why is he a member of our Cabinet and giving policy directions? Is that not a recipe for failure?
By his very words this minister has in my opinion done more harm to the Government of which he is part than any media house since he had now by extension called into question the intelligence of all his colleagues, the persons with whom he fraternises. Who would associate with a self-proclaimed fool in running a country?
• Dana S Seetahal is a former independent senator