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Our greatest treasure

By Ralph Maraj

Do we treasure the racial harmony we have in our diverse country? Do we see it as our best asset? Will we always try our best to preserve it? Other plural societies have had horrendous sectarian conflict. Guyana has a population and politics like ours. It experienced political/racial violence in the 1960s when “daily life was marked by arson, mutilation, bombings, murder and rape”.
Our harmony is not a gift from nature. It is an achievement, bequeathed by our pre-independence ancestors who toiled, in town and country, with bare hands to build this place, making it capable of sovereignty. This common ancestry of struggle created a bond amongst our two major races and the others, and this has survived. It speaks of a civilised core at the heart of our nation of which we should be proud. We could be accused of other sins but not barbarism. The very Germany that produced Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Schuman and Wagner as well as Schopenhauer, Weber, Nietzsche, Kant and Hegel, also produced Hitler, Goebbels, Goering and the Third Reich.
Our harmony has survived the subversive influences of our politics, which should have capitalised on ancestral foundations and welded a nation together. Instead politics caused the major races to drift further and further apart after self-government. In the pursuit of power, the major political parties exploited our demography and presented themselves as the avenue for self-assertion by their particular base, establishing a permanent political/racial competition that has prevented the sense of nation, society and community taking root, denying the country cohesion and common purpose. Public consciousness has been suffocated by partisanship; and public opinion, indispensable for progress and security, is always decimated by racial/political allegiances, allowing politicians and their family, friends and financiers to get away with murder, leaving the masses of both races permanently violated and alienated. When we should have been made stronger and more unified with every generation, the social fabric has been weakened continuously. So today, in this small place, we intermingle daily but live separately for the most part, with little experience of the wondrous wholeness of our diversity. Fifty years after that legacy of magnificent possibilities, there is a pervasive feeling of social fragility, a massive indictment on those who led this country since sovereignty.
They all knew what was required. Eric Williams didn’t arbitrarily choose ‘tolerance’ as a national watchword. As a historian he knew the role of fanaticism and prejudice in the major atrocities of history. Slavery, wars, injustice, persecution have all stemmed from ideas and beliefs that have promoted one group, race or beliefs above others. Supremacism drove conquest, colonialism, slavery, Aryanism and apartheid, traumatising hundreds of millions and exterminating six million Jews. Invoking God, religious fundamentalism produced some of the most barbarous wars and heinous acts in the history of humanity, and continues in the Middle East, Africa, India and Pakistan. Today in Nigeria, Boko Haram in a religious/ political insurgency has already killed thousands in the north-eastern part of the country and dislocated over three million people. In India, plagued by religious and caste divisions, the 2002 Gujarat violence between Hindus and Muslims killed 2,000 people; and recently in Uttar Pradesh, two girls of a lower caste, were raped and murdered by members of a dominant group and their bodies hung from a mango tree. Sectarianism can make humans barbaric.
As we head towards a general election, we must tread carefully in our entrenched political/racial divide. Judging from the massive turnout at recent political rallies and the even standing of both leaders in the polls, I share the view of Selwyn Ryan we are heading for a close contest. Even the floating vote will shrink. Disillusioned by the People’s Partnership, those who broke ranks with the PNM in 2010 have returned; and with no persuasive effort to woo disaffected COP /UNC supporters by the opposition party, Indos will continue at base. The ‘mixed’ will either park or split both ways. It looks like a two-horse race, Partnership versus PNM, but things could change in the year ahead.
However, one thing is certain. Passions will run high creating a volatile environment. Indeed, race has already reared its ugly head. So as we move towards 2015, all public figures and politicians should avoid inflammatory statements. All citizens should vigorously support their party but eschew intolerance and temper fanaticism. We must preserve our greatest national treasure, for without it, where are we?
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