T&T should stay watchful of unrest
Without warning, the historical movement hopefully titled the "Arab Spring" transformed into a wintry blizzard of wide-spreading unrest, arson and murder. In Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Tunisia and elsewhere, it had appeared that long-entrenched dictators and dictatorships were getting their comeuppance and that, with the aid of digital communication, an enlightened age of people power was taking hold.
All such assumptions have come up dramatically for review over the last week. Places where people had taken to the streets to depose dictators were erupting in uncontrollable anger over a till-then-obscure film that lampoons or denigrates Islam. Demonstrations against the film have spread from outside the Middle East into South Asia.
Both the film, sarcastically named "Innocence of Muslims", and the explosive reactions to it, are likely unimaginable in Trinidad and Tobago, where religious tolerance can be counted as an achievement of the Independence years. A broad acceptance of picong and of give and take in political and other banter has also characterised attitudes and responses in this country. Fiery images of rioting and storming of supposedly sacrosanct embassies and consulates can hardly be considered coming from "neighbour" countries. Still, T&T if not moved to "wet its own house" should at least be watchful of the troubling potential of deliberate acts of provocation.
It is disappointing that peoples who achieved clear turnarounds in their countries by overthrowing regimes deriving from a discredited past have now permitted to the world to see in them an uncontrollable impulse toward destruction and disorder. True, the patriots and the democrats who thronged Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, and the rebels who fought Gadaffi in Libya, may not figure prominently among the rampaging religious zealots.
Another disappointment lies in the realisation that US and Western support for the "Arab Spring" revolts has not now prevented the targeting of Western installations and personnel. The US ambassador to Libya and other Americans were killed in an attack on a consulate.
Overnight, what had looked like the start of closer and more constructive ties with the Muslim world proved to be overly optimistic expectations. Such progress toward a new democratic order, as has registered through the Arab Spring, did not prevent or even limit the severity of last week's outbursts. Still expressing optimism, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lamented: "The people of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob." Speaking at ceremonies marking the deaths in Libya of US diplomats, she called for a show of adequate leadership: "Reasonable people and responsible leaders in those countries need to do everything they can to restore security and hold accountable those behind these violent acts."
Such admonitions are applicable not just to the infuriated "Arab street" or to Muslim populations, but also to any country susceptible to similar unrest, on religious or other grounds.