Guyanese want peace and racial harmony

by Hydar Ally
Guyana Chronicle
May 14, 2001

GUYANA is currently going through a difficult period. The monster of race appears to be rearing its ugly head. People, who until recently were neighbours and friends, suddenly found themselves in opposing camps simply because they share observable physical features.

It is not too difficult in times like these for people to lose their sense of objectivity and balance. The situation on the East Coast of Demerara is a case in point. Parents rushed to take their children out of school after it was rumoured that plans were afoot to attack children of a particular ethnic group in an East Coast school. In no time schools were empty. No amount of persuasion by teachers was adequate enough to dissuade parents from taking such actions. It took the mere presence of an unfamiliar face in the vicinity of a West Demerara school to get parents and guardians tumbling over each other to get their children out of school. School had to be closed for the day.

Please don't get me wrong. I am not in anyway suggesting that the behavioural response of people in defence of themselves and their children from attacks, real or imagined constitute a case of irrational behaviour. Self-preservation after all is man's first instinct and whenever security interests are perceived to be under threat people draw on their inner reserves to ensure their security.

My difficulty has to do with the deliberate attempts of some people to sow the seeds of racial animosity by appealing to ethnic fears and insecurities, most of which are baseless and without substance. What is sad about it all is that some of these are people of influence and some standing in society and are therefore in a position to spread their venom on innocent and unsuspecting minds. They enjoy unrestricted access to the media and use the airwaves with impunity to spread their message of hate and intolerance.

These are people who clearly do not have the national interest at heart. It matters little that an entire nation is put at risk by their constant appeals for ethnic violence.

The good thing is that Guyanese people by and large want peace and racial harmony. They are sick and tired of elements who are promoting a climate of tension and hostility. One hopes that these people will reflect on the danger which can befall this beautiful country of ours by their irresponsible actions.

The truth is that hate and intolerance resides in the minds and imagination and therefore the solution to such problems has to be found in the ridding ourselves from such prejudices and perceptions. Education has a critical role to play in this regard. I am aware of measures at the level of the school to promote the teaching of social and sensitive issues in the classroom where students are encouraged to have an appreciation for diversity and respect for the rule of law. Such initiatives needed, however, to be buttressed by other social institutions such as the home and the church, which can help to shape the way, people think and behave.

I would like to take the opportunity to appeal to all Guyanese to desist from saying or doing anything that can undermine the peace and stability of our country. The recent escalation of tension in our society can do irreparable harm to the social fabric of this multi-ethnic country, which will not do any of us good regardless of our ethnicity. We need to learn from the experiences of countries such as Rwanda and Bosnia where men, women and children were killed by the thousands simply because they happen to look different. Our own experience in the 60s is most instructive. Those who lived through that period will know how painful that period was. The scars of the 60s are not fully erased. We cannot and must not allow a repeat of such a situation.

It is time for us all to see each other not as members of this or that ethnic group but as Guyanese. Indeed our very survival depends on the extent to which we live and work together. Let us distance ourselves from those who seek to divide us, if only for our children's sake. Indeed we can learn from our children as they play and laugh together without even noticing each other's ethnicity. The problem seems to be with us adults. What this is saying is that racial tendencies are learned behaviour and not innate to us.

Our plurality and cultural diversity is an asset and not a liability. It can enrich our life. Our foreparents toiled as slaves and indentured labourers so that future generations can live in freedom and dignity. Those who seek to play one race against the other are doing the people of Guyana and our foreparents a great disservice.

Let us give peace a chance. The way forward is in dialogue and discussions and not conflict.